Veillette Gryphon High 12
It seems as though almost every American guitar builder of note who started his (or her) career in the 1970s has had some degree of contact with the legendary luthier Michael Gurian, and Joe Veillette is no exception to that rule. In 1971, Veillette owned a guitar with an irreparable headstock break, and when an opportunity to study guitar building with Gurian came his way, incontrovertible logic led him to conclude that if he could learn to build a guitar he would probably be able to fix his.
Veillette's training in architecture and design stood him in good stead, and it wasn't long before he'd abandoned architecture and started making acoustic guitars. In 1975, he partnered with his good friend (and fellow architectural student) Harvey Citron to found Veillette-Citron. The company, who were in operation until 1983, had considerable success in selling their guitars to many notable players, including one John Sebastian, who in 1978 asked them to design a baritone guitar. This request resulted in the genesis ofthe Veillette-Citron Shark and led to Joe Veillette's continuing fascination with scale lengths and string tensions.
After 1983, Veillette made his living playing guitar and singing with the Phantoms, returning to lutherie in 1991 by starting Woodstock Music Products with Stuart Spector, making Spector basses and a line of Veillette electric and baritone guitars. After the pair parted company in 1995, Veillette began developing his current line of hybrid acoustic/electric guitars and, with Michael Tobias, co-designed the Avante range of acoustic, baritone and bass guitars for Alvarez. Veillette also developed the Deep 6 baritone neck for Strats and Teles and the seven-string Deep 6 Plus guitar. As the happy owner of a Deep 6-equipped baritone Strat (one of my better eBay purchases), I can personally attest to the efficacy of that particular design.
Moving from an electric baritone to Joe Veillette's Acoustic Gryphon High 12- a diminutive, unison-tuned, 1 2-string guitar whose first strings are tuned to the 10th fret D on a conventional guitar - is a leap much greater than the mere 10th interval in pitch. Handmade by Veillette and his two assistants in their workshop in Woodstock, New York State, this pint-sized instrument, with its 1 8.5-inch scale length, sits alongside a complete range of acoustic and electric bass, baritone and standard-scale guitars.
Veillette Gryphon High 12
£ 2000 (as reviewed)
The veillette Gryphon High 12 acoustic 12-string guitar is a unique instrument whose good looks, excellent playability and unique tonality offer guitarists the opportunity to experiment with mandolin, cittern, and bouzouki sounds without having to buy those instruments or learn a new set of scale and shord fingerings. The High 12 is one of those instruments where to play it is to want it – you have been warned!
Phil Ward (UK Dealer)
The High 1 2's overall shape is essentially a smaller version of the striking outline featured on Veillette's acoustic guitars. The tapered, black-faced headstock that surmounts the solid Honduras mahogany neck features a white Veillette logo and carries 12 amber-buttoned, smoke-black Gotoh mini machine heads. On its obverse you'll find Joe Veillette's signature in silver ink, together with the place of manufacture, Woodstock, NY.
The fingerboard (and bridge) are made of pau ferro - a rosewood-like South American tonewood that is Widely used by many major guitar manufacturers, especially for electric guitar fingerboards - and features Veillette's signature zero fret. Zero frets are a European tradition that goes back a long way, and they can be found, for example, on Selmer Maccaferri jazz guitars, and German-manufactured guitars such as Hofner had them fitted until well into the 1960s. The primary idea behind zero frets is that they even up the action and tonal response between fretted and non-fretted strings. It is also said that, as the nut is relegated to the role of a string spacer, it is quicker and cheaper to fit a zero fret than to correctly slot and adjust a nut. Whatever side of the argument you come down on, there is no doubt that in the case of the Gryphon High 12 - with its two-inch nut width, reduced fret spacing and 8-42 string gauges - the presence of the zero fret does add significantly to both
The truss-rodded, heel-less neck itself is bolted on in a manner similar to the neck attachments of 1960s Eko and Fender acoustics. However, instead of a conventional four-bolt arrangement, Veillette's engineering talents have resulted in a unique single-bolt setup that is concealed behind a strap button and screws into a flanged steel nut inside the neck. This methodology not only gives the joint the neck-to-body coupling and stability essential for good tone and longevity, but also makes it quick and easy to adjust the neck angle if required.
The High 12's single-cutaway body features a sitka spruce top and Honduras mahogany back and sides. As mentioned earlier, these woods are of very high quality and the front in particular is one of the finest that I've seen, tight-grained and cut right on the quarter so that the 'silking' from the medullary rays is strikingly evident. Finished with a thin gloss lacquer with an unusual and attractive amber tint, this superb 'X'-braced front tones visually with the natural finish of the back and sides to add to the instrument's elegance.
Joe Veillette's engineering background and design logic is again evident in the placement of the two offset sound holes in the upper bouts. By leaving wood in the area between the bridge and the neck, the front is strengthened to help counteract the caving-in sometimes seen in 1 2-strings. Moving the sound holes out from underneath the strings also helps in the fight against feedback when playing live.
The Gryphon High 12 is fitted with aD-TAR Timberline pickup and preamplifier. This system features a coaxial cable pickup, giving an even string-to-string response, and an 18V preamp with a very wide dynamic range, helping to reduce the infamous piezo'quack' under heavy strumming. The twin PP3 battery box is mounted on the rear edge of the bottom treble bout, and the preamp's external volume and treble cut controls sit on an oval plate in the High 1 2's upper waist.
Time to play
The sound of the High 12 is reminiscent of mandolins, bouzoukis, citterns and the like, as its string pairs exhibit the characteristic chorused, phase-y sound of that family of instruments. It is an extremely responsive instrument whose basic acoustic character, although nicely warm, is subjectively thinner and tighter overall than a normal-sized acoustic guitar. Compared to a cittern or
In its standard tuning, flatpicked single-note runs are cleanly articulate and punch out in the same way as they do on a mandolin. Chords are clear, with each note well differentiated from its neighbour, and in the higher positions you really will appreciate the High 12's accurate intonation and fretting. Fingerpicking also works extremely well, with the bridge spacing giving you plenty of room to get your fingers round the strings, while the wide fingerboard gives your left hand the space to form complex chord shapes easily, given the smaller fret spacing.
Playability is uniformly excellent across all strings and at all fret positions. The action and frets were just about perfect for my playing style, and the High 12 is one of the very few instruments that I've picked up and not wanted or needed to change something in the setup. Fitting a Shubb capo to it, even high up the neck, failed to induce any nasties as long as I took care with the pad pressure, which again reinforces the accuracy of the High 12's fretting and intonation.
As good as the High 12 is acoustically, it gets even better when you plug it in. The D-TAR pickup system, which I haven't come across before, is absolutely excellent and does a great job in bringing the High 12 to life in a live environment. Amplified through my Jam 400, the High 12's bottom end really comes out and really can be a sonic monster. I couldn't induce any piezo quackery and I found feedback resistance to be very high, confirming Veillette's assertion that the offset soundholes effectively fight feedback.
Start experimenting with open tunings and you'll open up a whole other range of possibilities. Floaty, fingerpicked modal chord sequences sound particularly attractive, with the high pitch and chorusing pairs lending atmospherics that you just can't get any other way. Play plugged in with a bit of delay sitting in behind the notes and you'll be creating lush soundscapes in no time at all.
Tech Spec Gryphon High 12Conclusion
Having played the Gryphon High 12 for a couple of weeks, I've come to the conclusion that it is a great instrument in its own right. Certainly, I may be able to resist the inherent instant attraction of its piccolo size and unique outline; unquestionably, I own a five-course cittern that has a more open sound; indubitably, I can't afford it. But definitely, I want one.
The High 12 looks cool, plays like a dream, sounds good (especially when amplified) and gives you a set of sounds that you can't get anywhere else. In addition, I can see it being used to successfully emulate high-strung guitar, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki and other similar double-course instruments both on stage and in the studio. If you're a guitarist who wants to get into the tonalities of these kinds of instruments without having to buy them or learn a whole new set of scale patterns and chord shapes, then the Veillette Gryphon High 12 is probably the ideal instrument for you.
As with all custom hand-built instruments the Gryphon High 12 is built to order, has a 10 to 16 week lead time and, being from the USA, has suffered a bit from the present-day currency fluctuations. That's the bad news, but the good news is that there's a wide rarnge of wood combinations and finish colours to choose from.
Every acoustic guitarist that I've shown this Veillette Gryphon High 12 to has had to have it prised from their clutching claws at the end of the evening. Making the investment involved in its purchase is a significant commitmement and will only make sense if you need what the Gryphon High 12 offers. But of course you'll need that, and anyway buying a similar-quality cittern and mandolin would be more expensive. Or at least that's the rationale that I'll be using.
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