The Veillette Avante Gryphon
Sam Wise gets to grips with an unusual 12-string guitar from Jow Veillette that sits somewhere between a mandolin and a bouzouki and is - dare we say it - rather cute...
Sam Wise | Acoustic Magazine | January 2016
Joe Veillette started out as half of Veillette-Citron, an unlikely union of two architects building high end electric guitars in 1976. After pioneering baritone guitars, neck-through body construction and high-strung guitars, their partnership ended in 1983, and after various ventures mostly in bass guitar building, Joe formed Veillette Guitars in 1994. For a long time, he stuck with custom building, which is still a key part of the business, but more recently, he's gone the foreign manufacturing route, overseeing the building of baritone and high-strung guitars in Asia under the Avante name. Avante offers no standard guitars at all; finding itself a niche market with six- and 12-string baritones, and this, the Gryphon, a short scale 12 string tuned D to D, as though a standard guitar were capoed at the 10th fret.
To a guitar reviewer who gets to see a lot of identikit, mid market, Martin-alike guitars, the Gyphon is a breath of fresh air. We defy you to pull it out of its custom case without thinking 'This is cute!' because it really is. Dinky in size, unusual in shape and styling, and short of neck, the Gryphon doesn't look like anything you've got hung on your wall. For a £1,000 guitar, it's notably short on adornment; the heavily offset solid sitka top is bound in plain black, and there is no decoration around the twin offset soundholes. The back and sides are sapele, not especially figured, and the heel-less, bolt on neck is mahogany. The rosewood fingerboard has 21 frets, at least on the treble side (the diagonal fingerboard end only allows the top fret to cover the four highest strings), but no dot position markers, while the trademark swooping headstock, with its 12 black chrome closed back tuners, only has a rosewood faceplate and a silk screened logo. None of this is to say that the little Veillette looks or feels cheap, however.
Everything about it, from the chunky, super short scale neck to the zero fret and those unbranded tuners, feels quality. It simply seems like a matter of priorities. For all that this is a fascinaLing piece of kit, it's always going to be niche, and if the numbers are small, and the quality is high, something has to give. The truth is that Veillette's custom instruments are similarly unadorned - it's simply not his style. It's evident, however, that even though nothing is branded, the Gryphon is built to a standard that reflects its price. Even the unnamed pickup and preamp match the quality of the rest of the instrument.
Simply put, the Gryphon doesn't sound quite like anything else. The unison tuned courses and the range in which it is tuned lend it a mandolin-like air, but you can't play the sort of chords on a mandolin that you can on this. It has the air of a bouzouki, perhaps, with those low notes, but again a full complement of six courses lets you go places that these similar instruments can never go. With such a high tuning and 12 strings, you might expect a bit of a fight out of the Gryphon, but it's beautifully set up and barely requires more effort than a regular six string. It can be a little cramped when playing certain chords at the nut, but once you get up the neck there is no issue. The top end chimes wonderfully, a combination of there being nearly an octave above what you're used to, and the doubling of the strings (it's almost tempting to detune one ever so slightly for a tremolo effect).
As you come down through the midrange, the tone beefs up, though of course never enough to sound like a regular six or even 12 string. It's taut sounding and punchy, and you can't help wondering how it would sound with octave-tuned low strings, though physics would make this a difficult task to achieve. It's interestingly difficult to know-what to play on an instrument that's equal parts familiar and alien: it's almost impossible to put it down, but running through your favourite songs is a mixed bag. Most songs. played as you would on a regular guitar, won't feel right, but in our experience. you'll come across the odd one that sounds utterly transformed.
More fun is to be had by treating it as an instrument unto itself; sit and play, and see what music comes through your fingers. Even better, sit with a regular guitarist, and find some new ways into old songs; the combinations of shapes, voicings and timbres is fascinating. Plugged in, the Gryphon is much as it is unplugged. One of the benefits of such a high-tuned instrument is that voicing the pickup must be relatively simple.
It would be easy to say it's not for everyone, but you know, it just might be, as long as you don't expect it to do a 'normal guitar' job. If you've already got a good six-string that you love, try one of these before you supplement it with anything else – it's very likely to win your heart.
The best summary here is that we couldn't put the Gryphon down, and when we did, we were soon picking it up again. It's a fascinating little instrument, easy to play, yet challenging and intriguing, and it was only here for a matter of hours before we were plotting what we could sell to buy one.
Acoustic Test Results
- Pros: Jangly and adorable
- Cons: Rather niche and pricey
- Overall: We're in love
- Sound Quality: ★★★★★
- Build Quality: ★★★★☆
- Value for Money: ★★★★☆
5 Stars: Superb, almost faultless • 4 Stars: Excellent, hard to beat
Veillette Avante Gryphon 12
Art Thompson | Guitar Player Magazine | June 2015
The yearning to create more chiming textures has traditionally led many guitarists straight to the mandolin. But the obvious hurdle to making the transition from guitar to mando is that fact that the latter is tuned in fifths (like a violin) instead of (mostly) fourths, like a guitar. It's a whole new thing, and when you throw in the mandolin's four courses (8 strings), narrow neck, and tight fret spacing, the transition gets even tougher.
Some years back, Joe Veillette introduced an acoustic-electric instrument called the Gryphon that was designed to deliver some of that mando-style magic, but in a form that would be way easier for guitar players to grok. A compact 12-string with a wide neck and an 18.5" scale fretboard, the Gryphon was tuned like a guitar, but with the outside pairs pitched D to D. It totally did the hightuned sonic trick, while feeling very familiar to the fingers, and the only downside was its $4,000-plus price tag — a show stopper for a lot of players. Fast forward to 2015, and the Gryphon Avante hits the scene to change all that.
Built in Korea to Veillette's exacting standards, the Avante features solid mahogany back and sides and a solid spruce top. The 18.5"-scale mahogany bolt-on neck plays well thanks to its generous width and expert setup. And with a zero fret assisting the intonation, the Avante sounds tuneful throughout its short fretboard, making for sweet sounding chords anywhere you finger them.
Cosmetically the Avante is fairly austere, but its gloss-finished body is trimmed in black binding and there are inlaid black stripes at the front of the cutaway and the tail. The neck wears a smooth satin finish and the peghead has a gloss black overlay. The smoked chrome tuners with black buttons are a nice touch, and the only position markers are on the side of the rosewood fretboard.
The electronics consist of an undersaddle piezo pickup that feeds a preamp with Volume and Tone controls, which are mounted just inside the upper soundhole. Power is supplied by a 9-volt battery that resides in a quick-release holder located below the endpin jack.
Despite its compact dimensions (32.5" long x 12" wide x 3" deep), the Gryphon Avante 12 delivers a robust acoustic sound and has no problem being heard alongside full-sized flat-tops and other stringed instruments. It's inviting to play, and its high chiming tone is instantly inspiring, making it ideal for Americana, folk, and other styles where alternative instruments are de rigueur.
The Avante's electronics enhance its flexibility when performing live, and help to make this unique instrument a real boon for guitarists who occasionally need to take the instrumental high road in their band, as well as anyone else who seeks an easy way to twang in the mando zone.
The Veillette Avante Gryphon
Joe Gore | Premier Guitar Magazine | March 2015
Session players - especially ones who do lots of soundtrack and jingle work - often carry a double course instrument to imitate various folk instruments. If they play the right notes with the right inflection, they can use a single axe to mimic Italian or bluegrass mandolin, Cuban tres, Greek bouzouki, Turkish cümbüs, Puerto Rican cuatro, various Middle Eastern lutes, or any other high-tuned instrument with double strings. The same instrument might also double standard acoustic for a 12-string or Nashville high-strung effect.
One cool upscale option for a do-it-all double-course/high-strung axe is the Veillette Gryphon — a small-bodied, short-scale 12-string tuned like a standard guitar, but transposed up a minor 7th (equivalent to having a capo at the 10th fret). Gryphons sound, feel, and look great. They record like a dream, and they spare players from grappling with non-guitar tunings. The only catch has been their price: a hand-built Gryphon will set you back over four grand.
Which brings us to the new Avante Gryphon.. a CNC-constructed, Korean-made version that sells for a relatively modest $1,495.
Let's Get High
The Avante Gryphon is a cute little critter with a smooth, deep cutaway and a pair of boomerang-shaped soundholes. With an overall length of 32.5", it roughly splits the size difference between guitar and mandolin. Its 21 frets are more closely spaced than on a guitar, but roomier than on a mandolin. I suspect most players without unusually fat Angers will get around comfortably.
By necessity, the Gryphon is neck-heavy - after all, it requires 12 quality tuners and a sizeable headstock to house them. (The headstock's length is more than half that of the entire fretboard.) But the instrument is still light overall, and the body's shape places your picking-hand elbow in a good anchoring position, both playing and standing. Some players may need a bit of practice before they feel at home on the Gryphon, but most will sail smoothly before long.
The instrument has me feel of a quality CNC guitar. The body's spruce and mahogany are attractive and evenly grained beneath an immaculate gloss finish. The neck's relatively high width-to-length ratio may feel odd at first, yet its silky matte finish and 1 15/16" nut width are comfy-cozy. A modest volute provides a stabilizing thumb perch. It's equally easy to play speedy single-note mandolin-style runs and big strummed chords. I even found the neck wide enough for intricate fingersryle Stuff, though players with bigger hands may not agree.
Overall, the Gryphon sounds great... No, make that exquisite.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Guitar
Sonically, the Gryphon is a kissing cousin to a fine mandolin, but with a more mass. Notes leap from the instrument with a percussive, midrange-forward snap. Obviously, the small body doesn't move many lows, at least at the recommended D-G-C-F-A-D tuning (that is, nearly an octave above standard). But notes have body, warmth, and no trace of cheapo plywood "plinkiness." But the most beguiling facet of the Glyphon's tone - at least for doubling/ overdubbing purposes - is its glistening, bell-like high end. I can't think of a better way to powder a track with magic fairy dust. Or grease it with enchanted elf oil. Or marinate it in mystic leprechaun juice. It's twinkle, twinkle for days.
With a range extending a fourth below that of a mandolin (or a fifth if you drop the low D pair to C), the Gryphon is a surprisingly satisfying solo instrument. Unlike a standard-tuned 12-string, which has octave pairs on the lower courses and unisons on the upper ones, all six Gryphon courses are unisons. This sidesteps a frequent problem with playing melodies on 12-srring: the jarring timbral contrast between the unison second course and octave third course. Linear melodies are more idiomatic to the Gryphon than co a standard 12-string.
The Gryphon also wins high marks for playing in tune. It certainly intonates better than any of the janky mandolins, cuatros, and other folk instruments I've wrestled in the studio over the years. (Good tuners help.) And man, does it track well! The day I received the review model I had a recording session for a video game franchise whose name I can't mention yet. The score emphasizes acoustic instruments, and the Gryphon seemed to slot right in wherever we tried it. It sounded glorious through a pair of high-end, small-condenser Schoeps mics.
Meanwhile, I recorded this prelude from Bach's G major cello suite on a mobile rig when I was home for the holidays...
The Gryphon still sounds nice through the modest internal mic and relatively noisy preamp of a Line 6 VX Port Pro. The Gryphon also includes a built-in piezo mie/preamp that lees you plug in via the endpin jack.
Not everyone can afford $1,495 for a once-in-a-while flavor, however delicious, but for creative players the Gryphon may be more than an occasional color. It excels as a solo instrument, and even more so as a doubling/orchestrating tool. This boldly imagined axe is well made, ultra-playable and extremely useful. The Gryphon is a shimmering acoustic gem.
Pete Prown | Vintage Guitar Magazine | March 2015
People bandy about the term "game changer" so often these days it barely means a thing, but the Avante Gryphon may be just that.
Avante is the import line of Joe Veillette, who has long been crafting fine American guitars. His new Korean-made line presents the package in a range affordable to most players.
In a sense, the Gryphon is a hybrid instrument in that it can be applied in many ways. Certainly, one can use it as a higher-register 12-string; its shorter scale and smaller body create a heavenly "soprano guitar" effect with a shimmering top end and much less bass than a standard 12. On the other hand, being tuned D to D, it's a potential secret weapon for guitarists looking to add mandolin-like sounds to their repertoire, as it projects in a similar range.
The Gryphon has a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, and a mahogany neck. The fingerboard and bridge are rosewood, and there are 21 frets (including a zero fret for better intonation). Its scale length is 18.5" and overall length is 32.5" - perfect size for a travel guitar.
In performance, the Gryphon exceeded expectations. Thanks to light tuners, the instrument balanced very well on the lap. The setup was excellent and made the neck (a shallow D profile) easy to play. The Gryphon has a very bright, brash tone - again, much like a mandolin - and should cut through any acoustic mix.
Plugging into a P.A. or acoustic amp via the onboard preamp opens up new universes, and for controls there are Volume and Tone thumbwheels just inside the rim of the Gryphon's top soundhole. Add a few sweet effects (reverb, chorus, compression, etc.), and the Gryphon becomes a positively ethereal 12-string. It's easy to imagine solo guitarists from the Michael Hedges, Adrian Legg, or Andy McKee schools going wild over its sound and sonic possibilities.
Further, world-music players will note that the Gryphon serves as an alternative to traditional folk instruments such as the bouzouki, mandocello, and Cuban tres and cuatro. And for studio recording, you can double a standard acoustic guitar part with the Gryphon and mix it back slightly for a mysterious treble shimmer, much like the classic "Nashville tuning."
In this day and age when young guitarists are constantly reinventing the instrument, it's easy to see how the Gryphon might be a tool of sonic evolution.
A Hybrid Lives Up to Its Name
Adam Perlmutter | Acoustic Guitar Magazine | January 2015
Any guitarist who’s ever attempted to double on the mandolin knows that this isn’t an easy proposition. The mandolin might look like a tiny archtop guitar, but, tuned in perfect fifths, it’s more closely related to the violin. And transferring from an instrument tuned in fourths (and a major third) - the standard guitar tuning - to one in fifths is like learning a new language.
With more than four decades of experience as a guitar builder, the Woodstock-based master luthier Joe Veillette (pronounced "vay-ett") created the Gryphon, an instrument that grants guitarists easy access to mandolin-like effects. Named after the mythical beast that’s part lion and part eagle, the asymmetrical Gryphon is a small 12-string that’s tuned like a standard guitar, but a minor seventh higher, from D to D, with six unison string courses.
Until recently, a new Gryphon cost more than $4,000, but now Veillette offers a Korean-made version at less than half that price. From the all-solid-wood mahogany and Sitka spruce construction to the single bolt neck system, the Avante model boasts the same features as its U.S. counterpart.
The Gryphon, like all instruments by Veillette, is a study in restraint. There are no position markers on the rosewood fretboard, only side dots, and the twin soundholes have no binding or rosette work. And it’s nicely built, with perfect fretwork and a smooth glossy finish that’s free from imperfections.
It’s a pleasure to play the Gryphon. The 18.5-inch-scale neck gives the fretting fingers more room to move around than a mandolin neck, typically with a scale of just under 14 inches. The action is low and agreeable, and it’s as easy to fret barre chords on the instrument as it is to play brisk single-note runs.
The sound of the Gryphon is a revelation. As promised, it does have the midrange punch, crystalline highs, and shimmering quality of a good mandolin. In many recording and performing situations, it would be an appropriate substitute for a mandolin. But, given the guitar-based tuning, the Gryphon is more harmonically flexible, and it can transform even the most basic guitar chord grips into something empyrean - a sound that amplifies well thanks to the built-in under-saddle piezo and custom-voiced preamp.
At around $1,500 street, the Avante Gryphon is not necessarily a bargain for an imported instrument, but it would be a definite boon for the guitarist looking to expand his or her tonal palette without learning a new instrument.