The idea of re-designing an archtop guitar to better take advantage of the instrument’s electric abilities was something that guitar companies put considerable R&D into as higher volume rock-and-roll became popular in the 1950s. Gretsch had its chambered-body Duo Jet by the mid ’50s, but it was Gibson’s Ted McCarty who spearheaded the development of the then-radical ES-335, a guitar that used traditional hollow construction but also incorporated an internal block of solid maple running through the center of the body that made it sort of a solidbody within a hollow shell. Launched in 1958, the semi-hollow “thinline” ES-335 was a true hybrid that could handle volume much better than a standard archtop, but gave the player a more resonant experience than anything with a body of solid wood.
Semi-hollow guitars continue to be highly popular for the same reasons that they were in the ’50s, and nearly every major manufacturer has one or more in its line. Semi-hollows can be of the “chambered” variety, where a slab of wood is routed out to form a hollow body, which is then capped with a top of maple or other wood. Many others, however, still follow the ES-335 template, where a body of laminated wood (typically maple) is built around a solid piece of wood. Either way, the end result is an instrument that performs much like a solidbody, but has more of the resonant qualities of an acoustic-electric. Modern semi-hollow guitars do differ in how well they pull off this balancing act, and it’s always smart whenever possible to try a few instruments out to see how well they measure up to your tonal expectations.
This roundup focuses on eight new semi-hollow guitars that range in street prices from less than $400 to over $4,000. We tested these guitars in the studio and at rehearsals and gigs using a variety of amps that included a Fender Deluxe Reverb, a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25, and a Vox VT20+. —Art Thompson
Dream Studios Riverboat 3
I’ve always been a geek for creative cross-pollinations and hybrids of all types, so I was intrigued by Bill Ryan and his Apple Valley, California, guitar company, because it was birthed from Ryan’s other firm—Supercross Industries, a maker of high-tech BMX frames and other parts for the motocross crowd. Guitar music and BMX events often go hand-in-hand, and when some BMX stars asked Ryan if he could make them some awesome guitars, he took up the challenge. What began as a few “one-offs” eventually became a full line of aggressive rock machines—all based on classic shapes, but wonk-ified to strut some modern, race-culture attitude.
The Riverboat 3, for example, evokes an ES-335 that was “melted” into something resembling a Benny Bufano sculpture. The striking metallic copper finish is flawless, and the cosmetic design is made even more stunning with black bindings (a few slight imperfections here) and half-moon fretboard inlays (perfectly seated). All controls—and there are a lot of them—are easy to reach in mid performance, and although the Riverboat 3 ain’t a lightweight at more than 8.5 lbs, the body feels so good that I could strap it up and stand for three-hour band rehearsals with minimal fatigue. The guitar is also such a joy to play that I often got lost practicing riffs, licks, solos, and songs. From an ergonomic standpoint, everything simply fits just right.
When unplugged, the Riverboat 3 produces a sparkling midrange jangle with very nice highs—it’s definitely good enough for miking it up when you need an acoustic sound when your actual acoustic is MIA. The fun really begins when you plug in, however, because this sucker uncorks a bazillion tones. You can turn each of the three humbuckers on or off, blend sounds via the three dedicated Volume controls, get interesting timbres from bridge/middle and neck/middle positions, and blast into solos and riffs by using the well-positioned mini toggle for the Seymour Duncan Firestorm’s 20dB boost. Whew! If you’re into tonal explorations, there are a lot of subtle variations to discover. But even if you just like raging full up, the on/off mini toggles for the individual pickups still provide excellent tonal options.
Overall, the Riverboat delivers great aggro bridge sounds—there’s a steely attack to the mids with just enough low and high end to round things out. Go to the neck and knock back the master Tone, and there’s enough blossoming bass to Barry White your way to sensual single-note lines. Honestly, I didn’t find a style that I couldn’t dial in a useable tone for—from metal to funk to pop to soul and beyond. Even the feedback is musical. So many sounds…
For the most part, the hardware is tight and tough—what you’d expect from makers of BMX parts—but the mini toggles do require rather constant tightening, or else the switches rattle. The internal wiring also peeks through the lower f-hole (the tape didn’t hold). On the other hand, the fretboard offers a huge landing strip for the strings. There’s so much room that you’ll never “edge out” when bending or pulling off the low-E and high-E strings.
The Riverboat 3 is quite a find. It’s a gorgeous semi-hollow with three pickups, a Bigsby, and a smorgasbord of awesome sounds. It appears that BMX bikes and guitars can find some real kick-ass common ground! —Michael Molenda
PRICE $1,795 direct
NUT WIDTH 1.7"
FRETBOARD Ebony, 24.75" scale, 13.75" radius
TUNERS Grover Sta-Tite, 18:1 ratio
BODY Mahogany with maple top
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style. Bigsby B-50 Tune-o-matic style
PICKUP Seymour Duncan Seth Lover SH-55 (neck), Seymour Duncan Custom Custom SH-11 (middle), Seymour Duncan Alternative 8 SH-15 (bridge)
CONTROLS Three Volume, master Tone, three pickup on/off toggles, Seymour Duncan Firestorm pickup booster (+20dB), 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.052
WEIGHT 8.58 lbs
KUDOS Super versatile. Tons of great tones. Easy to play. Looks amazing.
CONCERNS Some minor cosmetic glitches. Mini toggles need to be kept screwed down.
Resplendent in its translucent Wine Red finish over a flamed maple top, the Wildcat is a low-cost entry into the semi-hollow scene. Unlike many all-maple “thinline” guitars, the Wildcat prowls a different path by using a CNC routed-out mahogany bod and a laminated top. Cream binding accents the top and the f-holes, while the maple set neck sports a bound rosewood ’board, dot inlays, and a ’60s-style “Epiphone” badge on its black-faced headstock. Strings are guided to the nickel-plated, 18:1 ratio Grover tuners over a synthetic bone nut that has been rounded on the edges to prevent nicks. Chrome-plated P-90s and a Bigsby vibrato with a LockTone Tune-o-matic bridge give the Wildkat plenty of ’50s rockabilly chic, and the control layout also nods in a vintage direction by featuring Volume knobs for each pickup, master Tone, a master Volume on the lower bout, and a 3-way switch.
Playability-wise, the Wildkat gets off to a good start with its wide-ish “C” neck shape, which fills the hand well but isn’t overly deep. The jumbo frets have a nice polish and feel quite smooth on the tips, and the comfortably low action makes for easy string bending. The Bigsby stayed in tune quite well once the strings were stretched out, and sustain is assisted by the hardware being mounted to an internal mahogany block. I expected the Wildcat to have a pretty bright amplified tone courtesy of its P-90s, but these alnico-powered pickups were mellower sounding than the plastic-covered “dog ear” units on an ES-330 from Gibson/Memphis or the P-90 on my ’63 Les Paul Junior that was also used for comparison. The ’kat’s smoother voice was cool for country-swing tones on the dual pickup setting though a Fender Deluxe Reverb—and having a master Volume to ride shotgun over the neck/bridge mix proved handy in that scenario—but when going for fiery blues-rock grind through the same amp with a Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive driving the front end, the bridge pickup sounded more humbucker-like, and didn’t give the kind of fat bite that you get from a revved-up P-90. Cranking up the 805’s Treble control and tinkering with the Mids and Bass unleashed more single-coil snarl, and some players may find the Wildkat has enough of that character as it stands in stock trim.
The Wildkat has so much going for in terms of its looks, playability, and build quality that it’s a bang-for-the buck champ in the semi-hollow arena. The modest investment level makes it a great hot-rodding platform too (aftermarket P-90 in the bridge slot perhaps?), which is just one more reason why you might think about adopting this ’kat. —Art Thompson
PRICE $399 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
NECK Hard maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale
TUNERS Grover die-cast
BODY CNC routed mahogany body. Laminated flame-maple top.
BRIDGE LockTone Tune-o-matic with Bigsby vibrato tailpiece
PICKUPS Epiphone Alnico V P-90s
CONTROLS Two Volumes, master Tone, master Volume, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.96 lbs
KUDOS Killer look. Plays well. Excellent quality.
CONCERNS May not have enough P-90 zing for some players.
Godin Montreal Premiere Supreme
Canadian guitar maker Godin has aimed for a subtle elegance in the new Montreal Premiere Supreme, and even a cursory glance tells us they have really hit the mark. A figured maple top, back, and sides in high-gloss Lightburst Flame finish sets the tone, complemented by bound top and back, fretboard, and headstock. Demure celluloid dot inlays and chrome hardware help keep the flash from going overboard. The balance of the body laminates are Canadian wild cherry, with a vented spruce center block, and the glued-in 24¾" scale neck is mahogany with a fretboard made from Richlite, a composite material made from paper fibers. The use of a trapeze tailpiece and the single-cutaway body hints at jazzbox intentions for this thinline semi, although its feature set should enable anything you’d steer a standard ES-335-style semi at as well. Godin has equipped the Montreal Premiere Supreme well with a GraphTech Resomax Tune-o-matic bridge and nut, GraphTech Ratio Tuned tuners, and a pair of Seymour Duncan pickups—a Jazz II in the neck, and a hotter Custom III in the bridge. The electronics are kept simple with a 3-way selector and Volume and Tone controls.
The Montreal Premiere Supreme played smoothly right out of the case, with a thin but comfortably rounded “C” neck profile and a lively setup, although I did hit some slightly snaggy edges on the fret ends while sliding up and down the ’board. Played unplugged, the guitar produced more than enough volume for late-night practice, with an acoustic tone that had plenty of snap and jangle. Tested through a Two-Rock Studio Pro 35 1x12 combo, the Montreal Premier Supreme straddled a surprising duality between pummeling rock and purring jazz tones. The bridge pickup had a thick, midrange-y crunch even on clean amp settings, and plenty of bite when I dug in. Players seeking classic semi-acoustic tones might like to swap in a lower-output vintage-wind humbucker here, but anyone chasing the more sizzling side of blues or full-on rock from a deceptively elegant weapon will dig it. The neck pickup sounded significantly warmer, as you’d expect, but not solely a deep jazz voice, as it has plenty of articulation and a surprising amount of snap. It retained good clarity with a J. Rockett Blue Note overdrive pedal engaged for some more traditional bluesy excursions, while also—with the overdrive off—easing comfortably into speedy western-swing hybrid picking without muddying out in the slightest. Given the bridge pickup’s wallop, the dual-pick position stayed pretty gritty throughout, but with a funky roundness that worked well for lively rhythm playing. All said, the Montreal Premiere Supreme is a potentially fun ride for players looking to cover several bases in a streamlined yet visually impressive semi-acoustic. —Dave Hunter
Montreal Premiere Supreme
PRICE $2,095 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16” GraphTech
NECK Mahogany, slim C profile
FRETBOARD Richlite, 12” radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS GraphTech Ratio Tuned
BODY Semi-hollow, made from laminated wild cherry with flame-maple outer veneer and semi-solid core
BRIDGE GraphTech Resomax Tune-o-matic and trapeze tailpiece
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan Jazz II (neck) and Custom III (bridge)
CONTROLS Volume and Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Godin High-Defintion E-10 Nickel Regular Light,
WEIGHT 7 lbs
KUDOS An elegant and well-made semi-acoustic that straddles a wide range of tones.
CONCERNS Some slightly rough fret ends.
Guild Starfire IV ST Maple
The Guild brand has changed homes more times than the NFL’s Rams, yet remains a beloved American alternative, making guitars that still find their way into the hands of major players. Guild seems to have found an understanding new overseer in the Cordoba Music Group of Southern California, though, who acquired the company from Fender in 2014. They proceeded to re-introduce a lineup of traditional electric designs split into two groups: one manufactured on these shores, and the other in Asia. Our Korean-made Starfire IV ST Maple from the Newark St. Collection is of the latter. The first Starfire IV arrived in 1963 on the heels of the single-cutaway Starfire I, II, and III models of 1960, and in both looks and feel, the review sample appears an accurate re-creation of the original with just a few changes. The stopbar tailpiece (the “ST” in the name) replaces the originals’ trapeze unit, and a Tune-o-matic bridge stands in for the clunkier Guild model with a floating base. The “Maple” in the name tells us that this Starfire’s body is constructed from laminated maple with a spruce centerblock (’60s guitars were also available in mahogany, as are several reissue models) and the neck retains the traditional Guild three-piece mahogany/maple/mahogany construction. The headstock logo and Chesterfield inlay are in mother-of-pearl, and open-back Grover Sta-Tite tuners give another nod to Starfires of old. The multi-ply body binding and single-ply fingerboard binding is immaculate, the finish is faultless, and the frets in the Indian rosewood ’board are beautifully dressed. The neck has a “Vintage Soft U” profile that Guild has often used on its Starfires, and while not a favorite shape of mine, its playability was superb and the action low and fast even with the .011–.049 strings on this 24 3”/4-scale guitar. It all heads for home through a pair of Guild’s LB-1 mini humbuckers via a traditional 4-knob control section and 3-way switch.
Tested through a Two-Rock Studio Pro 35 1x12 combo, this 2015 Starfire IV ST Maple was immediately reminiscent of two vintage Starfires I’d owned in the past, with the seemingly contradictory blend of semi-hollow snappiness and roundness familiar to players of good 335-style guitars. There’s an upper-midrange bite that is characteristic of these low-wind humbuckers, and with the amp’s gain ramped up for moderate dirt, the neck pickup was thick and creamy with just a little edge to help notes stay well defined—very reminiscent of tones Buddy Guy used to achieve on similar guitars. The bridge pickup has some sting to it with more midrange sizzle, but provides good top-end clarity too. It wasn’t a heavy rocker in this position, but it sang and wailed sweetly through a J. Rockett Blue Note overdrive, and proved adept at anything in the classic rock, roots, and more gnarly country veins. The Starfire IV is a cool homage to an alternative classic, and if it didn’t entirely nail the depth and texture of a vintage model, it presents a good value at the price. —Dave Hunter
Starfire IV ST Maple
PRICE $1,099 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" bone
NECK Three-piece mahogany/maple/mahogany, “Vintage Soft U” profile
FRETBOARD Indian rosewood, 9.5" radius
FRETS 22 narrow-jumbo
TUNERS Open-back Grover Sta-Tite
BODY Laminated maple back, sides, and top
BRIDGE Guild Tune-o-matic with stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Guild LB-1 humbuckers
CONTROLS Independent Volume and Tone controls, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL115 Nickel Wound, .011-.049
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs
KUDOS Faithful to the ’60s Starfire IV in spirit, look, and feel. A versatile semi-acoustic that makes a great alternative to an ES-335.
Ibanez JSM10 John Scofield Signature
This more affordable version of the Japanese-made JSM100 VT (which streets for around $2,800) is a sweet looking guitar that sports gold hardware, beautifully figured maple top and back with multi-layer binding, bound f-holes, and split-block fretboard inlays of abalone and mother-of-pearl. The ebony fretboard and black-faced peghead are trimmed in ivoroid, and topping things off are a wooden trussrod cover bearing Scofield’s signature and a nice fitting bone nut. The JSM10’s medium-jumbo frets have a light polish and rounded tips, and combined with the wide-ish neck, the playing feel is excellent.
Despite being a little on the heavy side at 8.24 lbs, the JSM10 has a lively and resonant acoustic sound. Its intonation is tuneful in all reaches of the neck, and when played through a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue (with handwired circuitry by George Alessandro) and a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five: 25, the JSM10 dished out sounds that were crisp and detailed with plenty of sustain afforded by the mahogany center block (upon which the bridge and tailpiece are mounted). One of the cool things with this guitar’s otherwise standard electronics is a Tri-Sound switch that works only on the neck pickup to give you the option of running its coils in series, parallel, or split mode, which effectively turns it into a single-coil. Not available on the costlier JSM100 VT, the Tri-Sound setup greatly expands the range of sounds achievable from this guitar: fatter and louder in series, crisper with slightly less output in parallel (ideal for those times when a neck ’bucker is a little too wooly), and slimmer still in split, which happens to be a great option for clean rhythm playing when paired with the bridge humbucker. All of this really enhances the JSM10’s sonic flexibility, and thanks also to the nicely voiced Tone controls, which are useable throughout their entire rotation, you can dial in tones that rule for jazz, blues, funk, rock, and the list goes on.
The JSM10 also has excellent resistance to feedback, which is great because its overdriven tones really come to life when you give it some amp volume. The Super 58 bridge pickup has a PAF-level output (i.e. not overly hot), and its fat, bright sound is just great for solos and grittier rhythm work when driving into a distortion pedal or high-gain channel. Much like Scofield himself, the JSM10 is a guitar that can groove in a variety of situations. It’s as adept at delivering burnished jazz sounds though a clean amp as it is in kicking out jangly pop tones or buttery high-gain distortion. A classy reminder as to the innate flexibility of the dual-humbucker semi-hollow, the JSM10 is something worth checking out if you’re looking for a guitar that can cut it for a wide variety of gigs. —Art Thompson
JSM10 John Scofield Signature
PRICE $1,099 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" bone
NECK Sapele, set
FRETBOARD Ebony, 24.75" scale
TUNERS Gold die-cast
BODY Laminated flamed-maple back, sides, and top
BRIDGE Gold Ibanez ART-1 with stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Ibanez Super 58 humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, two Tone, 3-way selector, mini Tri-Sound switch for neck pickup (series, parallel, split coil)
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL 140, .010-.052
WEIGHT 8.24 lbs
KUDOS Great look. Excellent playability. Wide tonal range.
CONCERNS Wish it was a bit lighter in weight.
Reverend Tricky Gomez 290
Who among us doesn’t love the guitar work of the great Tricky Gomez? Gomez is the guy Reverend used as the inspiration behind this awesome model that was itself inspired by a famous semi-hollow guitar with the initials T.L. This dual-P-90 Gomez looks amazing in its Satin Emerald Green get up—I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finish quite like it. The sharp Florentine cutaways look great and the single apostrophe shaped f-hole is super cool. Add a Bigsby to the mix and you have an incredibly hip instrument that sounds big and punchy before you ever plug it in.
Through an amp, Tricky really comes to life, with robust, fat P-90 tones. The bridge position is sort of a single-coil on steroids: all the clarity and focus you would expect, but with more weight and body. The neck pickup is a joy—warm and full, with a very vocal quality to it. Both pickups—and the combined middle position—benefit from the perfectly tapered Volume knob as well as the Tone control. The Tone pot has a lot of nice gradations as you roll it down, but the cool thing is when you go from 1 to zero you get a wah-like “wow.” You can definitely get excellent Danny Gatton-style faux-wah, meow, and train sounds with it.
No discussion of a Reverend’s tonal options would be complete without mentioning the Bass Contour control. This is an uber-musical low-end rolloff that can not only brighten up both pickups, but also influence how hard you hit the front end of your amp. Sure, you can do that with a Volume knob too, but this is different. On the neck pickup, for instance, turning the Bass Contour all the way off gives you a killer neck single-coil sound that isn’t skinny… just skinnier. With a Mesa/Boogie amp set for light distortion, this cleaned it up nicely, perfect for coming down just a touch under the vocal in the verse of a tune. Then, turning it back up just gives you more bottom and slightly more output for a perfect contrast. Likewise with the bridge pickup. I liked rolling the Bass Contour off for rhythm and cranking it for solos.
The Tricky Gomez is a lot of fun to play. The neck has a comfy shape, the action is low but not buzzy, and the deep cutaways make it easy to reach all the frets. Some bends felt a little scritchy as I pushed the string across the frets but they sounded just fine through an amp. The Bigsby feels great thanks to Reverend’s Soft Touch Spring, and adds tons of vibey shimmer to chords and vibrato to single-notes. And the other strings don’t go flat when you bend one—yes!
If you want to add some semi-hollow magic to your life, Tricky Gomez would make a great friend. This guitar doesn’t look or sound like anything else out there, and yet it can cover all the ground of the well-known models with style, flair, and tone. —Matt Blackett
Tricky Gomez 290
PRICE $1,329 retail
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
FRETBOARD Rosewood 24 3/4" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Reverend Pin-Lock
BODY Semi-hollow korina with solid maple top
BRIDGE Bigsby B-70 with roller bridge
PICKUPS Two CP90 single-coils
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, Bass Contour, 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
KUDOS Unique look. Great tones. Super vibey.
CONCERNS Some bends feel a bit scratchy.
Sadowsky Semi Hollow
“When I designed this guitar, I was not looking to make another 335; there are plenty of those type guitars, and the world does not need another one,” says Roger Sadowsky. “I designed a small body, lightweight, semi-hollow that would be able to get a traditional jazz tone from the neck pickup, yet be able to perform in big band or high volume situations without feedback.” The end result on review here is the aptly named Semi Hollow, a lightweight and nimble guitar that plays beautifully and certainly owns up to the versatility that Sadowsky intended. While not an overly flashy instrument, the Japanese-made Semi Hollow is a showcase of fine craftsmanship. The body is given a light sunburst finish that beautifully highlights the figuring in the maple, and perfectly executed multi-layer bindings surround the top, back, heel cap, and the ebony-faced headstock. The mahogany neck has an ultra-comfy shape and its bound rosewood ’board arcs to a generous 12” radius and wears 22 carefully worked medium frets (fretwork and final setup are done at Sadowsky’s workshop in Long Island, NY). Subtle pearl dots are all you get for positional reference, but they’re in keeping with the SH’s streamlined ethos. Hardware includes a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece, along with two Sadowsky humbuckers, which feed a 3-way switch and Volume and Tone pots that are topped with smooth ebony knobs. One small complaint: The output jack is very close to the strap button, which means that any cord with a straight plug will get crushed when you lean the guitar against an amp.
The Semi Hollow sounds warm, lively, and more acoustic than any guitar I’ve heard with a log in it. There’s not a trace of honkiness in its voice, and everything sounds even and balanced with ample lows, nice midrange color, and silky highs. These qualities are revealed when amplified too, as the Semi Hollow has an inspiring sense of dimension that makes it a joy to play cleanly or with a moderate amount of distortion for some bluesy texture. The body’s lightweight spruce center block (which has been carved to remove mass where it’s not needed) helps to mitigate any howls at higher volumes, and it also contributes to the guitar’s easy transition into singing sustain and controllable feedback when you dig in a little through a gained-up amp or overdrive pedal. The sweet tones of the Semi Hollow make it a natural choice for jazz and styles such as country swing, where its clear and articulate voice brings out the nuances in complex harmonies and melodic lines. It’s also a cool guitar for blues, roots rock, and pretty much anything else that you’d point a semi-hollow at. The light weight of this instrument makes it easy to shoulder for long stretches, which is something I can’t say about a certain Gibson ES-335 that I have. The Sadowsky is closer to a hollowbody ES-330 in heft, which makes it a real bantam in the world of semi-hollow guitars!
What a hip guitar, and one that deserves a life of making music for a dedicated owner. Yes, it’s expensive, but the Semi Hollow is a high-end instrument for discriminating players, and to that end it earns an Editors’ Pick Award. —Art Thompson
PRICE $4,275 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
FRETBOARD Amazon rosewood, 24.75" scale
TUNERS Gotoh with ebony buttons
BODY Laminated 5-ply maple with carved spruce center block
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic with stop tailpiece
PICKUPS Sadowsky humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS Sadowsky Nickel Plated Steel, .011-.048
WEIGHT 6.78 lbs
KUDOS Excellent quality. Plays beautifully. Amazingly resonant tone.
CONCERNS Wish the output jack was moved down a few inches.
If you’re like me, when you see a semi-hollow guitar with no f-holes, you think B.B. King’s Lucille. That conjures up tones that are bluesy but ballsy, with throaty midrange and sweet, singing sustain and musical but controllable feedback. The Washburn HB-45 you see here delivers on all fronts. At the risk of spoiling the ending, it is a beautiful looking, smooth playing guitar that intonates like a dream.
There is elegance and then there is “black-tie formal” elegance, and the HB-45 resides comfortably in the latter category. The tuxedo-grade white finish with tasteful black appointments is an instant classic. The gold hardware only accentuates this vibe and, miraculously, does not take it into gaudy-land. It just looks gorgeous, but it would not be out of place on a sweaty bar gig. Nice. The whole package simultaneously screams class and quality as well as solid dependability. In my entire collection I don’t own a single white guitar, but I want one now.
This guitar has a loud acoustic strum that belies its lack of f-holes. It feels big and resonant. The playing feel is silky smooth. The frets are polished and the action is low and easy. Big bends fret out just a bit acoustically, but overall the HB-45 plays great. Personally I go for a slightly chunkier neck—the HB-45’s is on the slim side—but that’s a minor point.
Amplified, there are no surprises with this guitar. It gives you everything you would expect from a two-humbucker guitar with a 3-way switch. The Washburn humbuckers have a medium output and good detail. The HB excels at bluesy single-note lines and double-stops, especially if you ride the Volume knob B.B.-style. You can also get great jazz and fusion tones on the neck pickup or by blending the two—and, on that subject, these pickups do play very nicely together in the middle position, with lots of musical sounds to be found. What I like best about this Washburn, though, is the gorgeous feedback that it produces so easily. At even mellow volumes I was able to get notes to sing in an awesome, “Europa” fashion.
Part of the HB’s tonal sweetness undoubtedly stems from the fact that it intonates so well. Washburn was the first major manufacturer to adopt the Buzz Feiten Tuning System, and although this guitar does not feature that system, it definitely reflects Washburn’s awareness of and commitment to playing in tune. Complex chords, played with distortion way up the neck sound beautiful, with nice overtones and zero garbled harshness. Bravo!
This is a tremendous amount of guitar for the money. It’s got eye-catching cosmetics, excellent tones, and solid construction. Blues cats and jazzers—not to mention rockers and punkers too—owe it to themselves to plug one of these in. —Matt Blackett
PRICE $699 street
NUT WIDTH 1 11/16"
FRETBOARD Rosewood 24 3/4" scale
TUNERS Gold Grover Exclusive 18:1
PICKUPS Dual Washburn Humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, two Tone, 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8 lbs
KUDOS Sweet looks. Great sounds. Excellent intonation.