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This article was originally published in issue #12
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Huss and Dalton are renowned for making some of the world's finest acoustic guitars and we've been hoping to get one into iGuitar's studio for a long while. When a review sample arrived we were delighted to see find it was an MJ (Mini Jumbo) pure acoustic, as played by the legendary Albert Lee. Who got to review it? Step forward a very happy Tom Quayle!
Formed in the late summer of 1995, the Huss and Dalton Guitar Company represents the guitar building skills of Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton. Based in Virginia, USA, Messrs. Huss and Dalton both began their careers with Stelling Banjo Works, where they honed their instrument building skills before deciding the time was right to begin production of their own line of guitars. In just a few years, the company has achieved tremendous acclaim for professional class instruments that are ranked along with the top names in US quality guitar making.
The guitar we received for review was a stunning looking MJ Custom model. MJ stands for Mini Jumbo and it's a custom version of this line that Albert Lee is now using for his acoustic duties. The first thing you notice is the beautifully crafted tweed case that the MJ is shipped in. Its construction is flawless, with a lovely Huss & Dalton logo embossed on the top. This quality of case always bodes well for the instrument inside and you certainly won't be disappointed as you undo the clasps and open it up for the first time! The MJ is a beautiful guitar in every respect, featuring a Sitka spruce top, stunning flame maple back and sides, maple neck, ebony fretboard and gold-plated Waverly tuners with ebony buttons. The figured maple on the back and sides is some the loveliest I've ever seen and is in real contrast to the rather understated Sitka spruce top. The combination works beautifully, though, and from an aesthetic point of view this is as good as it gets. The design is finished off with Indian rosewood binding across the neck and body, plus some lovely 'stingray' inlays and the Huss & Dalton logo on the headstock. Custom options such as wood types and finishes are available of course, giving you the ability to specify a truly unique instrument, if you choose to. There is also a popular 'C' version with a cutaway.
The Huss and Dalton's construction also features some of the best craftsmanship you're likely to find, with immaculate internal and external work in every area. All of the internal bracing is done with hand-split Appalachian red spruce and the braces are radiused to produce a natural curve in the top, reducing built-in stress and altering the tone, reducing bass muddiness and more focused mid-range, which can be a problem with some Jumbo bodied acoustics - though not this one, as you can hear in our video!
The fretwork and general finishing were also exceptional throughout, leaving you with the feeling that you are holding a real labour of love in your hands, not a mass-produced instrument. There's certainly a feeling of exclusivity here thanks to little touches such as the half-herringbone rosette and top purfling adding to the classy look and feel. These guitars command a high price tag but it's certainly not hard to see where your money goes. Clearly, if you want flawless design and build quality Huss and Dalton will provide it.
The MJ was strung with medium tension 12 gauge strings and set up with a medium to high action. This was a little uncomfortable for my taste but this is a personal preference and as H&D will set the guitar up however you like, it's certainly not something to worry about. The 16" body width and 25.4" scale length make for a very comfortable playing experience, enhanced by the beautiful fretwork and very playable neck profile.
Tonally, the MJ is a powerhouse of a guitar with a massive sound projecting from that Sitka spruce top and jumbo body. You can go from subtle light strums represented with intimate and delicate accuracy, to a powerful and focussed attack that never gets too muddy or unbalanced. The most amazing thing is how tonally consistent this instrument is across its entire range, with upper fretboard work sounding just as strong, clear and responsive as the lower range. Each part of the frequency range is presented in great detail with a tone that will really impress live or mic'd up in a studio. We mic'd up the MJ for our demo and were amazed by how easy it was to get an incredible tone almost immediately.
Obviously this is a very expensive guitar and at this price the Huss and Dalton is up there alongside guitars from the likes of Martin, Taylor and Collings. At that sort of quality level what separates one from another is purely personal taste as no guitar for this sort of money is going to be technically flawed. What the smaller makers have going for them, of course, is that sense of exclusivity and the indefinable satisfaction of owning a guitar that was made by hand, by a craftsman. Alternatively, of course, you might prefer to find a vintage classic that has already aged and developed its tone over the years - that is always an option, too. But there's an extra satisfaction to be had from taking a guitar of this class from new and playing it in, listening to how it develops and matures - making it your own.
It's very hard to say that any guitar of this price range represents great value for money but what Huss & Dalton have done is to take traditional designs, like the Jumbo in this case, and improve on them in almost every way, resulting in a guitar that is pretty much flawless in terms of tone, aesthetics and playability. If you can afford a guitar of this calibre and want/need the best that can be achieved in the acoustic world, then you owe it to yourself to check out Huss and Dalton's immaculate work.