Friday, February 7, 2020

Ordering a Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond from Ikebe-Gakki Japan

Browsing Ikebe-Gakki's site the other day, I happened to pull up a search for Zemaitis guitars and came across this particularly spectacular piece. And as luck would have it, Ikebe-Gakki just happened to be having a closeout sale on Zemaitis Series 2 guitars to make way for the forthcoming Series 3's.

I knew I just had to pull the trigger on this one.

Ikebe-Gakki's email response time has always been quick and efficient and I was able to confirm my order the following day.

And so began the anxious wait.

Most Japanese online guitar shops ship by EMS, the very reliable Japanese postal service. It's SingPost in Singapore that has always caused me some concern which you can read about extensively on my Tokai LS173 article.

With the tracking number provided, the guitar shipped out via EMS Japan last Friday January 31st, and arrived in Singapore on Sunday night, February 2nd. Determined not to miss the postman this time around and face having to deal with the SingPost office yet again, I took a day's leave from work in anticipation of its delivery on Tuesday 4th February.

But it was not to be.

To top it off, the automated reply to a call to SingPost on Wednesday startlingly said that an attempted delivery was made on 4th February!  I immediately searched for an attempted delivery slip but it was nowhere to be found, not under my door or in the mailbox. "More SingPost shenanigans!", I thought to myself.

I was about to trek down to the post office and bang on a few tables (just kidding!) when I told myself,  "Relax, it's only a guitar".

I decided to call the SingPost hotline to reach out to an actual human being on the status of the shipment.  After being put on hold accompanied by some jarring, slightly distorted piano music I was politely informed that the package was in the queue for delivery the following day.

I was now even more determined not to miss the delivery, so I put up a sign on my gate, indicating my phone number. The package was delivered at precisely 9am by a very cheery postman who called me on my mobile number when he was at my front door.

Wait a minute Mr Postman..

In all, the guitar was with SingPost from Sunday February 2nd til the morning of February 6th -- four working days. Not too bad SingPost, not too bad.

And just like my previous order from Ikebe-Gakki, the guitar came very well packed, literally a box within another box, containing the guitar in its hardcase.

ikebe gakki carton
Ikebe-Gakki outer carton box

Inlays for Days

The first all-white Zemaitis guitar debuted at NAMM 2015. Part of the Japanese-made Zemaitis Superior series, this model featured abalone inlays encircling the rim of the guitar body but didn't yet include the large abalone diamond inlays next to the tailpiece.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond
Sheer wow factor and bling!

And it was all that abalone that initially caught my eye. On close inspection, I could see every little square inlay was separate and individually inlaid by hand. A CNC machine can cut the slots for the inlays, but there are some things that machines can't do just yet.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond inlays
Stunning inlay work

The Zemaitis A24SU Superior White Pearl Diamond features:

  • A mahogany top with abalone inlays
  • African mahogany neck and body
  • Set-neck construction
  • 42.5mm nut width
  • Rosewood fingerboard with 24 medium frets
  • Bone nut
  • 25" scale length
  • Dragon Classic pickups
  • Duralumin bridge, tailpiece, pickup mounting rings and control knobs
  • Gotoh SG381 1:16 ratio tuners
  • 12 1/32" fingerboard radius
  • Les Paul-style controls with two volume and two tone controls with  3-way selector switch
  • Polyurethane finish

What Is African Mahogany?

Traditional mahogany from Honduras is known for its strength and beauty and is still the wood of choice for guitar building.  Old growth Honduran mahogany stockpiles have long since dwindled and have become exceedingly expensive. Almost all the Honduran mahogany available these days is new growth from plantations but still commands top dollar. Naturally, alternatives to Honduran mahogany were sought out, one of which was Khaya from West Africa, one of five known species of mahogany.

On a solidbody instrument, African mahogany is as resonant and lightweight as its Honduran counterpart.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond in case
Zemaitis A24SU in plush hardcase

Zemaitis Set-Neck Construction

Upon examing the neck joint, the first thing I noticed was the unique neck pocket design, true to the original guitars built by Tony Zemaitis. The body is routed at the neck joint to form a pocket which encloses the neck heel on three sides when it is inserted and glued. Instead of a Les Paul-type tenon joint, the entire width of the neck heel fits into the pocket forming a very solid connection.  I noticed a similar neck pocket design on my Aria Pro II Cardinal, albeit in a bolt-on configuration.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond neck joint
Zemaitis unique neck pocket joint

Fingerboard and Frets

The A24SU comes with 24 immaculately dressed and polished medium frets on a 12" radius rosewood fingerboard. Attention to detail here is extraordinarily high for what is still basically a production instrument. The crowns of each fret are perfectly rounded with no sign of levelling -- flattened crowns are a sure sign of cost-cutting -- and the fret ends are nicely chamfered for a perfectly smooth feel up and down the edge of the fingerboard.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond frets
Impeccably polished medium frets 

And thank goodness for the lifting of the CITES control of import and export of musical instruments with rosewood in November 2019.  Having to get CITES certification for every guitar with a rosewood fingerboard was ridiculous from the get-go.

One little niggle I have is that I wish they hadn't used the cheap white plastic pearloid inlays for the fingerboard. Real mother-of-pearl would have added to the overall look and stun factor and frankly it's not expensive. The Generation 1 Zemaitis guitars built by Greco, from what I've seen, had genuine MOP inlays.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond 12th fret inlay
12th fret inlay

But I'm glad that Zemaitis Japan considered going with a 42.5mm width bone nut for the Superior series instead of plastic. One interesting fact is that many of the hand-built original Zemaitis guitars had very narrow nut widths in the region of 37.5mm.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond headstock logo
Zemaitis headstock logo and engraved trussrod cover

25" Scale Length

Somewhere between the Fender's scale length of 25 1/2" and Gibson's 24 3/4" is what I've long thought to be the domain of Paul Reed Smith at 25".  As it turns out, Tony Zemaitis was using a 25" scale on his guitars since 1957!

A 25" scale length on a mahogany body, in my opinion, yields more resonance and a different feel to the instrument overall. Coupled with the scale length, the lack of a maple top on the Zemaitis A24SU also makes the body resonate more freely -- you feel the vibration very distinctly under your fretting hand when you strum an open chord.

Here's an earlier article on scale lengths that may be of interest.

Duralumin Bridge, Tailpiece and Pickup Mounting Rings 

One distinct feature of Zemaitis guitars is their art-deco style bridge and tailpiece design. Tony Zemaitis used to fashion his bridges by hand out of aluminum billets and the originals had an abundance of tooling marks, imperfections and a definite homemade quality.

Zemaitis Japan has chosen to go with Duralumin, a hard aircraft aluminum alloy for all their bridges, tailpieces, mounting rings, control knobs and, depending on the model, the metal tops.  Exceptionally detailed acid-etched engravings on the tailpiece, pickup mounting rings and headstock badge and truss-rod cover raise the bling factor of the Zemaitis A24SU by a factor of 100. At least.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond Dragon Classic pickups
Dragon Classic pickups with engraved mounting rings

The original Zemaitis design bridge is wide and rounded and very comfortable for the picking hand to rest on when playing.  On close inspection you'll notice the string saddles to be larger than usual and there are slots on the back of the bridge where the strings can pass through to the tailpiece. The tailpiece is bolted flush to the body and the slots on the bridge are so that the strings contact only the saddles and not the edge of the bridge. It's an extremely well thought-out design, both in function and aesthetics.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond bridge and tailpiece
Zemaitis Duralumin Bridge and Tailpiece

Dragon Classic Pickups and Electronics

The proprietary Dragon Classic pickups are modelled after the old vintage Gibson PAF humbuckers. Not particularly high in output, they are warm but with a smooth top-end that cuts through nicely, especially on the bridge pickup. Overdriven tones are very reminiscent of a vintage Les Paul with that elusive crying overtone. With the amp set to clean, the neck pickup yields an almost acoustic tone, but that is definitely also due to the combination of the guitar's construction, aluminum bridge and tailpiece, and all-mahogany body.

I also like that Zemaitis has chosen to steel-wool the chrome pickup covers, dulling the shine down a bit to more closely resemble the rest of the hardware.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond electronics
Under the hood

The Zemaitis AS24SU Superior White Pearl comes in a faux suede, dark 'British green' plush hardcase.

Zemaitis A24SU White Pearl Diamond hardcase
A hardshell case befitting a Zemaitis guitar

Read about my earlier Ikebe-Gakki order:

EVH Striped Series Guitar Review


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