Exotica Versoul Henry

Kari Nieminen has been stirring the boutique world of late with his unique custom electric and acoustic guitars. One has only to see some of this Finland-based luthier’s creations to appreciate his eye for design, and it’s worth noting that Nieminen won Finland’s prestigious “Industrial Designer of the Year” award in 1998.

The Henry ($5,600 retail/$4,950 street, as tested with optional gold-leaf top) is a stylish instrument that follows the no-nonsense lines of a Les Paul Junior while flaunting some Sidney Mobel-style moves courtesy of its gold-leaf top and hand-stippled metal pickup covers. (You can also order the guitar with single-coils, which have the same style covers.) Of course, nearly everywhere you look, Henry reveals surprising details, such as the exposed laminations and gold accents on the front and back of the headstock, the gold leaf markers on the edge of the fretboard, and even the polished moose shinbone nut, which is slightly darker than cow bone. The shapely tortoise-shell pickguard is a neat touch, as is the two-ply binding that surrounds the top. It all adds up to an instrument that exudes some of the exotic flair of a Zemaitis with its performance-art persona. (Interestingly, Ron Wood, a long-time Zemaitis player, owns four Versoul guitars—a Buxom 6 acoustic, a Henry, a Resosun resonator electric, and a Raya baritone.)

In purely functional terms, Henry has its bases covered. The neck has a sumptuous vintage-style shape, the jumbo frets are well shaped and finished, and the hardware is high quality. Nieminen makes his own pickups, of course, and Henry’s oblong humbuckers feature alnico magnets and are adjustable for height and tilt (adjustments to the bridge pickup are made from the back of the guitar). The control cavity is completely foil-shielded and the wiring is very neat.

Wankin’ on Hank

With its low action and light strings Henry’s playability is fantastic. You can immediately appreciate how tuneful and harmonically happening this guitar is from its vibrant acoustic sound, and those qualities are well presented in the amplified realm. Plugged into a Vox AC30, Henry yielded rich humbucker sounds while bringing out the distinct nuances of this classic combo. With the Vox turned up, the bridge pickup elicited a tough overdriven tone with a muscular midrange presence, transparent highs, and a great sense of dynamics. The guitar’s 22-fret configuration gives the neck-pickup tones a particularly good focus and coherency, and, probably due to its alder body, the Henry sounds somewhere between a standard and a Junior Les Paul—which is perhaps why it’s also in the sonic camp of a PRS McCarty. In dual-pickup mode the sounds are open and girthy, and having two Volume controls allows you to blend the neck and bridge signals to get just the textural shadings you need for juicy rhythm or lead parts. Henry remains clear sounding when turned down, and its Tone control rolls off the highs in a smooth, predictable manner without causing excessive muddiness at low settings.

The Henry is a killer rock guitar, and it does just about all one could ask from a dual-humbucker ax—provided, that is, you don’t need coil-split or parallel pickup options. If you’re looking for a hip-sounding Gibson alternative, and are into the idea of spending a little extra to get something that’ll spice up your collection, Henry is a dude to get acquainted with.