Why the Designer N-225 is an Amazing Guitar
I've always had a thing for guitars that were a little edgy. A little different. A little dangerous. I'm pretty sure this dates back to my earliest experiences with the guitar, which involved a lot of AC/DC videos and Gibson SG-coveting. You simply can't look at an SG and not think 'danger.' And then you pick one up and realize that it's capable of a whole lot of music, always pushing you to explore new sounds and techniques, encouraging you further and further into uncharted territory. And that's what a guitar should do: it should prompt you to get in touch with your inner muse, to help you to project your deepest feelings into audible expression. Sometimes a recognizable guitar can do that - like an SG, a Les Paul, an ES-335 - and they might prompt you to play something in the tradition of the great players who used that model before you. And sometimes a guitar comes along that offers no preconceived notions, something that's so unique that it might prompt you in a certain direction, but it offers you no clues as to what to do with it once you get there. That's what I like about the N-225.
Part of the Designer series, the N-225 really is its own entity. The pointy horns are slightly reminiscent of an SG, and the back half is a bit like a Nighthawk, but it's more of a hint, a suggestion rather than an outright borrow of design features. The top and back are solid maple, chambered for reduced weight and greater resonance and sustain. Maple is a notoriously bright, tight-grained and hard-toned wood, offering great note definition and treble snap.
The neck, too, is maple, carved to a slim '60s profile. The 22-fret fingerboard is solid rosewood, and the block fretboard inlays and split-diamond headstock inlay give off the vibe of a Custom. And I guess in a way that's what this guitar is: it's like a custom instrument for a player who hasn't yet discovered it.
Aside from the cosmetic aspect of the Custom-inspired inlays, there are three particular elements of the N-225 that nod to Gibson's past: the first is the Vibrola tailpiece. The Vibrola name has been used by Gibson since the early 1960s, applied to various models such as the Sideways Vibrola of the 1962 Les Paul Standard (later named the SG) and the Lyre Vibrola (from the 1963 SG Custom). The version featured on the N-225 is a kinsman of the Short Vibrola found on '60s Flying Vs. The Vibrola's influence on the pitch is perfect for adding a delicate wavering to sustained notes and chords, or a more pronounced shimmer, as well as silky pitch dips. It's a very elegant take on the whammy sound.
Another legacy Gibson gene expressed in the N-225 is the P-90 pickup in the neck position. Debuting in the 1940s, the P-90 is the go-to pickup for many players requiring grit, clarity, output and soul from a single coil. A P-90 will give you a fair degree of 'string sound,' translating more of the influence of the actual string windings than a humbucker would, but with fuller body and more boldness than a regular-sized single coil.
The bridge pickup is a new Dirty Fingers Plus humbucker, a new take on the venerable Dirty Fingers 'bucker, retooled by Gibson's Jim DeCola. The Dirty Fingers Plus still uses a ceramic magnet like the original Dirty Fingers but with some key differences, and the pickup has a more focused tonality. It's designed to give you scorching lead tones in full humbucking mode with the power to push your amp into crunchy rhythm or singing sustain, while a push-pull tone pot splits the pickup into single coil mode.
Three colors are available: Natural, Faded Cherry, and the pinstriped Ebony which is hand-painted by acclaimed artist Rick Harris.
So what kind of music is the N-225 asking you to make on it? I can certainly imagine it hanging in there for an all-night blues jam, or getting down and dirty for Queens Of The Stone Age-style desert rock. The P-90 and Vibrola would help it to feel right at home in an indie band, while the focused Dirty Fingers Plus and chambered body would give it the articulation a fusion soloist requires. And there's a lot to recommend it to rockabilly and country players too. But perhaps the greatest, most apt use of the N-225 hasn't been found yet. Perhaps someone out there is going to pick one up soon and it will inspire them to play something we haven't even heard yet.