German guitar builder Nik Huber is the latest in his family to continue a 100-year tradition of woodworking.
Huber started in the guitar business as a Paul Reed Smith authorized repair shop in 1995, and he maintains a strong relationship with that company and its founder. Today, his line consists of seven models, most using a single-cutaway body style with various pickup combinations, necks (bolt-on or set), woods, tops (carved or flat) and inlays. Huber guitars are completely hand-made at a rate of about 10 per month.
We recently took a test run with a Huber Orca model. At first glance, it looks like yet another fancy Les Paul copy, but several key features separate it from the crowd of knock-offs. Like a Les Paul, the Orca has a traditional single-cutaway mahogany body topped with a nice 1?2″ quilted maple top. The total thickness of the body is only 15/8″, about 1?2″ less than a typical Les Paul, most removed from the mahogany portion. This, along with a generous belly contour on its backside, contribute to the guitar’s back-friendly weight of 7.25 pounds.
The Orca’s maple top has a deeper carve than a Les Paul, with a more pronounced edge and subtle depressions surrounding each control (as on some PRS models). It’s also differentiated by the natural-maple edge, resembling body binding. Other less traditional features are its 25″ scale (as opposed to 241/2″), natural-finished flame-maple neck set into the body at a shallower angle, and its shallower headstock angle, features borrowed from the PRS playbook.
The neck has a very comfortable modern C profile with a “cut-back” contoured heel, a neatly cut 15/8″ bone nut and a beautiful unbound Brazilian rosewood 14″-radius fretboard with no fret markers and 22 polished nickel-silver Dunlop 6150 frets. The contoured neck heel allows for deep access to the upper frets, and the thin body contributes to the guitar’s neck-through feel. The setup on our test axe was very nice, with low action, spot-on intonation, and an arrow-straight neck.
The Brazilian rosewood on the Orca doesn’t stop at the fretboard. Rather, it continues onto the headstock, as an overlay, onto the truss rod cover and even the tuning machine buttons! The only inlay work on the Orca is a mother-of-pearl whale and “Nik Huber” on the headstock. But the defining “bling” factor on this guitar is the selection of figured woods, from the flame-maple neck and top to the figured mahogany and Brazilian rosewood, all of which are gorgeous. Even the control and switch cavity covers are flame-maple.
Electronics include a pair of custom Harry Haussel nickel-covered humbuckers, each with Volume and Tone controls, a traditional three-way toggle selector, and a push/push pot for splitting the coils in each pickup simultaneously. Inside the control and switch cavities rests a very neat wiring job with full shielding, including the back of the wood covers with copper foil tape with a drop of solder to connect each piece of foil, insuring a thorough shielding. There wasn’t a flaw to be found on the Orca – the craftsmanship, fit, and finish are exemplary.
We tested the Orca through an all-tube 100-watt Crate head and 4×12″ cabinet. With the guitar running through the overdrive channel and the gain at about 3 o’clock, we got an aggressive high-gain overdrive with excellent definition and presence in the highs, and even, clear lows; no real valleys or peaks, just a crisp, crunchy tone. The neck pickup was a bit darker-sounding, with a smoother high-end, fatter midrange, and loads of natural sustain. Through the clean channel, the Orca had a bright, full sound with the pickups in humbucking mode. With the coils split, it developed a slightly “Fenderish” tone, especially with both pickups on – lush, bell-like, with plenty of sparkle and just a hint of twang. The pickups have a very balanced tone that really enhances the resonance of the guitar.
The Nik Huber Orca is a great example of how fantastically figured wood, crafted into a beautiful instrument, can add up to outstanding playability and a solid tone.
Nik Huber Orca
Contact Wilcutt Guitars, 419 Rosemont Grd., Lexington, KY 401503; (859) 276-2713; nikhuber-guitars.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.