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This article was originally published in issue #20
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Hohner may be best known for its legendary harmonicas but the company also has a long history of offering very playable, affordable guitars, too. So how do its brand new vintage-inspired Essential Roots models stand up in a fiercely competitive acoustic market? Lewis Turner finds out.
Since 1857 Hohner has been crafting high quality instruments, from harmonicas, accordions, melodicas, recorders and ukuleles to guitars. With its new Essential Roots series guitars, the German company is looking to connect to its historical role in American roots and Blues music, in which it played a significant part. Remember all those campfire scenes in the Westerns, with a harmonica being played? The chances are it was a Hohner. The company says it teamed up with guitarists and session musicians to develop this series of vintage inspired guitars, which initially consisted of five solid top models reminiscent of the smaller bodied guitars that characterised the music of the 1920s and '30s.They are Hohner's interpretation of legendary acoustics equipped with modern features. Hohner have now extended the Essential Roots line with two all solid OM (Orchestra Model) guitars. The one being reviewed today is the ER3-COM. Hohner states: “The appointments are simple, but elegant. Inner values are more important than frills and ornaments.” Let's see if we agree.
The ER3-COM is a mid-priced acoustic guitar and this places it slap bang in the middle of a very competitive market. There are some great acoustics out there at the moment for around this price range, including electro-acoustics, which this is not. First impressions are that it looks great. The deep red cedar finish, small understated pearloid dots and lovely finish all round add up to a classy looking instrument.
Starting at the high gloss headstock, it has a traditional three a side tuning peg configuration, using vintage open geared tuning pegs, that I'm happy to report can be tightened up if they start to get a little loose over time. It has a real bone nut which appears to be cut out perfectly. The fingerboard is rosewood with a full 650mm scale. The neck is very comfortable and the action was just perfect, making barre chords possible anywhere on the fretboard. The finish on the frets and side of the fretboard was smooth and a pleasure to play, with no buzzing or tuning issues rearing their ugly heads.
The bridge is rosewood with a real bone saddle. Solid mahogany back and sides which are satin as is the back of the neck. A simple but elegant abalone rosette finishes it all off. So far, so very good!
The body binding and end graft are made from maple. This model comes with a solid top of western red cedar and there is an alternative version, if you feel that solid spruce is more to your taste. Most players find that cedar tops have less volume and warmer mids, whereas spruce tops sound crisper and louder, with more overtones and I would say that was true for this guitar. It's very much a matter of taste and it seems to be that manufacturers are starting to move away from the 'spruce or nothing' approach just now, with more and more cedar topped, and recently all-mahogany, acoustics appearing on the market.
Overall, I found the tone to be quite warm, not up there with really high-end acoustics but still very pleasing. If you dig in when strumming then it is capable of producing a good volume and really suits that open chord voicing 'round the campfire' kind of playing. Playing lead was not a problem, either, although not having a cutaway makes the higher frets more for show rather than function. That, of course, is a function of this traditional style of guitar.
As I mentioned above there are many good acoustic guitars in this price range at the moment including a lot of electro acoustics for similar money. Hohner could have added electrics to this but it's clear they have chosen instead to opt for good quality components and materials, quality manufacturing and a plain and simple appearance. Importantly (as our Editor pointed out), this guitar is all-solid, as opposed to the common solid-top, laminate back and sides option which is more common. It's true that the back and sides of a guitar don't have as great an impact on the tone as does the top but it is also true that solid instruments age better, tonally, than laminates, so you can certainly expect this Hohner to get better as it ages and becomes played-in. In fact already if you put a good mic in front of it, you have a great recording guitar.
If you're in the market for a new acoustic or an upgrade but can't quite justify a couple of grand, then this classically understated Hohner is definitely worth a look. It has to be said that its price pitches it against some of the best known names in the acoustic guitar business, but it can stand its ground. They may not be available everywhere yet, having been recently introduced - in fact at the time of writing they hadn't even appeared on Hohner's own website, yet - but do try one if you get the chance.