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the Princess Isabella is everything you could
want from a $10,000 guitar. It plays effortlessly.
Playability and Tones
The PI has a scale length of 28", which
makes it a baritone. However, it arrived
strung for standard tuning. After spending a
lot of time with the guitar I can tell you that
it plays so well that I didn’t notice the longer
scale length at first. If you have big hands,
this will not be a problem—and it may be
what you’ve wanted all your life. If you have
small hands, you’ll have to try it and see how
it works for you.
not. But nobody will find flaw with the quality craftsmanship and design work. Further,
though our review guitar was numbered 3 out
of 50, Ritter still considers it a prototype, and
he has already made refinements in the design
of subsequent PIs—including getting rid of the
ample neck volute. (He did so by impregnating the area between the peghead and neck
with a resin that makes it stronger.) The guy is
always thinking about his next move.
Tone-wise, the PI has a really lovely sound.
Overall, it has a very organic, acoustic quality.
Ritter chose to build it with no onboard controls
so the sound would be as pure as possible. So,
between the fine-quality wood, great pickup,
and excellent playability, what you have seems
to be quite true to what Ritter was going for.
The PI sounds simply wonderful for solo guitar.
It has perhaps more sustain than an archtop,
but it retains a seemingly delayed attack very
much like a traditional jazz guitar. This attack
is the result of two key things (among others):
the spring-steel tailpiece and the hollow area
under the bridge. I asked Ritter why he didn’t
go for a wooden bridge if he wanted archtop-type response. He told me he tried quite a few
different bridges of various materials and got
the best response from the metal bridge that
is now part of the design. And it makes sense
when you consider that banjo mutes work by
sticking a lump of brass to the bridge. I should
also note how much I like the sound of brass
saddles on a Telecaster. So, however it works, it
Needless to say, the PI is quite an unusual
guitar with its long scale, unique look, lack of
onboard controls, and steep price. But, get
over it. It’s a big world and it is made richer
by artists that think differently. As for the
price, I know guitar players are, let’s face it,
cheap. But all I can tell you is that there are
tons of cheap guitars available, and you often
get what you pay for. When you want the
upper-echelon quality of a handmade custom
instrument, you have to save your pennies and
get ready to pay. Sometimes it also helps to
remind yourself that, price-wise, guitars are
still at the low end of stringed instruments.
As for Ritter, keep in mind that he’s a custom
builder, and as such he’s open to what you,
the customer, want. So if you want a short-scale Isabella made with exotic, beautiful
woods and 10 knobs, he’ll build it for you.
And I am betting it will be extraordinary.
you’d like a fine, world-class instrument that looks like nothing else.
As a long-scale standard guitar, the PI is quite
successful. However, I was curious how the
guitar would respond with the bigger strings
and B-to-B tuning. The answer is that the
very resonant swamp ash body really rattles
your teeth—in the good way. It’s good to be
reminded that one of the things about luthi-er-built guitars is the care they take in wood
selection, and it really shows in the PI.
you are old-school and broke.
Jens Ritter Instruments
The Final Mojo
I’m not sure how many jazz guitarists are
searching for a baritone, let alone a bright
white-and-gold solidbody. Nevertheless, the
Princess Isabella is the result of a great deal
of research by a very thoughtful man, and
it shows in spades. You already know from
looking at the pictures if you like it’s look or
The Princess Isabella’s handcast steel tailpiece doesn’t
touch any part of the guitar top.
PREMIER GUITAR JUNE 2010 167