Duesenberg Mike Campbell II

  • By Fletcher Stewart @tonereport
  • April 02, 2014

Duesenberg and Mike Campbell have teamed up once again to create a retro-modern classic. Anyone familiar with Tom Petty’s fellow Heartbreaker and axeman-extraordinaire knows of his penchant for pure tone. Though he is also known for his song-supportive, understated style, the new Duesenberg Hollow Series Mike Campbell II is anything but.

Fullerton Ghosts Haunt the Hollow

One look at this red-sparkle-stunner and the heart starts racing back to 1969. It all makes sense given that when Mr. Campbell was a young man he might have honed his chops on a Fender Competition Red Mustang. This is only my own theory based on the color and bold racing stripe. Perhaps this Doozy also bears the cross of a Fender Coranodo, but unlike the inspirational ancestors, it doesn’t belong in a museum.

In trademark Duesenberg style, the vintage American aesthetic is garnished with robust, Art Deco hardware, cream five-layer binding and a matching headstock. The beautifully bent sides, double cutaway body and single f-hole in the spruce top enhance this marriage of muscle and elegance.

Decked Out for Deco Destruction

Looking at the controls, we observe the signature custom-made volume and tone controls that function as expected tonally. It has to be noted in any Duesenberg review that all the hardware is manufactured specifically for their guitars and optimized for both form and functionality. In typical German manufacturing tradition (and Duesenberg’s roots as a guitar hardware upgrade specialist) no expense is spared when it comes to the look, function and action of the tuners, pots and pickup selector.

So what does that knob on the lower horn do exactly? Turning it clockwise yields a satisfyingly smooth click and the signal perks up a little bit. Turning the pot further adds even more volume and bite. At the end of the sweep, we have 10db of beautiful, blooming boost that percolates the spruce and maple tonewoods into shivering fits of harmonic feedback. You can smoothly weave in and out of by riding the knob. This active, built-in booster is dubbed the Destruct-Knob and may just kick a pedal or two off your board. The ability to ramp in and out of flutey overtones is a revelation and a much more musical, interactive experience than the on-off stompbox boost. This wonderful addition works in tandem with the completely hollow body and celebrates the ability to feedback, rather than trying to tame it with a sustain block.

Float Like a Butterfly Sting Like a Bee

Picking up the instrument is effortless. The guitar is well balanced and light as a feather. Long-term guitarists should consider the initial investment in this pricey piece could save money doled out to the chiropractor down the line. For those who are familiar with Duesenberg, you will know that the frets have been leveled to perfection by their PLEK machine, so you can set the action as low as you wish without fret buzz or choked out notes. The neck is substantial without feeling like a baseball bat and navigating up and down the fretboard is easy all the way up to the 22nd jumbo fret, thanks to the double cutaway design. Another standout feature is the 25.6” scale length that enables you to employ higher gauge strings without them feeling too stiff on the bend. The dual-action trussrod can easily accommodate any relief preference you may have if you do decide to change string gauges.

The resonant marriage of spruce top, glued in one-piece maple neck and flamed maple back vibrate beautifully from headstock to the end of the Duesenberg Trapeze Tailpiece. For those who are into performing some atonal acrobatics, there are lots of areas to explore behind the bridge. Unlike many guitars with so much “dead string” behind the bridge, I felt the break angle on the saddles created plenty of string tension to perform sustained bends.

Stellar Sound in the 3rd Dimension

This model does away with the bridge humbucker and sports a pair of Duesenberg’s own Domino P-90’s. Unlike traditional P-90’s with their throaty midrange, these pickups are balanced perfectly from low-to-high frequencies. The lows are rich and substantial (due in no small part to the hollow body) and the highs soar right up to sparkling peaks that chime like bells without ever becoming harsh. You can even wrangle up some Tele-tones in the middle position and flipping to the neck is a one-way ticket to legato land.

What We Like: Flawless craftsmanship, perfect factory setup and custom nickel hardware that locks into place with a satisfying click like a finely tuned auto transmission. The feather-light body rings with harmonic overtones whether you are plugged in or not and the built in 10db boost is no gimmick.

Concerns: One personal niggle I have to point out is the massive signature on the mirrored pickguard. Even though it is a signature guitar to be immensely proud of, I think many folks would appreciate the scrawl on the back of the headstock, so you don’t feel like you are taking someone else’s date to dinner. The hefty price tag does reflect custom hardware; top-shelf components and overall build quality, but may put this bad boy out of reach for most. Will all this in mind, you will save some money on a boutique boost pedal and Duesenberg includes a deluxe hard case that King Tut would be happy to take a 3,000-year nap in.

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  1. Rick Sweet

    I want one… I tried some epiphones and discovered they are made in China. These German made guitars are high quality instruments! They also have an awesome finish put on them. I wish that I could afford one.