It’s almost as if Hallmark’s Bob Shade travels back in time to peek into my boyhood toy chest to find inspiration for his wackier guitar designs. Last year, I reviewed his Wing-Bat—a 6-string tribute to the famous Batmobile of the ’60s Batman TV series. As a child with a love of superheroes, I dug that dark beauty so much that I owned the plastic model, the Hot Wheels version, and a slot car.
And now, it appears Shade’s latest time-traveling spy mission has turned up my treasured 1968 Monogram model of the Red Baron show car. I possessed a naïve, kiddie zeal for World War I’s heroic “knights of the air,” so when I spied Tom Daniel’s Red Baron model at my local hobby shop, I bought that sucker as fast as I could fish my allowance out of my pockets. I wasn’t the only youngster (and adult) so smitten. Ultimately, the model became so popular that promoter Bob Larivee commissioned designer Chuck Miller to build a “real” Red Baron roadster in 1969.
Shade’s 6-string version of the Red Baron is no less a showstopper than the rev’d-up roadster. And while it’s far more street legal for stage and studio than the actual racer was for neighborhood roadways, the guitar retains the show car’s whimsy, flamboyance, and earthshaking power. Happily, it’s not a beast to keep under control. The Red Baron’s slim neck is easy to negotiate, the iron-cross body shape actually feels comfy when sitting down and standing, and the Master Volume is super easy to control with your pinky (especially with its rubber “tire” knob). Only the 5-way skull pickup selector (a tad slippery) and the Master Tone (positioned somewhat out of reach) take a bit of thought to work on the fly. The Shade vibrato responds well to subtle caresses, brutish tugs, and quick slaps—all in the service of imparting a vocal quality to notes and some nice wobble on chords.
Craftsmanship is near-showroom quality. Frets are smooth, inlays are flawless, and hardware tight (no rattles). The only things that might not pass muster with someone like carmeister George Barris are some minor paint overruns from the metallic red body onto the metallic silver sides. Overall, the Red Baron felt real good to play, and I had a ton of fun launching riffs, rhythm parts, and solos with it—maybe not as much as firing up the car and burning rubber in the Guitar Player parking lot, but pretty darn close.
And if you still assume the Red Baron is some kind of gimmick best left in Snoopy’s hands, the sounds it grinds out are versatile and exciting. The 5-way selector offers three humbucking and two single-coil tones, and there’s a lot ‘o’ sonic highway you can set fire to right there. But the quality of those sounds can shift you into some serious thrill rides. For example, a couple of friends giggled at the flashy Baron—until they heard it through my Vox AC30 and/or Orange Tiny Terror (with a Mesa/Boogie 1x12 cabinet). The available sounds are guaranteed “smirk terminators.” I could craft stinging Tele-like tones, meaty classic-rock sounds, bass-heavy jazz timbres, jangly shimmers, and ringing funk skanks with tight mids all from the guitar, without ever adjusting my amp controls. Far more than just an amusing collector’s piece (although it is a limited edition), this guitar is both super fun and tonally practical! The real Red Baron—Manfred von Richthofen—shot down 80 allied aircraft before being vanquished himself in 1918. Happily, the Hallmark Red Baron is no brutal hunter with death in its sights. It does, however, offer an entertaining and musical way to slay audiences with its striking looks and killer tones.
PRICE $999 direct
NUT 1.65", zero fret
NECK 24.75” scale, maple, 13” radius, set neck
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Hallmark SIT Vintage
BRIDGE Shade die-cast roller-bearing vibrato
PICKUPS Two Hallmark custom-wound, split-coil alnico
CONTROLS Master Volume, Master Tone, 5-way rotary selector
FACTORY STRINGS GHS Boomers, .011 set
WEIGHT 7.96 lbs
KUDOS Play great. Sounds fantastic. Versatile tones. Ace of aces.
CONCERNS Minor paint overruns.