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Sadowsky Jim Hall Signature Model Archtop

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Fan of Jim Hall’s? Thought so. Then you’ve probably seen and heard his beautiful reddish-orange D’Aquisto New Yorker Special. Roger Sadowsky’s new Jim Hall model, built to Hall’s specifications, emulates (but does not replicate) the look and sound of the original, at a nonstratospheric cost ($3,895 with hard case). It is being built in Sadowsky’s Tokyo workshop under the supervision of master builder Yoshi Kikuchi.

The first thing one notices about the guitar is its lightweight construction and compact feel. You could call it “little jazz.” The body is 16 inches, the side depth 2.25 inches. The neck, 24.75 inches with a 1.75-inch nut width, is delightfully smooth and easy-playing. I’d prefer a grainier finish on the back of the neck, but as is, the lacquer is not at all sticky or uncomfortable. In short, the guitar fits the human body-at least mine-like a glove. It has plenty of beef for the bandstand, but its nonbulky design makes it easy to yank out of the case for casual, unplugged use.

Sadowsky’s FAQ sheet includes a somewhat defensive note about using laminated 5-ply maple top instead of solid wood. Solid tops, favored by many high-end builders, are thought to offer truer resonance. They also cost more and are more vulnerable to warping. As Sadowsky points out, Jim Hall’s D’Aquisto is a laminate, and so is his previous guitar, a Gibson ES-175. Hall and Sadowsky found that the laminated top offered better amplified sound with less feedback. I have no complaints. In fact, I played this guitar through a Fender Vibrolux Reverb amp that routinely causes my Epiphone Emperor to howl. Pushed to high volume, Sadowsky’s instrument clearly had feedback potential, but it was far more controlled, and I was sitting deliberately close to the amp. Even so, the tone was warm and musical-not just through the Vibrolux but also through my solid-state amps, a Tech 21 Trademark 60 and a Roland JC-120.

Unplugged, the guitar didn’t have the hugest acoustic response I’ve ever heard, but it was quite respectable. Using flatwound 12-gauge strings, I found the tone to be round and nicely “thunky,” even along the high-E string. There was noticeable fret buzz on the D string around the lower frets-probably nothing a neck adjustment couldn’t resolve. The intonation was solid.

Sadowsky’s FAQ also anticipates another criticism: his use of a set-in pickup. Many of the finer jazz boxes have floating pickups that sit just above the body rather than being set into the wood itself. Set-in pickups threaten the integrity of the top and can rob a guitar of acoustic purity and tonal personality. The Jim Hall model has escaped that fate, and the gold-covered pickup (“made to my specifications by DiMarzio,” Sadowsky says) gives the instrument plenty of power, even at moderate volume.

The Sadowsky guitar has one volume and one tone knob, both very responsive. In fact, some may find the volume knob a bit too responsive-the difference between, say, 10 and 8 is dramatic. But remember, this is a Jim Hall model, and the decibel fall-off makes it possible, with a flick of the wrist, to go from full solo volume to the kind of hushed, semiacoustic comping sound Hall is known for. I played the guitar on a gig with vocals, piano, bass and drums, and found that single notes and chords, whether loud or soft, cut through the mix and spoke beautifully.

The guitar is also a looker, with its flamed maple, distinctive sunburst, clean nitrocellulose lacquer finish and elegant black outlines on the body. The headstock is too puny and irregular for my taste, but the ebony appointments (tuning knobs, tailpiece, bridge, pickguard and volume/tone controls) make for a sleek contrast with the bright-colored body. The pickguard is nicely stabilized by two small wooden posts tipped with felt. There are position dots on the neck binding, but no inlays at all on the ebony fingerboard (classy). The input jack is on the lower side, not an endpin. There are two strap buttons. A

brass plate under the tailpiece grounds the ball-ends of the strings and cancels noise.

It should be noted that Aria USA, which has rights to the D’Aquisto brand name, is making its own Jim Hall-inspired piece, the DQ-JZ model. (Jim Hall had no involvement whatsoever.) Almost $1,000 cheaper than the Sadowsky, this guitar is more strictly a D’Aquisto replica, with a big headstock and large block inlays on the fingerboard. It plays OK, but the workmanship doesn’t compare. Save and get the Sadowsky.

Originally Published