Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Orfeus Thinline review

Recently here on Guitarz, Bertram showed us an Orfeus thinline guitar. Pictured above we see another similar Orfeus guitar, owned by Martin Cater, who has kindly supplied the following review:

I own a couple of other Communist-era guitars and, in common with those models, the tone of this Bulgarian-made Orfeus is best described as having not so much twang as clank! Information on Orfeus guitars is scant, but comparing this one with images I’ve seen of others, I would hazard a guess that it dates from the late 60s or early 70s.

It’s undoubtledly a crude instrument, though not without a certain character. The body is semi-hollow, not unlike the Rickenbacker 330 which probably inspired the design (if you can call a thing like this inspired), and there’s additional wood in the centre which falls short of being a centre block as there’s a narrow gap through the middle. The top is about 5mm thick and as can be seen from the photos, it’s quite an attractive piece of wood. The finish is the kind of matt varnish you might expect to find on a piece of furniture or maybe an acoustic guitar. The top and back are natural wood, whilst the sides are a contrasting dark brown matt stain. It’s impossible to be sure if either of these finishes is original. What appears to be binding is nothing more than a white painted strip around the edges of the top and back and the soundhole.

The neck is thick and fat, with a squareish profile that’s reminiscent of old Italian acoustics, and no separate fingerboard – the frets are just hammered straight into the neck. Action is on the high side, but not unplayable. The unusual string retainer seems to be typical of Orfeus models, as is the zero fret.

All the equipment appears to be original and is consistent with photos of other Orfeus instruments that I’ve seen. Typically, the name is spelled differently on the headstock and on the pickups, which seems to suggest models made for export. One of the strangest aspects of the guitar is the bridge, with saddles which appear to be made of perspex. This seems to be a standard type used on other Orfeus models. The three large control knobs comprise volume for each pickup and a third control which is probably a master volume but doesn’t have any effect. The 5-pin din output is typical, but luckily the guitar was supplied with the correct lead.

There’s a fair amount of volume when played acoustically, and plugged in, the tone is very much that of a cheap amplified acoustic: thin and middly with barely any sustain. Single notes have an almost sitar-like quality on the top three strings, especially when the volume is rolled off on the neck pickup. Both pickups combined give a pleasantly mid range Johnny Marr-style tone which sounds surprisingly good on strummed chords. Output is quite loud compared with other cheap vintage instruments, and whilst it doesn’t take kindly to distortion, what you do get when you crank it up is a primitive boxy growl that sounds for all the world like Dave Davies’ shredded speaker tone on You Really Got Me. This is essentially a Bulgarian chord machine!

The nearest thing to this that I’ve played is a Harmony Rebel – also Rickenbacker-inspired, and with a similarly crude finish and clanky tone.

Martin Cater

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