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Headless Hotshots!

Hohner Professional Series (Steinberger Licensed G2 Tremolo Guitar & B2A Active Bass)


Looking for the ultimate low-cost headless guitar or bass? Gary Cooper thinks he may have an answer.

I know I'm not going to make too many friends among guitar and bass importers and manufacturers by saying this, but it's my belief that many of the lower priced headless instruments on offer today are more the product of fashion than they are serious attempts to produce a worthwhile improvement on traditional instruments. Talk about a genuine Steinberger or a Status and (given your own personal tastes) you're talking about an advanced musical instrument which, whether you'd want to own one or not, at least represents some seriously original thought and has real virtues. Talk about some of the cheap Korean or Japanese rip-offs and, in my experience, you've too often got a wooden headless with a pale imitation of the excellent Steinberger tuning system, a sound like a fart muffled through a mattress, and all the sustain and resonance of brick!

Having thus cost IT a substantial amount of potential advertising revenue (only joking, folks - honest!), what are we left with if your heart is set on a headless instrument at less than the cost of a manifestation of the 'real thing'? One answer which impressed me no end when I saw and heard the the first samples at last year's British Music Fair, lies with Hohner's licence built 'Professional Series' headless models. The licence in question refers to an agreement which Ned Steinberger has reached with several companies, allowing them to use some of the truly innovative design features of his guitars and basses on instruments either produced by or for them, on payment of a royalty.

This move of Steinberger's probably represents the first time that an American guitar designer has successfully upheld his design rights against the Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese, forcing them to do what they should, morally, always have done - pay a royalty when using someone else's ideas. Just think of the money that Fender, Gibson, Martin and Rickenbacker would have made if they'd been able to stop their imitators so effectively! Of course, by no means every headless on the market, cheap or otherwise, is licensed from Ned Steinberger's company (and not all of those that aren't are necessarily duff), but the Hohner Professionals are licensed, and thus they benefit from the continually pioneering work carried out by this engineering wizard.

Finally able to get my inquisitive hands on a pair of Hohner's production samples, I recently borrowed two of their 'licensed copies' for an assessment. Was I about to be disappointed yet again by a cheap headless - or was this Steinberger licence a worthwhile indication of quality?


G2 TREMOLO GUITAR



I can't help admitting that my hopes for this guitar weren't high when I first took it from its box. True, I've been on about how well Korean-made guitars have advanced in quality during the past two years (enough to make the Japanese look to their laurels in a year or so's time, believe me!), but the sight of this tiny bright red guitar, weighing what seemed more relevant to count in ounces rather than pounds, didn't inspire me with confidence. Boy, can first impressions be deceptive, though!

The Hohner's minuscule body is made of wood. 'What wood?' you may well ask - but all I can answer is just 'tree wood', because Hohner don't say, and any attempt to scrape the paintwork off and have a good peer at the grain structure wouldn't have told me a thing - well, how much do you know about Korean timbers?! The neck, on the other hand, I can be reasonably certain about. This (curiously) is a lump of through-the-body structured Rock Maple. Here, in fact, we have the clue to something quite unexpected in the Hohner's sound, and which I'll be discussing later. Onto this maple neck is applied a layer of Rosewood, nicely grained and satisfyingly oily. Inlaid into this are 24 frets. These were (on my sample at least) very comfortably finished, medium fat in gauge and well polished to a pretty accurate height. Dimensionally, the Hohner's neck is really comfortable; at least, I found it so.

Gently radiused, the neck on my sample measured at a very standard 1 11/16" at the zero fret, widening to 2" at the twelfth and to 2 3/16" at the 24th. Widthwise, then, it's pretty much standard - the sort of neck that any player will feel at home with, and complemented by a 'U' profile neck of medium depth.

HARDWARE


It's this guitar's metalwork which really bears the stamp of Ned Steinberger - and a mere 'good' would undervalue it by miles. As with many such headless instruments you're (possibly unfortunately) restricted to using double ball-end strings, and while these are now thankfully becoming more widely available across the country, mostly thanks to the efforts of Superwound, it's still possible that you could find yourself stuck without a set for a vital session. The moral is, keep a few sets with you at all times! The fixing method at the top is relatively simple. You place the string's ball end in a recess, and it's then threaded beneath a rubber block which holds it tight against the zero fret. You then run it down to terminate in the jaws operated by the bridge's fine tuners. Screwing the tuning adjusters till the jaws are accessible, you loop the other ball end into these and then begin to tighten the tuners till the string is up to pitch. Before reaching the fine tuner jaws, however, each string passes over its own fairly substantial saddle, which is individually adjustable (via two allen screws) for string height. Intonation setting (string length) is also offered, and this is controlled by slackening off a set screw, which penetrates through the side of the bridge's baseplate and allows the saddles to float free for adjustment. In this one sense, perhaps, the Steinberger system isn't as perfect as it might be. The saddles are certainly locked solid once this side screw is tightened, but the actual positioning of the saddles is a manual task - not via the usual spring-loaded system. Once locked up, however, the saddles are at least rigidly fixed, so it's probably not too bad a system.

Before getting onto the Steinberger tremolo unit which this Hohner model boasts, a final detail is worth noting. Steinbergers (and their imitators) aren't the easiest instruments to play when you're sitting down, but the Hohner features another of Ned Steinberger's recent ideas intended to solve this problem - a fold-away strut in the bottom of the guitar which, when pulled out from rest, allows the guitar to balance at least tolerably well on your lap. It's still no match for a conventionally shaped guitar for comfort in this respect, but it's the best solution yet come up with for these otherwise awkwardly shaped slab-sided instruments.

At last - the electronics! What you have here are two humbucking pickups, a flick switch selector switch and two metal knurled controls, one volume and one tone.

THE TREMOLO


Yet another licensed idea from Steinberger, this is a most unconventional system, although it does, perhaps, share some features with the Fender System 3 which I think so highly of (see IT's Issue 6 for more details).

The arm is a snap-in type, and the trem mechanism either locks on or off, via a lever placed inside the bottom body cutout. In some senses the presence of the tremolo makes the guitar quite a bit more complex to use in several respects than it would be with the standard, non-trem, bridge. For example, if you're tuning the strings then you must have the trem locked 'off'. Likewise, string changing, action and intonation adjustments must be done with the trem inactivated. If you intend to use the trem system, the following simple procedure must be followed. The first step is to tune the strings with the trem system locked. When you've got the guitar in tune, your next step is to unlock the trem via that recessed lever. However, at this stage you must then use the large knurled knob which also protrudes from the guitar's bottom end cutout to 'centre' the bridge (this is the respect in which it's not unlike the new Fender system). Once you've done this, the tuning in both trem locked and unlocked positions will be identical. Fortunately, all this is explained in some of the best and most comprehensive literature I've had accompany any guitar. Full marks again, Hohner!

AT HOME WITH THE HOHNER


I've already explained my prejudices against most low-cost headless guitars and basses and, faint of heart and weak in faith though I may well be, I admit that I wasn't too enamoured of my chances of liking this guitar. As I've previously said, its diminutive size made me think: 'toy' almost immediately, and it was with some distinct misgivings that I strapped it on. In fact, I'll admit to being a bit of a sadist with it, because I tried it first off with my trusty Laney AOR valve combo - possibly the least forgiving amp I know, but one which can make a genuine professional's guitar sound like the sort of thing you dream of. It was the acid test.

What hit me first about the Hohner was that where the Laney usually throws up its capacitors in horror at a cheap guitar - squealing with feedback when given a badly screened instrument to play with, or humming and buzzing as cheap pickups are wound-up through it - with the Hohner it behaved perfectly. This wasn't what I was expecting - certainly not from such a cheap guitar! In fact the audacity of the Hohner was such that I was even able to use the Laney's 'kiss of death' Boost switch with it - something which usually only works with Gibsons, the best Fenders or genuine (and properly screened) exotics. The Hohner, however, behaved itself impeccably - and had me floored as a result.

Run clean through an amp, the Hohner's sound is surprisingly Fender-like - surprising because I would have expected a fatter sound from the twin humbuckers. But no; the Hohner has a beautiful 'clunk' to it, and sounds really impressive on chunky, Strat-like Rock chords. Equally, it sounds very fine when used for sparkling country sounds. What really threw me, however, was the excellent sustain this guitar had. I've already slammed many cheap headless guitars and basses for a lack of resonance and sustain, but the combined forces of the Hohner's straight-through neck and its bridge mechanism seem to endow it with very much the sort of sustain that you'd expect from a conventional guitar, and a pretty good one at that!

If I'd already found the Hohner impressive on clean settings, then I was little short of astonished by what I could get out of it when I ran the Laney up to overload. Spitting fire and sparks like a fine heavy metal guitar, easy with clipped harmonics, long sustained bends, slinky slurred chords - the Hohner coped with the lot and sounded not only better than any other cheap headless I've tried but a lot better than you have any right at all to expect for this sort of money.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the Hohner's trem system, but, much as I reckon this to be one of the nicest sounding and playing lower cost guitars I've tried in a while, I can't get the memory of a well adjusted Floyd Rose out of my mind and, adjust it as I could, the degree of touch sensitivity on the Hohner application of the Steinberger system just didn't compare. Where the F-R on, say, a Kramer Focus or Striker, is subtle and responsive to each nuance of your handling pressure, the trem on this guitar just isn't as subtle. Mind you, it works - it's just that I think the Floyd Rose feels better. Try them side by side for yourself and see what you reckon.

CONCLUSION


I'm forced to admit that this new Hohner headless confounded my prejudices. It has a neck of excellent proportions, can run from a sparkling clean Country sound through a more mellow Pop tone to even the most obscene Heavy Metal sounds, and does so with no apparent effort whatsoever. From a tonal and playability angle then, I can't do anything other than award this guitar top marks - it's a gem! Of course, you may personally feel that a headless just doesn't look right on you (my wife reckons I look like a bit of a wally holding such a minute guitar - and I think I agree with her!) but if, on the other hand, the low weight and tiny size of the Hohner appeals to you, then judging from the sample I had its sound and playability make it easily the best lower cost headless guitar I've played. At the RRP of £249.90 it's really fine value too!


B2A BASS



Fortunately (space being the problem that it is) much of what I've said about Hohner's G2 Tremolo guitar applies equally to their B2A bass, so in case you bass players thought you'd be sneaky and dodge the guitar stuff, do have a look at the basic details on the guitar because many of them apply to the bass too!

THE DETAILS


Constructionally speaking, the Hohner bass shares the straight-through Rock maple neck into the 'hardwood' body approach and also sports a nice quality Rosewood fingerboard, also fitted with 24 frets, providing a true 2 octave scale. My sample, again, had nice fat frets, well polished with no apparent problems apparent wherever on the neck you were playing. In string fixing requirements (again using double ball end strings) the bass Hohner is identical to the G2, as is the fundamental design of bridge unit, complete with the fabulous smooth and accurate fine tuners and the individually height adjustable saddles. Again, intonation setting is accomplished by slackening a side of bridge penetrating screw and manually setting the string length by sliding the hefty saddles back and forwards.

Where the bass Hohner really differs from the guitar model is in its electronics. Two humbucking pickups are provided, but instead of being passive they're connected to a battery powered active circuit. Access to the battery (a single PP3) is via a very sensibly designed back hatch cover, which opens at the sliding of a button to reveal both the battery and a trim pot screw adjuster, enabling you to turn the bass's output either up or down. Interestingly, both jack and XLR sockets are provided for output sends - the latter possibly being useful for studio or onstage DI'ing, of course. The control gear for the pickups comprises three metal knobs and a flick switch. This latter serves to switch the active power on and off, and the relevant status is shown by a small red LED.

Apart from this, the Hohner is pretty much a direct bass equivalent of the G2 guitar. You're forced to use double ball end strings (not that this is a major problem) and the fixing method for these is exactly the same as it is on the guitar version; except, of course, that you don't need to adjust any master control as there's no tremolo system.

For those readers who can relate to measurements, the Hohner's first fret neck width comes out at 1 1/2", spreading to a fraction under 1 13/16"at the fifth fret to 2 1/16" at the twelfth. This actually makes for quite a narrow neck, but it still feels very accommodating and is well balanced in its depth. You'd have to be a real freak for wide bass necks to find this one objectionable.

PLAYABILITY


As with all headless basses, whether or not you happen to like the feel and balance of this beast is going to be a very personal choice. Not being over-enamoured with them in general myself, I must say that the Hohner certainly felt all right to me - especially when worn on a strap. I would say again, however, that, good idea though the bottom swing-out strut may be, it's no real alternative to the sort of comfort and balance you get with a conventionally shaped bass when you're playing seated.

THE SOUND


Having been so impressed by what I found from the Hohner G2 guitar I have to say that the results I obtained from this bass version were anti-climatic. There are no discernable problems with the sound; in fact it has all the extra sustain which its guitar brother offers when compared with other lower priced headless instruments around, and tonally the bass certainly has the edge on even some of the more costly Japanese headless types that I've come across, their frequently-encountered clunk and muffle not comparing at all well against the Hohner's impressive resonance and sustain. But what worried me, despite these qualities, was that the active circuitry really didn't seem to offer much more than the pickups did on their own when the battery power was switched off. In fact I even wondered if the battery which came with the Hohner was faulty, but replacing it didn't seem to make any difference.

It's not that the Hohner sounds bad when the active power is on - indeed, there's a useful level boost when you do, and it's true that the tonal range provided by the Eq control is a bit more than you get when the active circuit is switched out. But for all that, the amount of tonal control afforded by having a battery in the circuit really isn't what you'd expect from an active instrument, and I doubt if most players would be all that bothered if their battery did pack up and they found themselves stuck with passive power only! Possibly Hohner should think again about this aspect of their bass - the tonal range on an active really should be wider.

CONCLUSION


I can't say that this bass provoked the same enthusiasm in me as did the Hohner headless guitar, but I still reckon that it's a better bet than most low priced headless basses in very many respects. Put it this way: you could certainly do very much worse for your money, and it might be surprisingly difficult to do significantly better.

RRP £249.90 each (both prices inc. VAT)

More info on Hohner products from M. Hohner Ltd., (Contact Details).


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In Tune - Copyright: Moving Music Ltd.

 

In Tune - May 1986

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Hohner > G2T

Bass > Hohner > B2A


Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Gary Cooper

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