Veillette Flyer 14 Review
Joe Veillette’s initial foray into lutherie came in 1971, while he was working as an architectural designer in New York City. He wasn’t looking to become a guitar builder at the time, but took up study with master luthier Michael Gurian so that he could learn the craft well enough to repair the broken headstock of a guitar he owned. Before long, Veillette became so interested in the craft that he put architecture aside and began building acoustic guitars full time. In 1975, he cofounded Veillette-Citron Guitars with Harvey Citron, building electric guitars and basses with neck-through-body construction and innovative electronics. Veillette-Citron closed shop in 1983, at which time Veillette stopped building guitars and spent most of his timeplayingthem—primarily with the Woodstock, New York–based band the Phantoms.
Veillette returned to lutherie in 1991, producing Veillette electric guitars and Spector basses with partner Stuart Spector under the Woodstock Music Products banner. After that company disbanded in ’95, Veillette went on to codesign a line of acoustic guitars for Alvarez and developed the Deep 6 baritone conversion neck for Fender-style electric guitars. (Veillette’s interest in nonstandard scale lengths—and in baritone guitars in particular—stems back to 1978, when singer John Sebastian asked him to build an electric baritone.)
In recent years, Veillette has been developing and producing acoustic, electric, and acoustic-electric guitars—and baritones and basses as well—branded simply as Veillette Guitars. The Flyer series is the company’s latest line, available in steel-string, nylon-string, bass, and double-neck configurations. Our review model is the Flyer 14—a slimline steel-string with a 14-inch lower bout. The Flyer 14 comes with a D-TAR Wave-Length pickup and preamp system as standard equipment.
There are several aesthetic elements that set the Flyer 14 apart from most steel-string acoustics—including its rich amber-red hue, oval-shaped soundhole, gently sloped top, and floating wooden tailpiece (made of pau ferro, as is the bridge). What grabbed my attention first, however, was the Flyer’s diminutive size. The guitar is relatively shallow in depth and measures only 14 inches across its lower bout. These sleek dimensions make the Flyerverycomfortable to play, seated or standing. And, because of its radiused top, the guitar’s depth is not a constant—it’s actually shallower at the widest edges. (“The top is standard-thickness spruce bent over three simple ladder braces,” Veillette says. “It’s just like an old Stella or Harmony, except for the radiused top—which gives longitudinal stiffness while lending some of the old-time bluesy ‘bark.’”) This contour allows your right arm (or left, for southpaw pickers) to rest more naturally across the guitar’s side and top. I can’t think of another acoustic guitar that I’ve found so easy to cradle.
Despite its small size, the Flyer 14 is not exactly delicate. With a solid maple back and extrathick maple sides, it seems built with the rigors of the road in mind and ready to take as much serious playing as anyone can dish out. Like all Veillette acoustics, the Flyer has a single-bolted neck joint. An understated volute at the base of the headstock bolsters the head-to-neck transition—the Achilles heel of many nonvoluted neck/headstock designs.
A Versatile Voice
Though the Flyer 14 has a look all its own, the guitar does bear some visual and sonic resemblance to a couple of its distant cousins. For example, the oval soundhole, zero fret, and soft-shouldered cutaway bring to mind the Selmer-Maccaferri instruments of the early 1930s. (The Flyer is ladder-braced—as those old French guitars were—while most other Veillette models are built using a variation of traditional Martin-style X-bracing.) Indeed, the Veillette’s midrange-forward voice would be fitting in a Gypsy swing group. Playing Django Reinhardt–inspired four-to-the-bar rhythm with an extraheavy flatpick, I found the guitar’s dynamic range impressively wide. At whisper-quiet volume, every note in the chords spoke sweetly and articulately. Nothing was lost as I stepped on the gas little by little, and even at full throttle the chords sounded richly musical.
Playing fingerstyle blues on the Flyer 14 brought out another aspect of its character. To explore, I dropped down into open-G tuning and played a few Robert Johnson–style licks—with a bottleneck and without. Now the guitar’s throaty nature was akin to the sound of Hoover-era Stella six-strings I’ve played. (Like the aforementioned Selmer-Maccaferris, the old Stellas were ladder-braced as well.) I could elicit honeyed warbles or hellhound growls from the Flyer by varying my touch and technique.
Returning the Flyer to standard tuning, I decided to give the guitar a go as a jazz box, playing a chord-melody arrangement of “Days of Wine and Roses.” Here, yet another aspect of this guitar’s personality came to light. Full-voiced jazz chords sounded well balanced across the strings. Melodic runs sounded punchy, yet not overly so. I found the Flyer’s string spacing comfortably wide—it was easy to navigate intricate chords without my left-hand fingers bunching up, and there’s ample right-hand room for fingerstyle picking. Enjoying the Flyer’s jazzier side, I couldn’t help but wonder how it would sound with a set of flatwound strings. I stopped short of changing the strings, however, because I wanted to stay focused on how the guitar sounds and feels with the stock factory setup.
It Might Get Loud
The Flyer 14 was designed to be a stage-ready acoustic-electric, and it comes with a factory-installed D-TAR Wave-Length pickup and preamp. Volume and tone control wheels are easily accessible, just inside the soundhole. This 18-volt system (running on two nine-volt batteries) has headroom to spare, which means you can really dig in without overloading the preamp. Played through a small combo amp, the Wave-Length faithfully transmitted all of the Flyer’s tonal characteristics, as well as the finer details of my playing—such as touch dynamics and just enough fingers-on-strings noise. Next, I tried recording the guitar direct into GarageBand, using an Apogee Jam interface. Again, the playing details were clear and the guitar sounded like itself. The tone was surprisingly airy, considering that there was no actual air in the signal chain. I got even more clarity by trimming the low-mid frequencies (80–200 Hz) just a bit. I might not use this direct sound on its own for a solo guitar session, but in an ensemble setting—surrounded by other instruments or vocals—the D-TAR signal could pass convincingly as an acoustic sound.
A Winning Personality
Given Joe Veillette’s long history of designing and building fine instruments—not to mention his expertise as a player—it’s no surprise to find that the Flyer 14 is a versatile, professional-grade guitar. It doesn’t look or sound like your average steel-string—and that’s good, because there are plenty such “standard” instruments in the marketplace already. Sure, it may owe a hat tip to some storied six-strings from the past, but the Flyer 14 is ultimately a forward-thinking design, solidly executed.
SPECS: 14-inch wide body. Radiused solid Sitka spruce top with black binding. Solid maple back and sides. Mahogany neck. Pau ferro fingerboard, bridge, and tailpiece. 25-inch scale. 1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 1/4-inch string spacing at the saddle. Zero fret. High-gloss “Deep Red” finish. Charcoal-gray Gotoh tuners with amber-red mini buttons. D-TAR Wave-Length pickup and preamp system. La Bella light-gauge phosphor-bronze strings (.012–.052). Made in USA. Left-handed version available.
PRICE: $3,975 list.
MAKER: Veillette Guitars: (845) 679-6154; veilletteguitars.com.
TEJA GERKEN: Specialty guitars such as multistrings or baritones not withstanding, the Veillette Flyer 14 is among the most unusual instruments to ever pass through the Acoustic Guitar office. And I mean that in the most positive way—the guitar is incredibly fun to play and offers a unique voice with real-world applications. With a sound that combines equal parts flattop, archtop, and Selmer-Maccaferri-style guitars, the Flyer is bold and assertive, with a spectacularly complex mid-range, and its lightning-fast response and excellent balance would make it a great studio tool.
SCOTT NYGAARD: Acoustic archtop sounds have become more and more common in the acoustic music scene these days, as heard in the guitar playing of David Rawlings and Jon Neufeld. This delightful little guitar would make a great instrument for acoustic soloists who want to follow their lead. With a feel more like an acoustic flattop than an archtop, especially the distance between the strings and the top at the soundhole, the Veillette Flyer 14 has a punchy midrange that’s perfect for jazzy leads as well as acoustic blues fingerpicking and flatpicking styles. And the D-TAR electronics do a great job of pumping up the volume while retaining the Flyer’s unique character.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar July 2013