Review: Carvin Allan Holdsworth HH2

The HH2 isn’t for everyone, but it is an extremely well crafted instrument made to the specs of one of the world’s greatest guitarists.
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A relentless seeker of tone, playability, and function, Allan Holdsworth cycled through his share of guitars during his nearly 40-year career. Holdsworth’s quest wasn’t one of hallowed boutique “unobtanium” or musty old pawnshop finds, however. No way, Jose. Holdsworth wanted an instrument that facilitates his approach, which, if you’ve ever heard a single note the man played, is one of the most frighteningly original and unique approaches on any instrument. His left-hand legato style coupled with a pianistic right-hand attack that eschews strumming in any way, shape, or form, took the guitar to dizzying, decidedly inspirational, un-guitar heights. 

From a Gibson SG on through to a variety of Super Strats, Holdsworth certainly played more “traditional” instruments, but he officially split the trad world in the late ’80s with various headless (and non-headless) instruments, from Steinbergers to chambered guitars crafted by the outstanding luthier Bill DeLap. Eventually Holdsworth hooked up with Carvin, lending his turn-ons and turn-offs for a variety of different models. 15 years on, that relationship produced the HH2, a headless wonder that continues the Holdsworth ethos.

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Out of the case, the HH2 shimmers with an insanely figured, deep green top that is flawlessly finished. In fact, all of the HH2’s construction appointments are dialed in: expertly installed and dressed frets, a rock-solid neck joint, and excellent hardware. Two major components of the HH2’s vibe are its extremely light weight and excellent balance, so it’s no wonder that, although it’s perfectly fine to play sitting down, the HH2 is actually more comfortable to play standing up. Plugged into a variety of Fender combos, Marshalls (master and non-master volume models), as well as a Vox AC30, the HH2 beams with a loud-yet-musical evenness and clarity. And the chambered body adds a whole other dimension to the guitar’s tones, such as a slightly slower attack, a warm-yet distinct low end, and a general sense of “air” around the notes. 

Whether clean or distorted, the HH2’s blooming attack exhibits a wonderful string-to-string balance. Pile on the gain, and the HH2’s tones stay coherent and often melt into feedback at relatively low volumes. The guitar’s coil-tap yields a welcomed skinniness that is a boon to sonic flexibility as it lightens up the midrange thickness and affords you a palette of chime and jangle options. Up and down the neck, the HH2’s feel is consistent and it intonates like a dream—perfect for those searching for the uncommon chord. The string spacing is roomy, not only allowing your fretting hand to roam more easily, but giving your picking hand room to operate as well, as fingerstyle or hybrid picking is easy as pie. The neck’s semi-flat 20" radius definitely aids in extended legato excursions, keeping frethand fatigue to a minimum with its friendly, chunky dimensions, although if you’re into a lot of string bending, these dimensions won’t really do you any favors.

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The HH2 isn’t for everyone, but it is an extremely well crafted instrument made to the specs of one of the world’s greatest guitarists. Sonically, it more than holds its own with a forceful, yet round, ultra-dynamic character that can work in a variety of musical settings. If you’re looking for an incredibly comfortable guitar (and something that travels well), the HH2 is hard to beat.



PRICE $1,299 street


NECK Eastern hard rock maple
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.5"-scale
FRETS 24 jumbo nickel
BODY Alder (chambered)
BRIDGE Custom Headless Research hardtail with knob tuners
ELECTRONICS Two Carvin Allan Holdsworth H22 humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way selector, coil tap
FACTORY Strings Elixir, .010-.046
WEIGHT 5.1 lbs
KUDOS An exceptionally made, uncompromising instrument crafted to the specs of a legend. Able to use regular strings as well as double ball-end strings.