Text: Franz Holtmann / photos: Dieter Stork
(click HERE for the original review with beautiful photos)
Teye Guitars Cleopatra
In the realm of boutique guitars, Teye stands unquestionably in the front row. The opulently equipped guitars and basses of this world-travelling Dutchman are however not just rich in luxurious detail, but are absolutely tools of the highest category. But careful! Men of caliber like Julius Cesar and Marcus Antonius were unable to resist Cleopatra.
Our man, born in 1957 as Teije Wijnterp, looks back on a moved past: already as a teenager he modifies electric guitars, plays in bands and records albums for independent labels, together with his father he builds amps and guitars, then changes direction, cuts his hair, and attends a classical conservatory of music in Groningen, then travels to Spain and is ‘adopted’ there by a gypsy family in Andalusia who teach him authentic flamenco, he tours the world with his own flamenco ensemble, moves in 1995 with his life partner, flamenco dancer Belen, from Spanish Sevilla to Austin Texas and records an album with country-rock star Joe Ely, then marries Belen and records albums with their Teye & Viva Flamenco ensemble, Then plan B: 2006 he founds with his record company chief a company to build guitars in Austin, because time and again he is being offered much money for his hand built instruments. End 2015 he moves his company to Nashville, and in 2016 his own shop in Sevilla starts to function. Teyes artfully equipped high-end instruments, hi-powered versions of Zemaitis-designs, are bein played amongst others by Rich Robinson (Black Crowes), Cliff Williams (AC/DC bassist). Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones), Ben Thomas (Adele) and Johnny Depp.
Like in his time Tony Zemaitis, Teye is inspired principally by the manner of building of the Gibson Les Paul. However, both Zemaitis and Teye’s designs indicate marked differences that are already expressed in the silhouette with narrow waist and a gracefully shaped sharp cutaway. The Cleopatra model is part of the new L-series that have all the new design upgrades as well as the updated acid/laser graphics of 2015, that lean towards the hand engravings of his ultra-expensive Master series.
Basis for the body is Mahogany of fabulous quality and grain, that is combined with a Maple cap. The attached front plate (‘Gold anodized front plate’) is adorned with engravings and reddish ‘coral inlays’.
The neck, cut from the same batch of great grained Mahogany, has been glued deep into the body with a flat neck-foot. The headstock is angled back over a light volute, the head’s rear top end is gradually shaped and rounded off. On the front we find an adorned aluminum overlay with Cleopatra lettering. Gold Grover Super Rotomatic Imperial tuners are fitting metalwork for the queen. White bindings mount the 2-octave ebony fingerboard, 24 medium frets are fixed overhanging the binding and very cleanly finished; pearloid dots and the ‘Teye inlay’ at the 12th fret assure accurate fretboard navigation. Truss access is by way of a cut-out in the engraved plate, above the sturdy bone saddle.
At the body, the strings (648 mm scale length) are guided over the Teye Super Sustain aluminum bridge with movable aluminum saddles and anchored tothe body by the Teye Super Sustain tailpiece with ‘Electric Gypsy’ engraving on the aluminum front. Sustain is achieved by the underlying brass block that holds the strings.
The electric equipment includes two custom wound Jason Lollar pickups. The gold covered hum-buckers are mounted in shaped and adorned aluminum rings and are selected with a top front mounted five-way switch.
For control, we have Teye’s New Electronics: 2x Volume, Master Tone; Master Mojo – more on that later. To operate these controls: proprietary Teye knobs with anti-slip rubber rings, and ditto switch tip, all of them made of aluminum. If you remove the generously sized rear plate (11 screws) you will see a completely copper-foil-shielded electronics cavity and cleanly wired components: two double pots, one single Alpha pot, as well as the epoxied Mojo-module.
Cleopatra allows only the best onto her skin: Teye’s hand-rubbed Luthiers Oil Shipwreck Finish (well, in Cleopatra’s time nobody would have dared to associate her even in the slightest with a ‘werck’)
Shipwreck? Teye calls it ‘old-world humor’: Where did you find this great guitar? On the beach!
Her Royal Majesty is not too light: 3.9 kilos. Oh whatever, it’s a LP-type! Altho the body looks graceful, Cleopatra in some way feels mightier than a Les Paul. This is partly due to the 2-octave neck that in fact attaches to the body at the 17th fret (a LP at the 16th) and thus sticks out a little further. The neck profile has a powerful cut, wide, and rounded at the shoulders, and plays wonderful, in part because of the wonderful fret job.
Un-amplified the guitar has good string separation, a slightly wiry expression, however with unquestionably healthy unfolding of tones, confirmed by a sustain achieved at all positions.
The response is direct, string movement is even. So: the best of prospects for our electric tones.
Also at the amp, Cleopatra shows that she is special. In any case with the Lollars she has good pick-ups on board. But the switching is what makes her special. For pickup selection and configuration there is a five position Super Switch with two connecting decks, that allows next to the usual positions (pickups individually, and combined in the middle) additionally in the ‘in-between’ positions an out-of-phase connection of the humbuckers and on the other side allows for a combination of single-coils. Next to two volume and one master-tone, especially the Mojo control offers with continuous blending between single-coil and humbucker an entire palette of sounds.
As mentioned, the custom-wound Lollars are fabulous pickups of medium output. The neck pickup acts with classic power, offers a full tone spectrum with good resolution in chord voicings. Rhythm is translated with full accent and melody lines are carried to the fore with vocal quality. The tonal quality is filled with strong blooming overtones, which makes especially the overdriven sounds very powerful.
Also the bridge pickup’s tone is pronounced, confident and round and without too much compression. Clear, transparent chords with good and harmonically rounded highs offer in the clean positions a fine basis for rhythm playing: lead sounds are vocally singing with an edge and a healthy attack response.
Next to the beautiful alternatives of the out-of-phase sounds in the first in-between switch position and the combined single-coil switching in the second, the Mojo circuit offers us access to a complete palette of colors of changing sounds, that can be expanded still by using the interactive volume controls. Without manipulating the amp or inserting effects you can achieve typical Tele-sounds all the way to fat Les Paul, not to mention the many nuances between these extremes. This function is made continuous and not stepped. So you must work with them. But no matter what settings yo use, Cleopatra never disappoints.
No harm done when an expierienced musician dedicates himself to guitar building. Teye makes extraordinary, highly playable instruments to exacting demands and with much feel for the visual highlight. The hammer-look assists a strong electric circuit, which acieves a confident translation of tones with the Lollar humbuckers and the versatile switching (out-of-phase and single-coil in the in-between-positions of the 5-way switch) and with the Mojo control enabling a continuous blending of the second coil in the humbuckers. Navigating between full humbucker and single coil allows access to many facets of tone. Whether you will in fact need only this instrument on stage to cover all styles, because it is capable of emulating the tonal character of those classic guitar types, is left to the ear and temperament of the interested himself. Bottom line is: this is a beautifully thought-out and confidently made instrument with fabulous basic sounds, with the very practical added bonus of the Mojo-circuit. Any less you should not expect from an instrument with the name Cleopatra.
Royal – and recommended to go check out!