(My original review had to be divided into sections for the purposes of this website, but It overall remains unaltered.)
I am one of the lucky few that can claim to be the owner of a Hufschmid Headless six string. I have had the pleasure of looking at, picking it up, and playing it whenever my schedule permits. Each encounter with this guitar is a new adventure, and that does not come as a surprise. I have little experience in writing reviews, but every once in a while I feel extremely compelled to share my thoughts. I have a lot to say, so bear with me on this journey, and I shall introduce you to my experience with the art that is a Hufschmid guitar, as well as the artist behind it. I am very pleased to have the opportunity and the privilege to do this write up.
First, a quick thought about the concept of “product” versus “craft”:
Today we live in an age of big companies, big brand names, and mass production. Factory-line products have become the norm. These days, the title “Hand Made” holds great meaning, especially to those who pay attention to such things. This applies to the music industry as well. Many guitars are cranked out of factories, put together by machines with pre-determined specifications and the company’s bottom line as a priority. For those who want more options there are the custom shops, which surely do a fine job and will give a paying customer exactly what the customer specifies (for better or worse).
Some musicians, however, want something a little different. They want something unique, something that is truly ‘their’ instrument. They want something that is more than just the sum of its parts, something that may itself transcend the purpose for which it is used. For these individuals, there are the luthiers.
Who are the luthiers? From my perspective, these are the artisans. These are the craftsmen who create those one-of-a-kind instruments that you won’t see in the catalogues or magazine ads (at least, not likely). These are the masters that have dedicated years to acquiring knowledge and honing their skills. They know their craft, and they know how to do it right. This is whom you are working with when you choose Patrick Hufschmid. He is the real deal.
When you agree to work with Patrick and the process begins, there is a constant line of communication, which is crucial in an endeavor such as this. I received daily updates from Patrick with pictures and information about what approach he was taking. We would often spend long periods of time emailing back and forth about his process in general. Communication is an important quality that Patrick brings to the table, and it should not be taken for granted.
The total process was fast and painless. There were no days of waiting and wondering, and no flaky miscommunications. Most importantly Patrick was very professional and available to answer my questions even though an ocean separated us. Before I knew it, the guitar was in my hands. No problems at all.
This is my first venture into the realm of headless guitars. I’ve always been intrigued, and I decided that this was my opportunity to really find out what headless was all about. I am now hooked, thanks to the Hufschmid Headless. There is nothing not to love about this instrument. The components are all expertly matched, and they work together with the precision of a Swiss timepiece.
It looks stunning from every angle. See the pictures on the website if you need a visual. The reds of the Sapelli, and the browns and blacks of the Bastogne Walnut, make for something that I’ve never seen before in a guitar. There is something to be found on every inch of this instrument to remind me that this is real wood from real trees. The natural grain paints it’s own picture, and it is just beautiful. Traveling up the neck to where the head would normally be features a circular medallion in the back with Patrick’s “H” logo imprinted.
The transition from seeing the guitar to actually feeling it is an even better experience. The guitar is remarkably light and thin, yet it feels exceptionally solid. It presents a wealth of different wood textures between the neck and the body. I’ve even found a subtle knot or two, which is a real treat for anyone that appreciates carpentry. I’ve played many different guitars over the years, but this one is the first that actually feels alive.
The pickups are hand wound by Kent Armstrong. I was asked to create a profile, in writing, of the kind of sound that I wanted. I like lots of variety, so I couldn’t give much more than a vague ballpark and the specification that I hate muddy tone. That was enough to get the job done. The pickups sound great, and feature Patrick’s signature “H” logo with a wood texture as the background. The pickups include a three-way toggle switch, a volume knob, and a tone knob. These components also flow well with the color of the guitar and hardware.
A tertiary wooden panel covers the electronics on the back, and the inside is neat and organized. There is a nice foil layer covering the bottom and sidewalls of the electronics compartment, respecting the inside of the guitar as well as the outside.
The fret markers along the rosewood fret board are composed of Luminlay’s magical non-nuclear glowing compound (http://www.luminlay.com/indexen.htm). I could get into the science of it, but I would rather believe that it is made from the blood of dragons and the tears of unicorns. Regardless, it looks awesome. I should note that Patrick has some models on his website that feature square block inlays composed of his own magic “Hufglow” materials… Ok I give on the magic part. Luminlay and “Hufglow” are made possible by a strontium aluminate mixture, which are then combined in an autoclave with dragon’s blood and unicorn tears. True story.
The bridge and nut are the latest and greatest from Hipshot. The string is fed through the retainer at the bottom of the bridge and is locked down at the top of the nut. The retainers also serve as the tuning heads. It’s a great system, and my compliments to Hipshot and Patrick for making it work.
The body itself has a shape that you will not see anywhere else. The initial process featured a ‘strat’ like body, which Patrick then carved away after calculating the proper amount of wood needed to balance the guitar overall. One of my favorite features is that the top area of the body, on which my right arm falls, has an angled section at the corner that begins about half way along the edge and continues around and down to where the bottom strap button resides. This little detail allows for a very comfortable and non-intrusive resting spot for my forearm. The body also allows for optimum access to the 24 frets that are featured on the neck. The neck is bound to the body with four screws and ferrules to reinforce the already snug fit. Put simply, it’s not going anywhere.
As a cherry on top of the dessert, Patrick included Dunlop straplocks already fitted onto the body, so my straps were ready to play right out of the box. Also included was the Allen wrench for the nut, and a flashlight designed to light up the magic fret markers (DO NOT accidentally shine this in your eyes, it hurts).
Ease of use:
I heard that there was supposed to be a learning curve with headless guitars. This is not the case here, as I found the Hufschmid headless to be very inviting and easy to play. It’s a whole new experience. You can do all the things that you normally do on a guitar, but the instrument is much more size-effective. The guitar is light, mobile, and comfortable. All you have to do is play it.
The nut from Hipshot is a new model, and it functions to lockdown the strings that are fed through by using an Allen wrench. There is no friction or slippage from winding the string around a post. The whole mechanism has been excellent so far, and the strings stay in tune better than any traditional guitar that I’ve used. Tuning up and down is also fast and precise.
The input jack is discretely placed just below the bridge along the wall of the body. It is a perfectly logical spot, and is easily accessed.
Playing the guitar itself is a joy. It’s awesome to know that the neck was made with my hand in mind. I scanned a tracing of my left hand and sent it to Patrick early in the process so that he could get a better feel for what kind of neck would be optimal for me. As you probably guessed, the neck feels great.
Maintenance is also a cakewalk. I went to my local Target and purchased a bottle of Pledge Revitalizing Oil spray. I applied a couple of sprays onto a clean sock and spread the solution in an even, thin layer across the wood. The guitar looked stunning out of the box despite its trip across the ocean. After applying this wood oil it looked even more so. The Pledge, which can be found at http://www.pledge.com/en-US/Products/Pages/revitalizing-oil.aspx, was easy to use and worked like a charm. A little bit goes a long way on this guitar, and is should be done frequently.
A few seconds was enough to know. This guitar is solid. The Sapelli mahogany is the strongest that one can get, and you know it when you’re gripping the neck tightly for a strong bend. The Bastogne walnut top feels equally solid. If I were back in the days of my ancestors, the Vikings, I would charge into battle with a shield made of this guitar (a sword would probably be a good idea too).
The Hipshot bridge and nut combination have been phenomenal in keeping the strings in tune and in place. I don’t break strings very often, but I can’t imagine that I will develop a bad habit using this guitar. It’s also nice because the bridge and nut are made of solid pieces that will stay put and not ‘un-adjust’ themselves like happens with certain other bridge/nut combinations.
The electronics are also well put together, and there is no excess noise heard through the speakers at loud volumes.
There’s no other way to say it, this is the best sounding guitar that I’ve ever heard. It’s quite astounding how Patrick has formulated a way to keep the guitar so compact and light, while giving it more sustain. TONS of sustain, that is. This guitar is about half the thickness of my Gibson Les Paul, and yet it sounds as big if not bigger.
I play through a Kemper Profiling Amp, out of a pair of QSC K Series speakers. It is a pretty basic setup, but the tones are outstanding. The Hufschmid sounds incredible with gain. The resonance is huge. It has sharpness, clarity, and most importantly it does not fall victim to ‘muddy’ tone (my archenemy). The pickup switching is smooth and balanced, allowing for subtle dynamic changes on the fly. One of my favorite things to do so far is switch to the neck pickup with a clean chorus and dial back the ‘tone’ knob. This creates a very laid-back acoustic guitar sound, the likes of which I have not heard with other guitars.
The reason that this can be done is that the neck pickup specifically is a Jazz pickup on steroids. Both pickups actually lose zero sound quality when the ‘tone’ knob is adjusted. So, when you dial down the ‘tone’ there is not so much a decrease in tone, but more of a lateral change in tone. It is a significant feature, and I have been working it into my playing.
There is no limit to the styles with which this guitar can be used, whether you’re playing Brutalz m/, or smooth jazz. It is a compact package that has more tone than guitars that are twice the size.
Overall summary and opinion of this product:
Overall, this instrument is amazing, and it is more than just a “product.” It is living, breathing work of art, and I freakin’ love it. Anyone who has held or played a Hufschmid guitar can attest to this. The components are top of the line. It sounds better than anything. It plays better than anything. It is generally something incredible to behold. Playing this guitar reminds me that I am an insignificant part of something much bigger, because the art and the artist have such an outstanding regard for the creative process.
This guitar tells a story: The seed that made the tree, the trees that bore the wood, the luthier who made the guitar, and the player who can’t get enough of it (and is currently failing at one arpeggio exercise after another :D )
Every musician should love his or her instrument. Our instruments are the tools with which we express ourselves. At times things go in reverse, and the instrument expresses itself through the musician. It really is a unique relationship. This guitar has taken that relationship to more awesome heights for me.
If it were stolen, I would promptly pay Patrick to build me another one, and I would use the new one to savagely beat the person who stole the old one. This guitar is my baby now.
“I think that you will really enjoy the instrument as much as I enjoyed building it!”
-Patrick Hufschmid, from an email correspondence.
Words such as these are rare today, but more than rare they are significant. They are the words of an artisan who loves the work that he or she does. They come from a passion that fueled the world of the arts from the beginning, and must continue to power the arts into the future. I celebrate Patrick Hufschmid as one of these artisans. Patrick and his creations absolutely deserve our attention. Excellent work, Mr. Hufschmid. I hope to find myself in Switzerland someday so that we may break bread and raise glasses. Cheers!