Review: Duesenberg Dragster + Starplayer TV Outlaw

Duesenberg Guitars is a German guitar company, who are known for their classy instruments and their ingenious improvements in many of the finer details of electric guitars and basses.

The company’s founder and creative mastermind is Dieter Gölsdorf – a true legend in his lifetime – who has been a tireless innovator in this field since the Seventies.

After a break of a few years Duesenbergs are available here in Finland again, which is a good reason to take a closer look at two of their most intriguing designs…

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The flat-top Duesenberg Dragster (current street price in Finland 1,099 €) channels some of a Les Paul Junior’s spirit in supercharged form – there’s plenty of mahogany, a single pickup, a wraparound bridge and electronics with a nice little twist.

The one-piece mahogany neck is glued into the guitar’s mahogany body.

The Dragster’s headstock successfully melds Art Deco influences with drag race chic.

The tuners are one of Duesenberg’s specialties, called Z-tuners.

Stringing up, the string is inserted into the tuning post from the front, feeding it through the hole on the other side of the headstock in the process. You snip off the overhang next to the tuner chassis, and then pull the sharp string-end back slightly so it disappears into the tuner. Then you tune the string to pitch, without having to deal with sharp string-ends poking your fingers or scratching up the headstock’s finish – simple but ingenious!

The rosewood fingerboard sports well-seated jumbo frets, as well as cream-coloured position markers.

Another cool detail: Duesenberg’s strap buttons can be used with your normal guitar strap, in which case their conical shape helps prevent the strap from slipping off the button, or you can use them with Schaller’s strap locks.

The front of the Dragster’s body in finished in a fetching Vintage Blonde with bound edges.

The bridge pickup is a Duesenberg Domino, which is a humbucker-sized P90-type singlecoil.

The third height-adjustment screw on the neck-facing side of the pickup cover is another typical Duesenberg-detail. It allows you to tilt the pickup so its top runs parallel to the strings.

Duesenberg’s wraparound bridge is a very sturdy design. Thanks to the tune-o-matic-inspired top the bridge offers plenty of scope for precise intonation adjustment.

The Dragster is equipped with two passive controls – master volume and master tone. The tone pot uses a Duesenberg Speed-Pot, which has a much shorter travel than a regular control, making wah-wah type effects much easier to achieve on the fly.

The basic idea for a three-way switch on a single-pickup electric has been borrowed from Fender’s venerable Esquire model, although Duesenberg’s reading is much more refined. Using a handful of different resistors and capacitors magically creates three different basic tones. Position one gives you the unadulterated sound of the Domino pickup. Position two selects a distinctly more polite and slightly tamer alternative, not miles away from the jangle of a two-pickup guitar’s middle selection. Lastly, position three comes up with a nice approximation of a neck singlecoil’s tone.

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While the Dragster is a contemporary instrument it still is endowed with a strong dose of vintage charm and feel. The neck profile is reassuringly chunky, but still very player-friendly. The guitar balances nicely on a strap and feels comfortable in an angular, Telecaster or LP Junior kind of way.

Duesenberg uses PLEK-machines for the ultimate in fret dressing and top nut cutting, which makes the playability and factory set-up of their instruments truly outstanding.

Amped up the Dragster’s basic tone captures the rawness, chunk and raunch of a P90 to a tee. I didn’t see that much of a difference between switch positions one and three – with the latter being a slightly warmer version of the former – but found the smooth and chiming middle position a very worthwhile addition to the Dragster’s tonal arsenal.

Here are two example soundbites I’ve recorded (both clips feature the ”neck” position first and the pure bridge setting last):

Duesenberg Dragster – clean

Duesenberg Dragster – overdriven

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The Duesenberg Starplayer TV (current street price in Finland 1,449 €) is the company’s bestseller and available in many different finishes and versions.

The most intriguing permutation must surely be the Starplayer TV Outlaw (current street price in Finland 1,729 €), which sees both the headstock face as well as the body’s top covered in fake reptile hide – yeah, Rock’n’Roll.

The Outlaw’s plywood body sports a flame maple back finished in translucent black.

This is what the synthetic crocodile skin looks like.

The Outlaw comes equipped with the locking version of Duesenberg’s Z-Tuners, because this model also features the company’s Deluxe Tremola -vibrato.

The cream fingerboard binding adds even more panache to the Starplayer TV.

A black guitar and nickel-plated hardware and scratchplate – how cool can you get?

The Starplayer TV’s top is crafted from spruce plywood. The centre block, which is tapered behind the bridge, is solid maple.

All Starplayer TV -variations to date carry a Duesenberg Domino singlecoil in the neck position and a Grand Vintage Humbucker next to the bridge.

Duesenberg’s Deluxe Tremola is clearly related to a Bigsby, but features several important improvements: The vibrato arm is adjustable for length and swings 360 degrees. Stringing is made very easy here, as the ball ends rest against a long plate – no tiny, fiddly pins here.

A master volume, a master tone and a three-way selector – no surprises here…

All Duesenbergs are equipped with this stylish and chunky jack plate.

In Finland Duesenberg-guitars are sold with a stylish case.

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I have to say the fake reptile hide not only looks great but also feels nice and soft underneath your arm.

The Starplayer TV Outlaw is quite a compact semiacoustic, which makes it comfortable to play and wear for extended periods of time.

The neck profile is round and full, but less of a handful than the Dragster’s offering.

Acoustically the Starplayer TV Outlaw isn’t particularly loud, due to its compact body, but its attack is strong and clear and the notes sustain very well. The spruce top adds a charming sprinkle of woody dryness to proceedings.

The Domino-singlecoil is a fantastic choice for a neck pickup, bringing out all of the Outlaw’s clear and organic character without ever mushing up.

And the Grand Vintage is a perfect match – adding a moderate amount of power, while retaining this guitar’s clarity and dynamics in an exemplary fashion.

Here are two soundbites for you (neck pickup – both – bridge pickup):

Duesenberg Starplayer TV Outlaw – Rockabilly

Duesenberg Starplayer TV Outlaw – crunchy

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Duesenberg have a strong knack for combining harmoniously vintage class with German ingenuity and precision. The result are stylish instruments with a great feel and an outstanding tone.

The Duesenberg Dragster is a dyed-in-the-wool Rock- and Blues-machine, while the Starplayer TV Outlaw combines very tasty semiacoustic tones, a fine vibrato and great playability into a very enticing package.
Welcome back, Duesenberg!
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Duesenberg-guitars

Finnish distributor: F-Musiikki

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Duesenberg Dragster

street price 1,099 € (includes case)

Pros:

+ sound

+ playability

+ workmanship

+ PLEK-set-up

****

Duesenberg Starplayer TV Outlaw

street price 1,729 € (includes case)

Pros:

+ sound

+ playablity

+ workmanship

PLEK-set-up

+ vibrato action and return to pitch

****

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