The Paul Hartmann Custom Manhattan
Price: $3,895 as tested
Luthier Paul Hartmann’s Custom Manhattan is a classic semi-hollowbody, but one that displays a growing industry trend – replacing the traditional thin, laminated top with solid figured maple. The results are stunning in several respects.
Upon opening the case, one can’t be faulted for gasping at the array of rich figured wood Hartmann uses on the Custom Manhattan. The top, sides, and back are carved from solid, orchestral-grade maple. The flame figuring on the top and back are superlative and all the more attractive because the top and masked “binding” are left natural blonde while the back is stained a caramel tint that brings out the tiger striping. The finish is thin-bodied polyurethane for both durability and resonance (Hartmann uses Gerhard Guitar Works to apply the finish). The top also has stylized f-shaped sound holes that jibe with the Custom Manhattan’s modern sensibility.
As in typical semi-hollowbody construction, the Custom Manhattan offers a solid center core that runs under the top from the neck joint to the bridge. Currently, the Custom Manhattan has a maple core with an attractive Hipshot Baby Grand bridge/tailpiece assembly. The neck is bolted onto the body via four bolts and features a softened heel for access. It has a cool 25″ scale, and the neck and headstock are made from a three-piece bird’s-eye-maple-and-mahogany sandwich. The headstock overlay and 22-fret fingerboard are made from ebony with pearl inlays and a nice “PH” logo on top. Its tuners are sleek Grover Mini Rotomatics. And because this is a custom guitar, the buyer can pick his or her favorite neck profile; the test axe had a “soft vee” that was very comfortable.
For electronics, the Custom Manhattan sports Seymour Duncan P-Rails (with crème rings) that combine the characteristics of a humbucker, single-coil, and a P-90 in one housing. Instead of a normal three-way switch, a chicken-head pan knob with center détente is used for pickup selection, allowing the player to sweep between each pickup and find the sweet spot for their playing situation. The plus is that it’s more accurate than a clunky three-way toggle, but it does require more time onstage to find the sweet spot – a minor tradeoff. Each P-Rail also has three choices of coil combination (single-coil, P-90, and humbucker) that is activated with a mini-toggle switch. There are also passive master Volume and Tone controls with vintage-styled knobs.
Plugged into a tube, solid-state, or virtual amp, the Paul Hartmann Custom Manhattan is a joy to play. The neck is slim and has an immaculate setup, and the carved top and back are comfortable. Tone-wise, there are plenty of sounds in here – anyone playing blues, rock, country, jazz, or fusion will be more than happy. The cleans and the warm overdrive tones from all three amps were big and complex, with lots of room for experimentation. The increased rigidity of the maple top, however, also meant the gain could be cranked up with less fear of feedback. Even with the dirt laid on, the Custom Manhattan sang joyously.
Overall, this Paul Hartmann build features impeccable construction and tone. Its only debit is that, with its solid maple top and core, its weight is more comparable to a Les Paul than an ES-335 (though, again, the heavier top provides more feedback protection). Most importantly, compare the Custom Manhattan’s price to that of many mass-produced semi-hollowbodies. You can go for the brand you know and get the same guitar as everyone else, or pay roughly the same amount and get one perfectly customized to your own wishes. In the case of the Paul Hartmann Custom Manhattan, it seems like a no-brainer.
This article originally appeared in VG December 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.