By Ray Matuza
Reprinted by kind permission of
20th Century Guitar Magazine
Small and sexy with a palette of colors as varied as the construction elements used in its design, Il Piccolo Stormo is the result of Gary Mortoro's conception to produce a compact, hollow body instrument that would be more comfortable to play, especially while standing.

But with its humbuckers, coil tap and phase switch resident in its AAAA-grade laminated maple body, is it a jazz box with closet rocker syndrome or a high-class rock axe that can do the jazz thing as well?

Underneath the perfectly applied "light plum" stain and mirror smooth

clear coats, the 14-inch body's highly figured, pressed flame top and back exude an almost3D-like quality when held at certain angles. The deep, rich waves of flame all but jump off the instrument and give it a cozy vibe.

Mortoro's signature "gull" sound openings and upper bout monitor port bring the tones forth and are somewhat loosely mimed in the triangularly-shaped and shadowed abalone position markers on the polished ebony fretboard. Attention to build quality and detail soars high with precise joints and way clean interior. If you peek around inside, you'll notice there's even a small abalone bird inlayed in the sustain block under the bridge! Gold-plated Schaller tuners with ebony buttons and a gold-plated Leo Quan bridge with removable fine tuning tailpiece help make up the instrument's classy countenance. On my wish list in this department would be a gold-plated, metal selector switch tip instead of a plastic one and a gold-plated washer and nut for the input jack to round out the bullion. Did I mention the gold Gibson-style speed knobs?

Strung with Thomastik-Infeld's round-wound George Benson Jazz Strings (.012-.053), Il Piccolo Storno measures 1 3/4 inches across the ebony nut with a 25-inch scale length. String tension is mucho comfortable enough to do some hefty bending as I did while rockin' out with the little birdie during a recent Saturday night gig.

The maple neck features a shallow profile and wide "D" shape that works well with the fretboard's 12" radius. Fretwork and set-up goes to the head of the class with consistently crowned and polished Dunlop 6130 mediums and accurate intonation all the way up.

Playing Il Piccolo Storno sans amplification brings to mind a cross between a 335-style instrument and a regular jazz box. The body dimensions allow the notes to breathe with freedom and produces warm, organic tones while the sustain block under the bridge gives the sound focus and density with lots of sustain. The instrument also exhibits crisp, clear note definition even during flights of complex chord formations with commendable string-to-string balance. Although frequency response across the board (no pun intended) is somewhat limited by the body's diminutive size, plugging in takes the instrument's personality into dimensions of larger proportions.

Thanks to the Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II in the neck position, Il Piccolo Storno spreads its wings into a thick, rich tone suitable for the jazz thing with a warm mid-range that opens up the lower end of the spectrum. However, the tones are never woofy or muddy and even brisk low note passages retain their clarity.

The Duncan Pearly Gates down yonder seems a bit tamer in this guitar than, say, a Les Paul, but still offers a nice upper frequency contrast to the neck pickup. With a little break-up from the amp, the little birdie is well-suited for R&B or blues - bright but not harsh with some wood behind the notes. Going into overdrive helps Pearly bring out Il Piccolo Storno's claws for notes that are sharp and chewy on the attack with an open, smooth sound on the rebound. Single coil and out-of-phase sounds can be had by pulling up on the volume and tone controls respectively.

I especially dug the neck pickup in single coil mode, with its breathy, full but transparent tone and detail for doing fingerstyle jazz. The out-of-phase position yields a thin, reedy sound but with a little more than average bottom end, thanks to the body's dimensions. I guess it has its place for somethings, but...

So, is the Mortoro Il Piccolo Storno a jazzer or a rocker? Well, both and maybe more. This instrument would be at home in a wide variety of musical situations, except possibly country and hardcore! Could you just imagine the guys in Korn, Stornos at their knees, bashing away while the strings flap in the breeze of some gutteral, dropped tuning?

Il Piccolo Storno flies high for its classy look, excellent sound and tonal versatility.