It's a guitar, Jim
You know, it`s pretty astonishing that so few modern luthiers are able to produce a truly original guitar. We`ve all seen endless copies of Strats and Les Pauls with the odd improvement here and there, but nothing rivals the Teuffel birdfish for originality.
This guitar has even received an industrial decoration; the Baden-Wurttemberg International Design Award 1998. this prize was purely for the design, having nothing to do with the guitar`s status as an instrument. But recently, that record was set straight by the Talent Award 99 from the Association For The Promotion Of Handicraft which endorsed the birdfish`s high standarts of luthiery and craftsmanship. When I spoked to a delighted Mr. Teuffel at the Frankfurt Music Messe about the reception of his `baby`, he told me that Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top had bought one. And in our book that`s an impressive accolade for any guitar, or builder.
Where's the wood?
The first thing you notice is that there`s not a lot of wood on the birdfish. This is because its structure centres around two aluminium sculptures; a bird and a fish (geddit?). These are joined by a stainless steel slide-rail and two cylindrical tonewood bars: the `resonators`. You get two pairs in the birdfish kit; maple and swamp ash, each of which is covered in a of matt, moleskin-feel finish. Ulrich manufactures the matt finishing product himself:"It is a special colour made from minerals, glass and metal flakes and soft polyurethane. Unlike other matt finishes, contact with your arm won`t make it got to shiny. A quick wipe with soapy water and a towel is all it needs to keep it looking brand new forever."
The birdseye maple neck is the only piece of bare wood on show. And what a show it is; beautiful, sexy honey-coloured figuring and a profile that`s so comfortable it`s like it grew in your hand. This is a result of more organic approach Teuffel has to neck manufacture. Whereas most of the guitar is precision engineered, the neck`s comfy profile comes from years of luthiery experience and that elusive `feel`factor.
There`s just one part of the birdfish which isn`t custom-made; a Schaller string clamp just behind the nut enables the use of regular strings as opposed to the double ball-end type found on most headless guitars. It makes for swift stringing and maintains the tidy appearance.
Down at the bridge end a suitably heavy-duty fine-tuning system, featuring large non-slip knurled tuners and no-nonsense ball-end retainers, works in tandem with a custom-built ABM tune-o-matic bridge. This is height-adjusted by a two tumbwheels. And as if all isn`t more than enough to impress you, just wait `till you get a load of the electrics.
Plenty of pickups
The birdfish kit contains a grand total of five pickups, again handmade by Ulrich Teuffel, and finished in the same matt covering. Two single coils, one marked `R`(right wound) and one marked `L`(left lound) provide hum-cancelling operation when combined, and three humbuckers of varying strength. The power of the humbuckers is signified by one, two or three dots on the rear. All units can be mixed and matched quickly in any configuration you wish, using the unique plug-in wiring system. They`re all held in place by a single knurled thumb-srew which clamps the pickup`s rear-protruding 1/4-inch steel rod to one of three `sledges`. Inside the pickups military-spec, gold-plated mini-jacks ensure reliable contact and longevity. Any mechanical adjustments to the birdfish can be made using a supplied multi-tool. Even the large wooden resonators can be changed with this, and as long as you remove them in sequence, you won`t even have to re-tune. The kit was intended to contain three sets of resonators - the other being mahogany - but in attempt to keep the weight down it was decided to stick to maple and swamp ash.
The birdfish`s contol consist of a master volume and tone with cast, `alien-head` bonnets and a regular Schaller five-way switch. The five-way`s knob is simple black plastic but Ulrich`s obsession with detail has resulted in persuading Schaller to produce chrome knobs for future birdfish.
The two sculptures and floating control box that form the guitars are cast in al local high-tech plant so Ulrich can monitor proceedings. "The casting process requires the special equipment and technology used in the car industry to create the best quality components" he says. It begins with his own hand-made wax models which are coated with a ceramic compound, then baked in a kiln to form a cast. Melting the wax away during kilning leaves room for molten aluminium to be poured in to the mold under vacuum. After cooling, the ceramic former is broken free and the cast part is removed. Next it´s polished t a high gloss by hand, which Ulrich describes as "time consuming and difficult, but essential for a good finish". Lastly each `bird`, `fish`or contol box is first copper, then nickel and finally chrome-plated!
Does it sound good?
The birdfish`s acoustic volume is much quieter in a direct comparsion with a regular guitar. However the sheer sustain is beyond belief. It certainly makes a difference when playing pieces that involve holding chords while playing a melody over the top. Notes that would otherwise fade and die are still ringing clearly. Although the basic birdfish tone is fairly bright, it´s not the brash brightness of, say a piezo pickup that cuts right through your head. It´s more a situation of `these are the frequencies you`ve been missing`.
When selecting the bridge pickup or indeed any pickup, it really is a case of saying to yourself, `which pickup do I fancy today?` rather than just a quick flick of the switch. With a choice of five on offer, you can pretty much build any sound and therefore `guitar`you like. And as you can slide them to and from, the tonal possibilities are potentially endless.
I tested the birdfish through channel one of a Trace Elliot C30 valve combo, set up for a clean sound. The hottest three-dot humbucker is incredibly crisp and clean in the bridge position, almost `active`sounding for it`s noiselessness. I was impressed by the way the pure, natural highs sustain, lending an almost single-coil clarity to the tone, yet with all the body and fullness of a traditional humbucker. A quick flick to the neck pickup, a single-coil in this case, reveals a fat, woody tone that`s ideal for Hendrix or SRV-style playing. It`s mind-bending just how much `timber` there is in the tone and how easy it is to emulate different guitars. I put a single-coil in the bridge to see how well it would `twang`, and i wasn`t disappointed. Every bit as much bite and percussive response as you could want.
With the tone quality already proven through the clean channel, things just got better and better as gain levels inevitably rose. The birdfish`s versality knows no bounds; heavy metal, blues, jazz, funk and down-tuned riffs are all equally well catered for.
Even through the birdfish looks unwieldy, everything is in just the right place. The guitar balances just as well when sitting as it does on a strap and all points of contact with your body have been carefully thought out, providing exceptional comfort and playability. Price won`t be an issue for truly dedicated players as the birdfish is special enough to warrant serious second job/saving activity. You can see where every penny has gone in making the Teuffel birdfish a masterpiece of design, a versatile and highly playable instument and, as this particular guitar is No 76 in a series of just 500, a collector`s item too. Catch one if you can.
Build Quality 5 of 5 points
Playability 5 of 5 points
Sound 5 of 5 points
Value for money 5 of 5 points
Verdict 5 of 5 points
We liked : Fab design, original concept, attention to detail, sound, nubuck case.
We didn´t like: Mahogany tone bars should be included at this price
Written by Ben Bartlett