A parlour guitar with a few surprises in store for our veteran instrument surveyor, David Mead…
Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton first met at a jam session in the early 1990s and soon found that they had similar ideas about guitar construction. They concluded that traditional building methods were fine and dandy but really needed a bit of a contemporary twist and so the Huss & Dalton company was formed and guitar production began. Since then, they have established a range of instruments embracing both time-honoured and cutting edge design initiatives. This particular model is relatively new to the catalogue and comes in various versions including a standard model and this, a custom variation.
Over at the Huss & Dalton facility in Staunton, Virginia, certain things are standard to virtually every instrument they make. For instance, most models have a rounded top which is brought about by building an arch into the bracing. This gives the instrument a slight boost to the mid range which can be an aid to the overall tonal response especially in models like the parlour-sized Model O I have in front of me. Other design flourishes include bracing that is made from Appalachian red spruce, bridge plates of Honduras rosewood and real bone saddles.
The top on the H&D parlour is from AAA grade Engelmann spruce, with its characteristic pale whitish colour, close grain pattern with a fair amount of feathering throughout. This will turn slowly to amber as the years progress, of course, but for now it’s still enjoying the pale bloom of youth. In order to give the dimensions of this instrument some perspective, I measured the upper bout at 235mm and the lower at 340mm, thinning down to 205mm at the waist.On the back and sides we find Cocobolo with a fine reddish brown hue and fairly complex – but not over the top – patterning running through the grain. Cocobolo belongs to the rosewood family and, being a great fan of spruce/rosewood combos myself, I’m looking forward to hearing what this little mite sounds like later on. The addition of this wood is what gives the O its custom status as the regular woods available for the standard model are either Indian rosewood or mahogany. As such, the presence of Cocobolo means only a £650 surcharge over the standard O, which is not bad going as some builders charge far more.
The rosette and back strip feature a herringbone design with Indian rosewood bindings surrounding the body itself. Needless to say, workmanship here is very good indeed with everything inside and out indicative of luthiery at a seriously high level.
On to the neck now and here we find Spanish cedar – or Cedrela Odorata to give it its more formal name – which is known primarily as the favourite choice of neck timber for classical guitar makers, but I’m seeing it more and more on smaller bodied steel-strung instruments. Waverly tuners adorn the O’s slight headstock which is itself fronted by a Cocobolo veneer to match the back and sides. The neck is Gaboon ebony which has been almost invisibly bound, again with ebony. H&D tell me that this is so that fret ends are not visible to the eye or detectable by the fingers. It’s a very subtle touch and one that illustrates the amount of attention to detail to be found on this guitar.
Fret position markers and the Huss & Dalton logo at the top of the headstock are made from a combo of mother of pearl for the former and pink abalone all the way from Australia for the latter. It’s Gaboon ebony once again for the bridge with bone for both the saddle and nut and if you look very closely (I had to!) you can see that the string saddle has been very subtly compensated for individual string height and intonation.
I really love it when a guitar surprises me and the first few initial exploratory strums revealed a voice from this instrument that I wasn’t at all expecting. Despite its fairly diminutive size, it has the timbre and tone of a larger instrument with a considerable amount of authority and projection built in. There’s a lot of volume present, too; and unlike many smaller bodied guitars, a good amount of bass response. This is very possibly due to the presence of the Cocobolo bringing some additional richness to the sound picture – but it might be that the top rounding I mentioned earlier is coming into play, too. Whatever the reason, I found that bluesy noodling, gentle fingerstyle and enthusiastic strumming all sounded good meaning that in the Huss & Dalton O Custom you have a highly portable, superbly built tone machine.
This is a fine, well-balanced and comfortable guitar to play. It’s a tonal storehouse with a good many tricks up its sleeve, too; and many players who have previously been dismissive of smaller bodied, short scale parlour sized instruments in the past would be well advised to revisit models like this one as it might just be able to fulfill many of their tonal objectives in one very compact package. It’s easy to see where H&D’s mission to build traditional models with a few contemporary nuances comes in to play as this guitar doesn’t only live up to expectations – it exceeds them!
Manufacturer: Huss & Dalton
Model: O Custom
Retail Price: £4095
Body Size: Parlour
Made In: USA
Top: Engelmann spruce
Back and Sides: Cocobolo
Neck: Spanish cedar
Nut Width: 44mm
Scale Length: 632.4mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario light gauge
Left Handers: Custom order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard case
Pros: A finely constructed lively little tone machine
Cons: Some may have issues with the price – but you do get what you pay for
Overall: A Tardis of tone – a smaller body instrument which is much bigger on the inside, if you see what we mean!
Contact Details: Brilliant Distribution