Huss and Dalton Crossroads Review

AG 242 February 2013 Cover

Posted by Orville Johnson

Virginia-based Huss and Dalton is known for its small-shop approach to building guitars inspired by classic designs but with contemporary tweaks such as bolt-on necks and more heavily radiused guitar tops. Most recently, the company has introduced a Gibson L-00-style guitar that it calls the Crossroads. Originally introduced in the early 1930s, Gibson L-00’s were inexpensive, lightly braced, and plain instruments with a short scale that found their way into the hands of blues and folk musicians of that era. Accordingly, the lower price point for the Huss and Dalton Crossroads is reflective of the fact that the ornamentation is simpler than most of the company’s other guitars, and while the materials are of the same high quality found on other Huss and Daltons, the woods used reflect less expensive choices than on some other models.

Classic Unadorned Beauty

True to the modest guitar it was inspired by, the Crossroads has a relatively simple design, with an unbound neck, no center strip along the seam of the two-piece back, simple pearl dots for fret markers, and cream-color binding for the body and rosette. The guitar is constructed with a solid Sitka spruce top and attractive mahogany back and sides, which have a rich brown color and lots of silky cross-grain on the mahogany back. Huss and Dalton uses red spruce (Adirondack) for the guitar’s X-bracing, which, due to its light weight and great strength, is likely to be a contributing factor in the guitar’s lively sound. The guitar has a vintage-style “straight” (no belly) rosewood bridge, which is complemented by black ebony bridge pins with pearl dots on top. The Crossroad’s medium-size frets were well finished and smooth, with no rough edges. Our review guitar came with Steward-MacDonald Golden Age Restoration tuners, but Huss and Dalton has since switched to three-on-a-plate, closed-gear Gotoh tuners with off-white buttons. The workmanship and materials are what you would expect from Huss and Dalton, with a clean interior and a beautiful black-shading-to-light- brown sunburst finish. The guitar marries the vintage-style body size and unadorned look with contemporary touches like a thinner neck and a bone saddle that features sculpted compensation for each string.

Bluesy Midrange Tone

When I took the guitar out of its case, the first thing it seemed to want to play was a Mississippi John Hurt tune, so I launched into a chorus of “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me.” The satin-finished neck felt very smooth, and the string tension felt loose, allowing me to easily put a little bendy wiggle on notes, even with my little finger. The guitar neck is described by Huss and Dalton as modified vintage taper, widening toward the junction of the neck and body to accommodate the wider string spacing of 25⁄16 inches at the saddle. Like most guitars of this type, the midrange is prominent. The bass isn’t especially deep, but it’s clear and warm, and the high end is sparkly and cutting. Next, I ran through some Lightnin’ Hopkins–inspired licks, which included some snapping and popping on the low strings. The shorter scale suits this type of playing, and the single notes had a fat, punchy sound.

When I dropped the low string down to D and started plucking the opening chords to Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” the bass sounded tight and not wobbly at all, even with the loosened string. I tried a little more snapping on the low D, moving the bass line around, and the sound had a nice focus. The guitar also responded well to a lighter touch when I played with more of a lullaby feel— less snap, more swing. I tuned the guitar to open-G tuning, put on a bottleneck slide, and ambled through a bit of “Come On in My Kitchen” to test out the Robert Johnson mojo. I had found the action a little high when I was playing normally, but it was perfect for slide guitar.

With a couple of recording sessions on my schedule, I took the opportunity to see how the Crossroads recorded with some high-quality mics. The first session required me to play a fingerpicked part on a bossa nova–style song, so I played with my bare fingers and miked the guitar with a Neumann KM-84 small-diaphragm condenser mic. The recorded sound was dry and woody with bright yet smooth trebles, and it sat very nicely with the bass and Brazilian percussion on the track. The bass strings had a nice girth with no boom to conflict with the acoustic bass, so we didn’t have to EQ the guitar at all. In the second session I backed a singer-songwriter with a strumming rhythm pattern. We recorded the Crossroads with an old RCA BX 44 ribbon mic, I used a medium weight pick, and the results attenuated the high end in a flattering way.

Versatile Blues Box

The Crossroads does what it’s designed for very well. It handles fingerstyle playing nicely and could be a secret weapon for recording rhythm section strumming parts. It has plenty of volume for a small-body guitar, a nice responsive feel, and enough low-end to work with small ensembles. If you’re looking for a well-crafted modern version of a vintage-style blues machine, the Huss and Dalton Crossroads is certainly worth your consideration.

SPECS: 14-fret L-size body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid mahogany back and sides. Red spruce X-bracing. One-piece mahogany neck with bolt-on joint. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Bone nut and saddle. 24.75-inch scale length. 134-inch nut width. 2516-inch string spacing at saddle. High gloss finish on body, satin finish on neck. Gotoh tuners. D’Addario EXP light-gauge strings. Left-handed version available. Made in USA.

PRICE: $3,400.

MAKER: Huss and Dalton: (540) 887-2313;hussanddalton.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar February 2013

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