Hands-on review: Oriolo Felix the Cat Bag of Tricks Guitar slices, dices & shreds
(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-10-29)
Anyone who has owned a cat knows the little buggers love to shred – furniture, drapes, you name it. So maybe it’s somehow fitting that the Felix the Cat Bag of Tricks (BOT) guitar from Oriolo Guitars gets a huge thumbs-up from metalheads.
Before I go into detail about this yellow Explorer-shaped body dotted with black plus signs and a Felix the Cat-face headstock, a little about the company that produced it.
Oriolo Guitars was founded by Don Oriolo, the son of cartoonist Joe Oriolo, whose creations include Casper the Friendly Ghost. The elder Oriolo also drew Felix as well as Popeye during a career in Hollywood. When the copyright for Felix the Cat became available from Felix's creator, Otto Meissner, the elder Oriolo bought the rights. Don, who has a background not only in drawing and cartoon production but also in music, though that expanding Felix production to guitars was a natural. Oriolo’s wild, wacky, colorful designs – many of which feature a Felix theme -- debuted at Summer NAMM 2010 in Nashville. Earlier this year, I had a chance to demo the Oriolo Nez acoustic/electric bass, and found it a well-made, appealing instrument, so I jumped at the chance to demo the Bag of Tricks.
Since I’m primarily a bassist, I let several guitar player friends demo the BOT over a three-week period in a variety of situations, both live and in the studio. All were instantly drawn to the guitar’s unique design, which features an asymmetrical Explorer-type body, red F-E-L-I-X inlays on the fretboard and a Felix-face headstock that’s hard to ignore. All this is complimented with a bright yellow paint job on the body peppered with black +’s – a color scheme taken straight from the Bag of Tricks that the cartoon feline carries. The string-through body is made of nyatoh, an dense Asian, medium-density wood sometime likened to maple. The C-shaped, maple, 22-fret neck is bolted on. Hardware is chrome, with a Tune-o-Matic bridge and single volume and tone knobs for the hot Oriolo-designed humbuckers, controlled by a standard three-way toggleswitch on the guitar's upper horn. Banjo-style tuners with pearl buttons extend from the back of the headstock – an alignment that is unusual and provoked the only negative tester comments about the BOT (see below). Players found the guitar comfortable, well-balanced and very easy to play.
Our first tester plugged the BOT into a Vox AC30 amp – a combination that immediately produced smiles from both player and listeners. “This is a great for shredding!” said the player, a former headbanger who still has the chops to make most guitars cry for mercy. The AC30's natural distortion when pushed worked well with the BOT, and our tester was pleased that, the more he dug in, the more crunch he received in return. Played with a slightly lighter touch, the BOT is capable of clear, undistorted tones, but it really shines when asked to produce a series of Judas Priest licks.
Our second tester – a player from the Clapton school of rock - found the sound of the BOT equally to his liking but the setup (with ultra light strings and low action) a little too sensitive for his touch. Still, plugged into a old Leslie 900-series rotating speaker, the BOT sounded great on “Badge,” Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” and many of the tunes from the Beatles Abbey Road medley. He noted, however, that when holding a chord with the left hand, it was virtually impossible to reach behind the headstock to turn the tuning gears, which he also found a bit sensitive compared to those on his Les Paul.
In the studio, taken straight to the board through a series of Digidesign amp simulator plug-ins, the BOT sounded right at home on a few country rockers and even a Taylor Swift-like pop tune. We also used the BOT live for a few jam sessions that included Led Zeppelin favorites and a couple of Metallica staples. The BOT cut through the mix effortlessly and, as Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel might say, “sustained for days.” It easily held its own against a 1998 Les Paul reissue with PAF humbuckers and an early ‘60s LP Gold Top. The only negative from two players was that the guitar probably would hold tune better with a bit heavier-gauge strings. We should note, however, that this BOT was a demo model that had not been played very much prior to our receiving it. It’s our firm belief that given time for the strings to stretch the BOT would hold tune as well as any competitor.
The bottom line
While it may not find a home in many Contemporary Christian bands, Oriolo’s Bag of Tricks guitar is well suited for all types of rock and really shines when asked to shred. It’s visually appealing, too, and would be perfect for a younger metal player looking to attract some attention. The Oriolo-designed humbucking pickups offer the crunch necessary to drive metal or heavy rock, but when backed off also allow the guitar to produce sweet blues and even country ballad lead lines. The BOT should be available from select retailers by Decmebre 2010 with an MSRP of $1149.95 USD and an estimated street price of $799.95. For more information on the Oriolo Guitars line, visit www.oriologuitars.com.
Dave Molter ("Laklander") is MGR's Managing Editor. He has played professionally for more than 45 years.