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This article was originally published in issue #27
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American luthier Dennis Fano has a carved a great reputation for building original design guitars that look like they have always been with us, using the best tonewood, hardware and craftsmanship available today. Each instrument is hand built with no compromise to modern quick profit-driven turnover, by a small team that follow to the letter his prototype designs. He is big into making his guitars look and feel like they are 50 years old, with some amazing distressing work on offer, but he also makes nice shiny new looking instruments like this Alt De Facto JM6 guitar we have on review.
Behind the Fano range there's a really interesting idea - and it's where the name 'Alt de Facto' comes from. What Dennis does is imagine an alternative universe where the great guitar builders of the Fifties and Sixties all worked together producing guitars which... well, which look like Fanos. Our editor suggested it's similar in concept to Fender's clever 'Pawn shop' guitars that ‘might have been’ range but then added that he thought the Fanos were so sexy looking that 'porn shop' was more applicable. He's a sad case.
Anyway, on with the review. Opening up the very plush case we are greeted by a beautiful looking guitar which your brain tries to categorise but can't. It is both familiar and alien at the same time. Guitar design is very hard to get right because we guitar players are very set in our ways and generally we do not stray too far from what we know and love, but this Fano instantly looks cool and tasteful and invites further investigation.
Nowadays, on picking any guitar up and strumming a couple of chords I can pretty much tell what the guitar has to offer. The best test is to see what impression a guitar gives you acoustically before you plug it in to an amp, and within seconds I could tell this guitar is alive. Very much like the John McGuire I reviewed in GI 25, resonance, response and ring is in abundance on this JM6. All of which means that when you plug it in, things can only get better.
Equipped with Fralin P90s this guitar sounds traditional and huge straight away, before I even think about tweaking the studio amp. Lindy Fralin and Lollar are among my favourite pickup makers, and both feature heavily across the Fano range. These Fralin P90s give a big mid range when used clean and a real chainsaw grind when pushing an amp hard.
The pick ups are complimented by the use of korina for the neck and body which I suspect is adding the sweetness in tone this guitar gives. At 7lb 5oz the guitar is light but still feels substantial enough. I personally always seek out light guitars because I have found through experience that at stage volumes they ring and respond much better. You may agree or disagree but that has been my experience. I also think this JM6 looks very classy in a faded tea burst and finished in nitro cellulose. Nitro finish is what all guitars should have, but it is very labour intensive and will add a lot to the cost of a guitar. Nitro ages beautifully and tells a story, whereas mass production poly finishes encase your guitar in plastic that will always look the same, barring you inflicting major scratch damage. Generally if a guitar is finished in nitro cellulose, then you are dealing with a manufacturer who cares about quality. Not always, but most times. The colour of the finish is complemented well by the colour of the pickguard which is called 'gold plexi' (obviously a nod to the colour of plexi Marshalls) and I think is very cool looking.
The neck has a quality looking rosewood board with a modern feeling and playing compound radius fretboard with medium to large frets that makes the whole thing effortless to play. It is strung with 10-46 strings that has a Tone Pros bridge and stoptail one end, and Gotoh Kluson-style machine heads the other. The strings run over a Graphtech TUSQ nut.
The whole guitar reeks of quality. Traditional looking but with state of the art hardware that is as good as it gets. This attention to detail and quality does not come cheap, so if you want a Fano guitar, you do have to pay for it, like any high end instrument today. So no surprises there. What is a surprise is how well Dennis Fano's designs work. If you don't want to run with pack and want individuality, then a Fano guitar is a good place to spend your money. Or if you already own a few industry standard guitars and want something a bit different to compliment your collection, then again a Fano may have something in its range for you.
We thought hard about how to rate this guitar. On the one hand, calling a 3,000 dollar guitar 'great value for money' might seem crazy. But pitch this beautiful, handmade Fano against top-end Gibsons, Fenders and PRS and suddenly that price doesn't seem very high at all. In fact, we think that for a professional guitar this Fano actually does represent great value.
I am very impressed by this Alt De Facto JM6 and could seriously consider a Fano guitar as a future purchase. Check the range out, they are as cool as you like.