With his newest creation, luthier Roger Sadowsky endows his entrant into the world of semi-hollow guitars with capabilities to cover the demands of blues, rock, and fusion. And while Sadowsky himself describes the Semi-Hollow Model simply as “a jazz guitar that can be played louder,” there’s way more under the hood.
The Sadowsky S-H is different from all its semi-hollow counterparts. Rather than re-purpose or recycle the ES-335 design, Sadowsky took the template of his Jimmy Bruno archtop as a starting point. He retained the single-cutaway shape, junction at the 15th fret and smaller 143/4″ body but thinned it to a 13/4″ depth. Then he deepened the cutaway to improve high-register access and added a spruce center block. The block is strategically chambered and has a two-fold result; it reduces the overall weight and imparts its own acoustical properties to the sound. Here, the S-H takes a deliberate turn to the hollow side of the equation.
The S-H has a 22-fret fingerboard of Amazon rosewood with dot inlays on a mahogany neck. The scale length is 243/4″ with a 111/16″ nut width like a 335, Les Paul or 175, making it easy to switch from those axes. The tune-o-matic-style bridge and stop tailpiece lend the appropriate traditional touch to the instrument. All metal parts are nickel-plated.
Electronics consist of two Sadowsky humbuckers (built by DiMarzio) and a control circuit with master Volume, master Tone and a three-position selector toggle switch. This configuration can at first be off-putting despite its elegance, if a player is accustomed to the more typical Gibson circuit with four controls. But it’s easy to appreciate the simplicity and functionality of Roger’s design, including the location of the switch at the lower treble bout instead of the typical placement at the bridge or the bass side of the upper bout.
The S-H maintains its elegance with subtle appointments. Like the Bruno, it has ebony tuning buttons, multiple binding on the body (back and front), double binding on the headstock, and an ebony truss rod cover. The S-H comes from the factory without a mounted pickguard; its ebony pickguard and hardware are included though, leaving the option of attaching it. Also noteworthy and thoughtful are the stock Dunlop strap lock buttons.
The S-H is offered in six finishes; Vintage Amber (aged natural), Caramel Burst (light ice-tea SB), Violin Burst (orange Cremona-type SB), Sienna Burst (reddish brown to orange SB), Tobacco Burst (traditional vintage dark brown to yellow SB), and Transparent Black (see-through inky black). Each shows off the grain of its flamed-maple back and top. Construction and detailing on our review sample were flawless with no issues regarding paint spray, glue joints, or the like. It was shipped with Sadowsky medium/light roundwounds (.011-.050) with a plain/unwound G.
Taking the S-H through its paces involved a variety of amps, including a 1961 Fender Bandmaster 2×12 combo and ’61 Fender tube-reverb unit, where the S-H’s neck pickup had a full, fat jazz tone that belied its lighter strings by producing no tinny twang. With neck and bridge pickups engaged, the S-H achieved a vocal-like nasal tone, reminiscent of classic electric blues and R&B – shades of B.B. circa 1955. The bridge pickup has enough punch and bite to cut through a backing track with clean tone and is perfect for funk rhythm and Motown-style riffs. Similarly pleasing results can be had from blackface Fender Twin-Reverb, Deluxe-Reverb, and Super-Reverb combos. Moreover, plugging the S-H into a Vox AC30 and Royal Guardsman stack brought out surprisingly Casino-like Beatle timbres. And into a tweed 4×10 Bassman its tones had plenty of Chuck Berry-esque rock-and-roll grind.
Turning up the heat with more overdrive, from a Variac’d 1970 Marshall stack, Soldano SLO-100 and 4×12 cabinet and current Fender Cyber-Twin, showed the advantages of the design in a high-volume/high-gain environment. The S-H was capable of producing easily controlled harmonic feedback as well as a convincing Claptonesque “woman tone” from the neck pickup and a punchy blues-rock timbre for power chords and solo work from the bridge pickup. With different levels of gain the S-H was ideal for delivering slinky fusion lines in the vein of Larry Carlton, John Scofield, and Robben Ford, or charging Southern Rock sounds. Clearly, this instrument is capable of being a lot more than a loud jazz guitar.
Playing the S-H with heavier strings through a few dedicated jazz rigs including a Clarus head with Raezer’s Edge cab, Fender Jazz Master Ultralight head and cab and Jazz Kat combo, found the guitar in its element. With flatwound strings, the stop tailpiece raised slightly and the neck pickup selected the S-H veered off smoothly into Pat Martino-George Benson-Grant Green territory. Add a touch of ambient delay to a stereo signal path and the sonic imagery of Pat Metheny is conjured forth.
Many vintage connoisseurs will find the S-H vibe to be like a better-crafted, more ergonomic ES-330 with a center block and a Les Paul shape. It is comfortable to play and hold and resistant to unwanted feedback. The lighter weight and vintage feel to the neck and fingerboard will warm the hearts of babyboomer guitar players but its unique tone may well attract younger players in search of an alternative versatile sound.
Like Roger’s other archtops, the S-H is built in Sadowsky’s Tokyo shop, supervised by Yoshi Kikuchi. Setup, fretwork, and personal touches by Roger and his crew in Brooklyn are, as usual, superb. The guitar is eminently playable right out of the box.
The S-H is an early winner. Endorsers already include John Abercrombie and Kurt Rosenwinkel and others are waiting in line. It behooves the interested player to try one of these and order soon, as it takes months to build the guitar. But the instrument is well worth the wait. Two thumbs up.
Contact Sadowsky Guitars Ltd, 20 Jay Street #5C, Brooklyn, NY 11201; phone (718) 422-1123; sadowsky.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
Leonardo Amuedo – Improviso on Sadowsky-SemiHollow