Based in the Hudson River Valley, luthier Paul Hartmann has made a name for himself crafting solidbodies, semi-hollowbodies, and most recently, full-on archtops. The Dutchess – named for the New York county in which Hartmann resides – is one of his latest creations, and it’s steeped in the traditions of fine jazzbox construction.
The Dutchess sports “pre-Gibson” Epiphone dimensions, with a 17″ lower bout and 25″ neck scale. Its X-braced top is honey-tinted Sitka spruce complemented by beautifully figured maple back, sides, and neck stained a caramel color to bring out the flame. The neck is a laminated construction with a center stripe and a black ebony overlay on the face of the headstock. Black-coated Schaller tuners, along with a tasty abalone “PH” logo inlay, accent the headstock’s elegant shape. The ebony fingerboard features pearl offset “fingernail” position markers (the board has a 12″ radius).
With high-class being the name of the game, the box has multilayered bindings on the body, neck, and stylish f-holes, and a distinctive pickguard that hides a Volume knob. The bridge is also ebony, with a gold Frequensator-style trapeze tailpiece. One of Hartmann’s design hallmarks is that nothing touches the top except the bridge, allowing the spruce to resonate as much as possible. Overall, the craftsmanship is stellar.
On the job, the Dutchess does not disappoint. Tested unamplified to begin, the guitar had fine projection with an enunciation of warm, Django-like mids for lead improv. One could happily play the Dutchess for hours without even thinking of plugging in. Turning to a low-powered tube amp, it displayed the big-bodied persona one would expect from such a well-proportioned body. The 17″ bout gives a clear and articulate acoustic dimension when amplified. As the floating Kent Armstrong pickup sports only a Volume control, the amp’s Tone knob is used to dial in a fat, warm, and gorgeous tone, perfect for any low-volume gig, jazz or otherwise. The Dutchess would easily lend its charm to country, Americana, blues, ragtime, and more.
Particular attention should be paid to this archtop’s fabulous neck and comfortable feel. You don’t find necks like this every day, and with its vintage profile, flat fingerboard, and large frets, playing is a dream. Upper-fret notes are easily accessed and there’s response across the aural spectrum. Overall, the Dutchess is a superlative build and highly recommended.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2017 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.