Buying a boutique acoustic guitar is like marrying into a family. There’s a courtship period of getting to know as much as you can about your new significant other. ‘Who are you and what are you all about? Can we get along?’ It’s a serious decision, not to be taken lightly, since you’ll be spending lots of time with each other. Much like a marriage between two people, the commitment to buying a boutique guitar follows this path.
In fact, a majority of boutique acoustic guitar manufacturers are family-owned and operated and make it their mission to welcome new members into their family. Huss and Dalton are based in Virginia’s Appalachian mountain region and have been crafting fine quality instruments for 23 years. Founders Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton met at Stelling Banjo Works in the ‘90s and then forged a partnership over their love of bluegrass music and building instruments. The two luthiers adhere to traditional guitar design while also incorporating modern improvements and build various models, including dreadnought and OM shapes. Each guitar they build has a serious amount of work hours devoted to its creation.
The Huss and Dalton MJ Custom model is a mid-size Jumbo guitar with sitka spruce top and maple back and sides. Typically it is available in a traditional styling but at this year’s NAMM show, we were struck by a decidedly non-traditional colored guitar- what H&D calls ‘Tropical Sand Burst.’ This guitar definitely demands your attention and will elicit either a ‘wow, that’s gorgeous!’ or ‘how dare they do that color?’ response from players and fans. We lean toward the former- this guitar looks beautiful in the spotlight. And it is a comfortable feeling jumbo style guitar that evokes an old-time sound.
Huss and Dalton spare no expense in making their guitars and pay close attention to detail in all they do. Everything about this guitar screams boutique, from the custom tuners to the beautiful ivoroid body and fretboard bindings, Stingray fretboard inlays and beautiful tweed hard case. As expected with most boutique guitars, the cost is substantial.. At a price point over $7K you probably have a good idea of exactly how you want your guitar to sound when amplified and want to have control over this decision. As such, there is no pickup with the guitar. Or perhaps more to the authenticity of a true acoustic guitar, the thought of adding a pickup and potentially altering the guitar’s tone is heresy! With that said, all of our performance comments refer to the guitar’s natural unplugged tone.
The guitar’s bass response is rich and full. Hitting an F chord produced a rich and full sounding tone with great low-end response. The low root note rung out with nice sustain and helped define the chord. While fingerpicking single note arpeggios, the notes were even and consistent, with no note ringing more prominently than others.
My hand did not get fatigued after an extended amount of playing, and the neck shape fits comfortably in my hands. The string spacing makes it easy to play. I have different needs for open chord playing versus soloing up above the seventh fret and the neck is very accommodating. It’s not a super loud guitar but it holds its sustain very well. Most importantly for me as a performer, the guitar complements the tenor quality of my voice and sits well in the mix.
MJ Custom ‘Tropical Sand’ Burst specs:
– Sitka Spruce top
– Maple back and sides
– Abalone top trim
– Abalone rosette
– Ivoroid body bindings
– Ivoroid fretboard bindings
– Shallow body @ 4-1/2″
All other specs are standard and can be seen here: http://hussanddalton.com/models/mj
MJ MODEL STANDARD SPECIFICATIONS
MJ MODEL MEASUREMENTS
1 3/4 inches
4 7/8 inches
2 7/32 inches
4 3/16 inches