C. Hall SB-2A

Southern California luthier Charlie Hall has been building guitars since the mid 1970s and is best known today for his finely crafted double-cutaway thinline electrics, which feature distinctive, leaf-pattern soundholes. Hall recently introduced a new version of his solidbody SB-2 model, which is called the SB-2A, owing to its Lace Alumitone pickups. The SB-2A sports a uniquely curvaceous body with deep sculpting on the top. The body and neck are made of figured maple, and their grains are offset 90 degrees to allow the center section to stand out beautifully under the transparent blue finish. Turning the guitar over we find a comfy back bevel and wooden control cover secured with six small screws. A peek inside the unshielded cavity revealed nothing out of the ordinary other than a soldered junction of several wires that should have been insulated with shrink tubing for a neater appearance.

The SB-2A’s neck is fairly wide and flat—but also quite thin at about j" at the neck’s mid span—with a svelte heel and a volute at the opposite end. You’ll notice that the headstock design causes the strings to angle sharply past the thick bone nut to reach the tuners. This obviously makes them press more heavily on the bass side of the nut slots, though the headstock’s rearward tilt ensures that they exert plenty of downward pressure as well. Tuning chores are managed by a set of Gotoh 510 Delta Series machines, which have rounded housings and buttons. They feel as smooth and silky as they look.

Save for a small polished brass serial number plate at the 22nd fret, the fretboard is completely unadorned. Tiny dots on the side of the fretboard provide positional reference, but in dim light it’s easy to mistake where you’re playing—especially in the high positions. The medium frets are cleanly worked and polished, but their ends are fairly noticeable as you slide your hand along the neck. It’s easier to feel them too because of the fretboard’s non-rolled edges.

The SB-2A’s Lace Alumitone pickups sport staggered magnets sandwiched between pieces of gleaming metal, and Hall’s carved wood bezels give them trophy-like presentation on the face of this guitar. Pickup selections are made via a 3-way mini toggle, which is much smaller and less positive feeling than a Fender- or Gibson-style switch. Also, its throw is so short that you have to really concentrate to notch it in the middle position.

Strummed acoustically, the SB-2A sounds airy and resonant with a satisfying blend of warmth and detail. Its light strings and low action make it play well too, although the wide/thin neck shape is bound to suit some players more than others. Amplified though a Vox AC30, a THD Flexi-50 (driving a THD 2x12), and Fender Super Reverb, the SB-2A has its own thing going. This mainly due to the Alumitone pickups, which sound clear and bright with a hi-fi sense of balance and presentation. It’s not surprising that the SB-2A’s bridge pickup was leaner overall and less bold in the mids than a PRS McCarty’s humbucker, but it was also slimmer and less sweet than the bridge pickup of a stock Fender Eric Johnson Signature Strat. The Alumitones impart a slightly hard, metallic quality to the SB-2A’s sound, but their pristine response though a clean amp makes them well suited for rhythm or chord-melody playing. This guitar’s overdriven lead tones sound strident, however, and if you try to take off some of the bright edge by rolling down the Tone control, the output drops off. This might be due to the aggressiveness of the tone circuit, which also completely lops off the clarity when the Tone knob is turned more than halfway down.

The SB-2A is a mixed bag. It’s a finely made guitar with a lovely acoustic sound, but the pickups aren’t the best match for it if you need a wide range of tones (the standard SB-2 is available with a variety of

single-coil and humbucking pickup configurations). Bottom line: The SB-2A isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for a guitar that can deliver highly detailed tones though a Polytone or other jazz-approved amp, it may be just what you want.