Vibe is difficult to define. As with good art, though, you know it when you see it. While the vibe of vintage basses of the '50s and '60s can make players and collectors drool, those mojo-filled instruments are becoming increasingly elusive for anyone not earning a doctor's salary. DiPinto Guitars aims to design instruments with that vintage vibe without breaking the bank. For its semi-hollow Belvedere Standard, DiPinto looks to less-copied builders like Supro, Hagstrom, and Eko for design inspiration.
Not As It Seems
In the 50's plastic was still novel and many instrument builder used it everywhere they could, including bodies and fingerboards. With the Belvedere, DiPinto aimed for plastic's distinctive look while using a more time-honored material, wood. The Belvedere's body is built by routing two cavities into a piece of solid mahogany, leaving a mahogany center block and rim. The core is then capped with a mahogany plywood top and back. Completing the body's Sputnik-era design theme, the edges are then routed and painted to look like two joined pieces of a plastic shell. However, you can see the mahogany with a quick peek inside the bound f-hole.
The painted maple neck felt comfortable and familiar; it reminded me of a slightly oversize standard Jazz Bass. The well-crowned and leveled frets were buzz-free along the bound ebony fingerboard. Despite the DiPinto's chunky neck heel, high notes on the Belvedere remained accessible. Even with a few sharp tugs, the four-bolt neck never budged.
Like the instruments that inspired it, the Belvedere features several guitar-like elements. The three-position pickup switch on the upper treble bout and the passive tone control are your only tone-shaping options (other than your fingers and hand position). The Tune-o-matic style bridge and flashy trapeze tailpiece are lifted from Gibson's '50s guitar design. Bridges like these have never been easy to intonate, but it simply looks right on the Belvedere. The E-string hole on the Belvedere's tailpiece wasn't quite large enough for a non-taperwound string, and ball-end peeked out.
Acoustically the DiPinto is loud and punchy; amplified it sounds immediate and full. There is a visceral delight in feeling the Belvedere's resonating body as its rich tone thumps from the speakers; one staffer called it 'meaty but clear.' Switching on the back pickup and digging in at the bridge produced some serious bark, while switching to the neck pickup and using the fleshy part of my thumb up on the the neck yielded a massive, warm tone. Semi-acoustic instruments like the Belvedere really reflect how much your plucking hand position affects tone. Want a bold attack with an aggressive edge? Grab a pick and wail away.
Acoustic instruments tend to respond more dramatically to different strings, too, and the semi-acoustic Belvedere is no exception. With roundwounds, the bass was zingy and had a vicious bite, especially when played with a pick. With groundwounds, the tone beefed up for a huge hollowbody-like thud.
If there's one technique that doesn't come easily to the DiPinto, it's slapping. The thick plexiglass guard gets in the way, and the acoustic chambers rob the sharp attack. Still one staffer found the Belvedere versatile enough to switch between fingerstyle funk, tubby reggae, and retro rock on a loud club gig with a large band.
The Belvedere's distinctive retro design, combined with its many usable tones, sets it apart from other instruments on the market. And with a tone as ear-pleasing as its design is eye-catching, you can't ignore this instrument's mojo.