The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guitar Review: DiPinto Galaxie 4 (aka Los Straitjackets surf guitar)

The DiPinto Galaxie 4 surf guitar is more in the mold of modern or retro surf, as exemplified by the much missed Japanese band, the Surf Coasters, or the harder, trashier tones of old Link Wray.

The classic tone of traditional surf is the sound of Fenders like the Jaguar or Jazzmasters (or strats of course) or Mosrites, and in general the heavily reverbed "clean" tones (though not in the sense you would think in jazz or country).

Sometime around 80s, a sub-genre of surf developed. Groups like Agent Orange and a host of young bands took traditional surf and added a punk rock sensibility even if their sound was more retro than the punk hard-core bands.

This sub genre didn't come out of nowhere. You can pretty much trace it right back to the Ramones who rocked out a lot of surf songs in their repertoire.

Add to that the early 80s cult legends, the Barracudas (ironically an English band), and surf music became harder, louder and faster.

There still is a surf music scene. It was there before the Beach Boys made it into a pop form, and there still is one now as exemplified by bands like the Mermen.

The current surf scene is really too detailed to discuss here, but one of the bands that have emerged is Los Straightjackets.

Los Straitjackets are a band whose lineage probably comes from the Ramones and Barracudas side of things, and not only have a distinctive sound, but one of the coolest looks on the planet.

A surf band that wears Mexican wrestler masks, plays a lot of loud, trashy surf, but with enough authentic tone and technique to make it very clear that this is a very good surf band.

The DiPinto Galaxie 4 is a distinctive retro style guitar they've endorsed. It's a very cool cross between the old cheap Japanese guitars of the 60s with their multitude of pick ups and buttons, and the classic body lines of the classic fenders.

Think of a Fender Strat or Jaguar, but with sharper pointed horns, and with four thin single coil style pick ups with an on-off switch above each in the old 60s Japanese-style, but also with standard knobs and Fender style five way switch.

That's twice as many pick ups as a Jaguar or Jazzmaster, and one more than a Strat. More in line stylistically with an old 60s Japanese Teisco-Kawai.

Although the DePinto's are generally listed in the 650.00 category on the Internet, this guitar is relatively easy to find priced as low as 500.00 on the street, if you can find one of course.

Once again you can get the detailed specs on the Internet, it's not hard-to-find, but the heart of the guitar is the mahogany body with four single coil square pickups (instead of Fender alder wood), maple neck that has an angled headstock (so you don't have to use the fender style string tree) for better string tension at the nut, a Fender Jaguar style tremolo bar, and bright cool colors with sparkles.

One of its primary selling points, besides it sound (which I'll discuss soon) is that it's at a price point well below what Fender charges for any of the top line versions of the guitars mentioned above, and only a fraction of the price of the vintage models.

Fender does make Jazzmasters and Jaguar versions in the same price range of the DiPinto, but those are modernized and geared towards the rock and alternative market. Certainly good enough for surf, but harder to get those classic tones, particularly in the case of the Jaguars which often have humbuckers instead of the traditional single coils.

The best Fenders that compare are more expensive, and the best value in terms of an authentic recreation is their lower line Squire vintage modified series Jaguar and Jazzmasters at around 300.00.

The Galaxie 4 isn't really a guitar for the person who wants to play traditional surf like the old Ventures, etc, but perhaps closer to the more modern sound of the Mermen (who use strats) or Dick Dale (as he plays surf now).

The real purpose of this guitar is to play surf the Los Straitjackets way, a combination of the traditional sound but a beefier, flat out trash guitar tone with a punk edge.

So on one hand I do say it's related to the Fenders, but the intent's a little different. If you buy a DePinto, you probably do love surf, but probably want to play it louder and harder. The Galaxie is a nice guitar to hold and play. It's a bit lighter than the Fenders, and the pick ups are hotter and more versatile than the ones on the old 60s Japanese guitars.

I think most guitars have a particular sound that that defines it. In the case of the Galaxie, it's the far back pick up. It has a sharp, full tone that's clear, rounded, and unlike any i've heard. When you turn up the gain and volume, it has the trebly attack of an old single coil Gibson SG, but sharper, with a little bit of that cool cheap pickup sound.

Playing around with the four switches is fun, turning the various ones on and off produce a wide range of tones useful for surf, surf punk and trash rock. Crank it up even louder, and it'll do fine as a alternative music guitar in most cases.

Combine that with retro styling, and you've got one of the best mid range price and style alternatives to Fender on the market.

That said, like all guitars you should try it alongside other brands and types in the same price range. If you want to play hard rock, it's not entirely suitable for a sound that might need a little bit of metal in it. If you play a similarly priced Gibson SG Junior alongside it, for example, I would tend to take the P90 Gibson sound over the Dipinto, but that just shows my age more than anything else.

If you want to play a hard-core Surf sound, it's worth trying out the vintage modified Squires. Those are extremely good values for the money also, with the Duncan-designed pick ups doing a more than adequate job of reproducing that vintage tone, and cheap enough that you can add stock Fender pick ups (and still be in the mid-price zone).

What DePinto did right was not trying to slavishly reproduce any of the above sounds. It's stylistic sensibility does stem from the 60s, but they went for a sound that's identifiably surf, but with a juiced up sound where even the clean tones have a nice punch (and doesn't distort into a pure alternative or metal tone).

It's got excellent 60s mojo, distinctive style, a sound of it's own that's still surfy (as we know it today), and at an excellent price point. Getting a used copy would be an excellent bargain for the money.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a first-line surf guitar, or the only one you should have. It may not fit the type of surf music you want to do.

But any search for a surf guitar in this price range should include this one as one of the choices. If for no other reason that if you get a Fender or Mosrite repro, you could find yourself sounding like everybody else.

The DePinto Galaxie 4 will make you sound at least a little different. Any true musician would check out a guitar if there was a chance it could do that.

If they would've included a Mexican wrestling mask, I did given it an extra star for a guitar this already pretty cool.