Smaller-bodied guitars are on many players’ radars right now, and blues freaks and fingerpickers will be keen to lay hands on this Virginia company’s tribute to a prewar Gibson. Review by Rick Batey
Folk-sized acoustic guitar. Made in the US
Price: £3999 inc. hard case
Gibsons of the 1930s have a reputation of being some of the most difficult guitars to emulate. Lightly built and lightly braced, with fabulous timber plus 70-plus years of age behind them, they have a thunk, a honk, a sweet, open quality that almost defies cloning. Many companies have tried, though, and many still do, as there are few guitars that thrill fingerpicking hipsters more than a prewar-style Gibson.
Authentic-sounding repros of the smaller-bodied models are particularly hard to find. Gibson has come fairly close at times with the True Vintage line, while the cream of small-shop makers all offer their own interpretations: Collings (the C-10), Santa Cruz (the H), Kevin Kopp (the L-02), John Walker (the Lolo Creek), Blazer & Henkes (the Santa Fe), plus Dale Fairbanks, David Flammang, and so on (there’s an hour of happy googling for you). Or, you can buy a Pacific Rim lookalike… which might look okay but won’t, in our opinion, even come close.
Huss & Dalton hail from Staunton, Virginia and though their profile might not be as high as a couple of the brands mentioned above, they’re very well thought of. We’ve played a slope dread of theirs which was damn fine, and an ‘aged’ D-18 which blew our socks off. The standard Crossroads is pretty much a Gibson L-00 tribute – a mahogany/sitka guitar with minimal decoration, 4 5/16″ deep in the body. This is the Crossroads Deluxe, with maple back, sides and neck, more ornate and very slightly deeper in the body, bringing it closer to the upmarket maple Gibson Nick Lucas of 1934-1941.
Pop open the case – a lovely, tightly-shaped tweed item – and the Crossroads’ sunburst makes a big first impression. It’s modelled after the Gibson pattern, but the small centre patch’s colour is different: less yellow, more hollow… almost pinkish. Lift the guitar out (it’s very, very lightweight) and you can see that sunbursting has been subtly applied to the back, sides, neck, even the rear and sides of the headstock. It’s a beautiful job, thin enough to show a hint of texture on the tightly-grained sitka top and the imprint of the figured ripple on the back.
Talking of maple, the timber chosen for the back, sides and neck is perfectly matched and very tightly flamed: this is AAA-grade stuff, and nicely set off by vintage-shallow ivoroid binding around top and back, and the fingerboard too, while the simple matching soundhole rosette echoes the model’s Kalamazoo-made origins. Rosewood is the choice for both the fingerboard – decorated by simple dot markers, and terminating the authentic distance from the soundhole – and the bridge, a straight, no-belly item with countersunk bridge pins with abalone inserts and a polished, hand-compensated bone saddle.
With this H&D, the closer you look, the more the fine details appear. Pop a mirror inside and you can see the smoothly scalloped bracing of stiff red spruce, some fine mahogany kerfing and a small rosewood bridgeplate; even the label has been attached to the neckblock so as not to spoil the glimpse of flamed maple through the soundhole. The pickguard is L-00-shaped (but not firestriped in pattern, which would have been tasty). Up at the headstock, the trussrod cover is a little piece of ebony, the pearl H&D logo is small and subtle, and the tuners, rather than being some gold-plated modern types which would look very out of place, are plain but effective three-on-a-plate Kluson-alike Gotohs with cream plastic buttons.
The Crossroads’ scale length is the proper 24.75″, while the neck is 1.75″ at the nut, with a string spacing at the bridge of 58mm, or a shade under 2 5/16″. The neck is a medium slim soft vee, tapered to thicken up past the ninth fret, and topped with narrow-gauge frets: it’s faster and more comfy than the majority of vintage necks of the ’30s, and a pleasure to get around on. However our guitar displays a noticeably high action, presumably so that your kind dealer can set it to your preference? It’s 3mm at the 12th fret on the top E and 4mm on the low E, and though there’s plenty of room for adjustment with a full 4mm of saddle at the bridge, this action would be considered tall for most fingerpickers.
Maple has the reputation of sounding hard and bright, and though older guitars like Nick Lucases and Centurys can belie those preconceptions the brand-new H&D hasn’t yet had time to upset the apple cart – yet it’s already promisingly open and responsive. The mids in particular jump out willingly from a pick, while the bottom E is tight and full and the trebles are silvery, breathy and echoey. With an uncultured hand (our personal speciality) the restricted dimensions of the design can bring on an inevitable sense of boxiness, but play full chords with a softer touch and there’s a nice low-end bloom coming through that bodes well for the years to come. It’s almost purpose-built for bluesy fingerpicking, with plenty of articulacy, sparkle and snap with either bare fingers or fingerpicks.
The Crossroads Deluxe is a masterfully-made guitar. It’s super-light, stunningly finished, and every detail is tip-top. It’s also a super-tasteful design, paying attention to vintage specs without being afraid to add a contemporary slant in terms of neck profile and fine details. Get it in your hands and you will discover a crisp dynamic sound, with prominent mids and plenty of character. Equal to an original? There’s no way to say. But you can be certain that this Huss & Dalton is right up there with the best of its competitors.