Underwear-loving Austrians Norbert Lechner and Helmut Frank launched their Electric Babes guitars Layla 07 at NAMM 2007. A brave Huw Price takes a trip into the basque region
Depicting the female body in the form of musical instruments is a long-standing artistic tradition. Matisse did it, Picasso did it, and now two Austrians called Norbert and Helmut have taken those abstract concepts and made then flesh – or rather wood – in the Layla 07.
Despite sharing the trademark Electric Babe body and headstock, the Layla 07 is very different from it’s sister guitar, the Ella 07.
The burlesque suspenders and knickers have been dropped, so to speak, in favour of a sparser, more austere look (it reminds me slightly of a Brian May guitar).
Under the thin satin skin lurks a two-piece centre-jointed mahogany body and a set 24-fret neck that’s pitched back at a 1.9 degree angle.
The strings again mount through the body, but this time they pass over a black chrome Gotoh tune-o-matic bridge and terminate at a set of Gotoh tuners with very nice tortie buttons.
At the heart of the Layla 07 is a DiMarzio X2N, a ceramic humbucker evolved from the D Activator with coils tuned to different frequencies. For maximum power wide open and effective useable clean sounds when the volume is rolled down.
This time the volume control is a push-pull to provide coil tapping.
Like the Ella the Layla rattles and buzzes a little due to a lack of neck relief. So the trussrods need to be loosened off. All the same. It plays effortlessly thanks to a grippy ‘U’ shaped neck and a compound radius fingerboard.
Contrary to traditional assumptions regarding set neck versus bolt-on tone, the Layla 07 is brighter, livelier and snappier.
That lightweight mahogany really vibrates, and if you close your eyes you might assume you’re playing some vintage classic. Until you plug in, that is – because this guitar is loud and brutal.
Fortunately it oozes tone too, and the DiMarzio is perfect for giving that iconic blues rock one-pickup mahogany slab formula a contemporary kick up its shapely bottom.
Flat out things are weighty in the lows, articulate through the mids and full of high frequency bite for squealing harmonics.
DiMarzio’s mismatched coils design works superbly. So well that there doesn’t seem to be much point in using the coil tap. Which is a little ironic considering our gripe about the Ella 07.
With the volume backed off the humbucker mode sounds clean, transparent and congestion-free. It also captures more of the Layla 07’s acoustic qualities than the comparatively anaemic single coil setting.
Like the Ella 07, the Layla 07’s pots are super-smooth with gradual tapers that allow you to explore the whole tonal range.
However, with the Layla 07, that easy-turning volume pot can be a bad thing. As it’s almost impossible to engage the coil tap without changing your volume setting at the same time.
We appreciate the Spartan purity of single-pickup guitars. But where a decent Les Paul or SG Junior is capable of producing a huge range of tones the Layla 07 merely does hot and very hot indeed.
Don’t let that put you off: the tone is pretty special. But if you aspire to more than just plugging in and playing ‘rawk’, you might find the absence of a tone control just a bit restricting.
Looks are a personal thing, and nobody sets out to make such distinctive guitars without being prepared to alienate some players. These guitars sound individual and accomplished, the quality is superb, and they almost play themselves. So if they look cool to you, then good luck – these could be your dream guitars.