Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Carvin HH2 Holdsworth

By Jack Zucker

I just picked up a Carvin HH2 Holdsworth, headless guitar. It's got a chambered walnut body, 5 pc walnut/maple neck, rosewood fingerboard. Chambered body. It's fairly heavy for a headless guitar. Approximately ~6.5lbs.

I got this because I am refactoring/morphing my playing style with studies from Tim Miller and Derryl Grabel into a more legato style and I wanted something with 24 frets and access to all 24 frets without being neck heavy. The headless design solves the problems of neck heavyness that accompanies most guitars with extreme upper fret access. I also specifically wanted something with a little bit brighter and more modern neck pickup sound because - despite many claims that 24 frets ruin the neck pickup - I actually like the modern sound that the 24 fret configuration gives to the neck pickup. It also makes for a nice middle pickup position sound.

I have gone through 5 different holdsworth guitars. I've had 1 of each type H2, HF2, H2T and then a couple of the headless (this is my 2nd). One issue I've found is that all of the Carvin Holdsworth guitars that are not headless are neck heavy and uncomfortable for me to play. Many of the Carvins that you see on the second hand market have ridiculously quilted tops and flamed necks and while this is gorgeous, it's not always the best fit tonally for what I'm looking for. Case in point, the previous HH2 I tried had a gorgeous 10 top and birdseye fingerboard and neck but was extremely bright and the neck moved a bit with humidity and weather changes. The 5 pc neck on the model I got is perfect and so far has not moved at all. The 5pc necks have a history of being extremely rigid which is why Gibson uses them on the L5.

Walnut is an interesting sounding wood. It's brighter than mahogany but not as bright as maple. And the rosewood fingerboard seems to tame down the high frequencies somewhat as well. I think the walnut is as beautiful as quilted maple but doesn't add the high end sheen of the maple.

The guitar gets a really beautiful Holdsworth sound, has a great clean jazz tone with a little bit of modern twist, great funk tone with both pickups on and gets some classic rock tones as well. Additionally, the guitar is very light and extremely well balanced. Its chambered body offers a bit of hollow quality to it which makes it sound decent for jazz though it's not the right axe for channeling Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery.

I normally practice standing up but the design of this guitar allows me to sit it on my lap in the same position as when I'm standing which is impossible to do on a standard body style such as a Gibson 175 or Les Paul.

 The guitar is not perfect. There are a few negative points

1. The body does not have a cutout for your thigh. Many of the headstock-less "ergo" guitars have a cutout near the bottom for your thigh. Since the HH2 does not have this, you end up resting the guitar's tuners against your leg when you play sitting. Note the bottom/rear leg cutout on this Strandberg guitar. Some feel this is ugly but it does put the guitar in classical position without your leg resting against the tuners (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Ergo Guitar with Leg cutout

The gear ratio of the tuners is too high in my opinion. I would like some finer adjustment because just the tiniest turn of the gear changes the pitch too drastically and it's sometimes difficult to fine tune it. I think this is a compromise because if they used a lower gear ratio, it would be too hard to initially tune the string to pitch but I'd rather deal with that.

3. I'm not crazy about the mini toggle switch for the pickup selector. I'd rather have a full size switch.

4. While the guitar is not neck heavy, the position of the strap buttons cause the guitar to tip forward when it’s being supported on the strap. This happens no matter which strap button you choose on the bottom of the guitar. I found that if I use the bottom strap button and then position my strap in front of the upper strap button it mitigates this issue somewhat. I made a more permanent solution by cutting a second strap hole in my strap positioned so that my strap now attaches to both buttons. The lower button does the actual holding of the guitar and the upper button’s attachment to the strap keep it from tipping forward.

To conclude, the Carvin Holdsworth is a ridiculously great and modern ergo-guitar at a ridiculously cheap price. The entry level price for the guitar is $1250 and that's what Allan Holdsworth uses. He doesn't play one with quilted top and upgraded woods. He plays the stock model. That would be my recommendation as well.