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This article was originally published in issue #11
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Bored by the legions of more or less interchangeable singlecut humbucking guitars? Looking for something just a little bit special? Tom Quayle would like you to meet the DBZ Royale FM.
DBZ guitars has had an interesting history. Formed in 2008 by the founder of Dean guitars, Dean Zelinsky, along with two partners, DBZ was announced as a major venture and created quite a stir at its launch, with some fine-looking woodwork setting off the strong designs particularly well. The brand had a slow start in the UK, due to distributor problems, but is now being handled by a specialist, GoTo Guitars, and we were relieved to finally be able to bring one into the studio for review. What we got was a Royale FM, one of the newer designs based on the DBZ Imperial model but featuring a smaller body size. The Royale is designed to be a full mahogany style, dual humbucking guitar, with great sustain but much smaller body mass, we were told. We couldn't wait to fire it up!
The Royale FM features a traditional solid mahogany body and set neck design with a flame maple top and very attractive scraped binding. An ebonized rosewood fretboard aids sustain and looks great with its premier series inlays and darker grain. The slim-line body is sculpted to match the archtop designs of old but with a more modern contour into the horns and a remarkable 5/8" thickness at the edges. Hardware comes in the form of two DBZ designed DBZB and DBZ5 humbucker pickups, Grover tuners and a very nice DBZ tail piece. Unlike the Imperial range, this guitar doesn't have a coil tap function for single coil sounds or the extended tail piece design - this is a smaller body shape after all. Single volume and tone knobs and a three-way selector switch finish off proceedings. Hardware is all nickel finished and feels high quality throughout.
Construction is supreme on all of the DBZ guitars I've tried and the Royale is no exception. The neck joint and bodywork are flawless and the flame top with its Amber Tobacco finish, whilst not matching up to boutique AAA tops, looks superb along with its lovely scraped binding. And after all, we're not talking anything like boutique money here, so that's fair enough! In terms of its design I'd say there is a subtlety at play here that allows the DBZ to share that space between modern and traditional, allowing it to appeal to a broad range of potential buyers. By the way, the fretwork is also flawless and it is a great tribute to DBZ that their import guitars (of which this is an example) are right up there with the quality of USA-made instruments.
Having owned a couple of thinner bodied guitars from another manufacturer - notably an Ibanez Sabre - I was instantly at home with the Royale's profile. It sits very comfortably into the body thanks to those sculpted bouts and the smaller width allows it to really hug into the player for a more intimate playing experience. Where this design really shines though is whilst playing stood up as the shaved down body width allows for a much lighter instrument that doesn't seem to suffer from a lack of sustain at all - a great achievement on the part of DBZ. Anyone who's experienced extended gigs with a great lump of mahogany strapped around their neck will really appreciate this slimline guitar!
Played acoustically, the Royale has a very pleasing amount of sustain and a sophisticated tone that suggests everything from light strumming to Jazz chordal explorations. Single notes are clear and the factory set-up was just in that middle ground between playability without incurring fret buzz anywhere on the neck. In other words, it was great and something a lot of other companies should take note of!
Plugged-in the Royale retains a surprising amount of that sustain considering its diminutive width and mass, partly thanks to the great hardware and set-up. The bridge humbucker was biting and throaty giving classic all mahogany, set neck tones. Nothing ground breaking but solid and exactly what you'd want from this set-up but without the super heavy body trade off. The neck position was fat and warm but with good definition and never suffered from muddiness. The pickups seem to be very well matched and offer a good combination of tones from a simple three-way design. Clean tones were also as expected and offered very solid performance. Often, pickups are the first thing to go on import guitars but in this case they offer great tones and don't fall into that throw away category that others so often do. The Royale would be equally at home in a Rock, Blues or Jazz context and really crosses the boundaries between those genres very adeptly.
Given the superb construction and hardware choices, the DBZ Royale would make a great choice for those needing a traditional all-mahogany twin humbucker guitar, or for players looking for an archtop style design in a smaller package. It's definitely not a design that will appeal to the hardcore traditionalists, but for those whose tastes extend a little further afield, the Royale is a very good instrument and, whilst it's not the cheapest Far Eastern manufactured guitar on the market, thanks to its specs and great playability it still represents good value for money. Check out our video and add it to you 'ones to try' list.