Saturday, July 24, 2010

Downbeat Magazine - August 2010 Review - Thorell ‘Sweet E’ Fine Archtop Design - Page 79

Luthier Ryan Thorell has come a long way since
building his first guitar at age 14, and the “Sweet
E” model is a testament to his mastery of the
craft. This hand-carved instrument represents
the finest in traditional archtop design along with
some innovative advancements.
It’s no surprise that Thorell understands the
needs of the jazz guitarist, since he himself is an
accomplished and award-winning player. Like
many luthiers, he cut his teeth doing repair work
and then moved on to eight years of apprenticeships.
As Thorell’s interest in jazz grew, he began
to explore the world of archtop guitar-building.
Gathering inspiration from some of the world’s
greatest masters (John D’Angelico, Jimmy
D’Aquisto and the acoustic guru Lloyd Loar),
Thorell produced his first archtop in 2000.
The “Sweet E” model is simply a world-class
instrument, and each guitar is individually handcrafted
to the customer’s specifications. Our review
model had a 17-inch bout, but the guitar
is also available in 15- to 18-inch body sizes.
Standard body depth is 3.25 inches with a 22-fret
neck and 25.4-inch scale length. Following in the
tradition of the great archtops of the 1930s and
’40s, the “Sweet E” is constructed from highly
figured maple on the back, sides and neck with
an aged spruce top. The body, neck and peg head
are beautifully bound with multi-ply black-andwhite
binding, as are the custom-designed fholes.
The bridge, tailpiece and pick guard are all
hand-made from solid ebony. The “Sweet
E” has an ebony fingerboard and customdesigned
headstock and an ebony inlay pattern
on the back. Tasteful gold hardware and
a meticulously applied nitrocellulose finish
complete the package.
Without a doubt, this guitar is a work of
art, and holding it in your hands you can’t
help but feel the care and patience that went
into its construction. Thorell describes his
concept as “traditional design with art nouveau
styling.” Once you start to play this
instrument, you quickly realize that Thorell
has also paid very close attention to the tone
and playability of his axes. The “Sweet E”
feels great and sounds full and rich when
played acoustically—the first true test of a
great archtop.
For amplifying the guitar, Thorell uses a
single floating humbucker, which is custom-
wound by Pete Biltoft at Vintage Vibe
Guitars. There is a standard volume knob
mounted on the pick guard with a hidden
“stealth” tone control placed underneath.
The tone is warm and thick, reminiscent of the
classic full-bodied jazz boxes. “I have tremendous
amount of respect for the tradition but am
very interested in expanding the sonic possibilities,”
said Thorell, who hand-tunes each top with
amplification in mind so the guitars are less prone
to feedback when amplified but still retain good
acoustic qualities.
The “Sweet E” represents the best in fine
craftsmanship, tradition and innovation. As
Thorell says, “I am dedicated to connecting the
musician to the guitar.” I say, “Job well done.”
—Keith Baumann
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