The idea of melding the best features of Fender and Gibson guitars isn’t new. Eddie Van Halen took the law of guitar building into his own hands in the ’70s, slapping a Gibson humbucker into a Strat-shaped Charvel and watching as almost every manufacturer in the world followed suit. More recently, guitar makers such as PRS have elevated this concept to a high art form.
Into this new world order of guitar making comes Gadow Guitars of Durham, North Carolina, and its Custom Hollow, which has elements of Tele, Les Paul, and ES-335 all rolled into a unique-looking, cool-sounding package.
The Custom Hollow makes an excellent first impression with its beautifully figured carved maple top. The lines are flowing and the teardrop-shaped soundhole goes great with the body outline. The uncluttered fretboard, with a marker at the 12th fret only, really ties the look together. The chrome hardware fits right in and the beefy TonePros bridge not only looks solid but its one-piece, fully adjustable design keeps the top very neat looking. Gadow applies veneers of ebony and rosewood to the front and back of the headstock. This is done to improve the headstock’s strength and rigidity, but it also looks beautiful against the natural maple neck.
I did some playing on the Custom Hollow before plugging in and dug its comfy neck and clean fretwork. The 25w" scale provides a sturdy, slightly stiffer feel that I really like, as you can dig into this thing and fight it a bit. Monster bends above the 12th position
tended to fret out slightly, and though the buzz wasn’t apparent through an amp, it still bugged me enough to tweak the dual-action trussrod. The adjuster is easily accessible at the base of the neck, and I was able to quickly take care of the problem. Thanks to the center block of mahogany running the length of the body, the Custom Hollow isn’t super loud acoustically, although it is lively and resonant. But the acoustic voice does seem to be there when you plug in, adding extra zing and dimension, and allowing notes to really “talk.”
Amping It Up
The Custom Hollow’s amplified tones flat-out rule. The great-sounding Lindy Fralin humbuckers and Gadow’s combination of woods provide the perfect PAF bark with an authoritative muscle. Through a loud Marshall I could get great Cream Farewell Concert tones and some very Van Halen-y textures that combined supreme crunch with incredibly articulate top end. The Custom Hollow’s clean sounds are punchy and clear with plenty of twang. Some humbuckers can sound woofy, but not these. In all three positions they sounded balanced, distinct, and musical.
Splitting the pickups by pulling up on the Volume and Tone pots is a real joy, as they both sound much more like authentic single-coils than half of a humbucker. The tones are full and rich—not an easy feat—and, again, the Fender-style scale makes for a much more Hendrix-y neck-position sound than you might expect when splitting the front pickup on, say, an ES-335. Feedback is always a consideration with a semi-hollow instrument. But far from being a problem on the Custom Hollow, it’s an asset. This guitar feeds back predictably and musically on either pickup. It’s a blast to be able to just hit a note and have it sing so consistently.
There’s a lot to like about the Custom Hollow. It can handle just about any style you throw at it, it’s solidly built, and it looks great. It can speak with an elegant grace or tear your head off with screaming, rocking sustain. For players who want a handmade instrument that offers some very unique and inspiring qualities, the Custom Hollow is a great choice.