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Review: Guitar Player June 2010

Posted in Reviews | 09 April 2010 | 0 Comments

Hottie 327 and 454 Guitars – Tested by Dave Hunter

Newly introduced by Hottie Inc, the Portland, Oregon, based company known for Hottie Amps and Hottie Pickups, Hottie Guitars are made by respected independent luthier Saul Koll, also of Portland, and Hottie owner Jean-Claude Escudie. Blending Koll’s design ethos with Escudie’s affection for muscle-cars, the 327 and 454 present a sultry, stripped-down hot-rod look that is at once original and somehow familiar, an esthetic that makes them easy to embrace right from the start.”. Broadly speaking, both are Gibson-esque in specs and construction, but in each case several original stylistic touches and design twists coalesce into a whole that is unique. More than just a vehicle for Hottie’s humbucking pickups, they also provide another avenue for the work of one of the country’s most adventurous, yet under-recognized, makers to reach the guitar-buying public. Each comes with a super-cool, mock-crock formfitting hardshell case made in the USA by Cedar Creek Cases. I tested both guitars with a wide range of amps, but spent most time ramming them through a TopHat Club Royale MkII 1×12 combo.

Hottie 327

Strutting onto the scene like a dressier Les Paul Junior back fresh from the city with a new sharkskin suit and a crisp, flat-top haircut, the 327 is the more retro-inspired of the pair. It beautifully embodies an era of chromed diners and custom-color muscle cars in its two-tone white and metallic-orange finish, curvaceous white pearloid pickguard and matching pickup mounting ring, and Gumby-shaped metallic-orange headstock. We have experienced something of a renaissance in quality, no-nonsense, single-pickup guitars in recent years, and this one sits comfortably at the upper end of this trend. As befits the template, it has a flat-topped solid mahogany body and a one-piece mahogany set neck with an unbound ebony fretboard that’s devoid of inlays and graced with side-dot position markers only. I’ve always been a sucker for the soft-V profiles that necks of many great electrics of the ’50s wore, and the 327’s fits beautifully in my hand, being thick enough at around 0.825″ at the first fret and 0.937″ at the 12th to afford plenty of grip, yet so sleek and ergonomic that it never impedes my motion. Spec’d out with a 1.6875″-wide bone nut, 22 well-polished medium-jumbo frets, a 12″ fretboard radius, and vintage-Kluson-Style Gotoh tuners, the end result it simple, yet extremely elegant.

The business end of the 327 is equipped with a single Hottie Alnico II humbucking pickup with a DC resistance of 7.92kΩ. Downstream are a push/pull Tone control splits it into single-coil mode, and a single Volume control, both of which are topped with Tele-style knurled metal knobs. Finally, a stud-mounted Pigtail wrapover bridge with individually adjustable saddles keeps the tuning and intonation solid and tuneful.

The 327 is crisp and cutting in full-’bucker mode with controls maxed, yet there’s a sweetness amid the bite that keeps it from ever sounding harsh. It’s that breed of vintage-humbucker tone that surprises fans of more contemporary, high-output ’buckers with its jangle—a quality your rarely hear outside of vintage Gibson PAFs—yet you can still achieve a warmer, rounder voice with a slight roll of the Tone knob. Step on a good overdrive pedal, such as a Barber LTD, or switch to a high-gain amp channel, and the 327 sizzles and sings, while this pickup’s clarity keeps it all from ever going mushy. Pop up the Tone knob to split the coil, and it’s all cleaner and brighter, though I found the full-humbucking setting the most dynamic and inspiring option here.

Hottie 454

The big brother of the pair is also available in a simple one-pickup, wraparound-bridge configuration, although our 454 on review carries the upgrades of an added neck pickup and a Bigsby tailpiece with Tune-o-matic-style bridge. Think of the 454 as the LP Sr. to the 327’s LP Jr., an analogy that almost all of its specs uphold. Another set-neck, 24.625″-scale guitar, it has a one-piece body of Honduran mahogany with a carved maple top in “Malibu Gold” metallic finish, a one-piece mahogany neck, cream binding around the body top, neck, and headstock, and a rather more thrusting body style in a semi-double-cutaway design with rounded, offset horns. Its soft-V neck is extremely similar to the 327’s, and equally playable, as is its unadorned 22-fret ebony fretboard and asymmetrical headstock—though the latter is faced with a fillet of striped Brazilian rosewood. While the 454 carries another low-wind Hottie Alnico II humbucker in the neck position, its bridge position is loaded with a hotter Bettie model that also hides an Alnico II bar magnet, but is wound to a punchier 14.5kΩ DC resistance. A traditional 3-way toggle switch routes your signal to independent Volume controls with push/pull pots that split their respective pickups for single-coil sounds, and a master Tone control, all capped with gold speed knobs.

Unplugged, the 454 rings a tad brighter than the 327, thanks perhaps to its marriage of dense maple top and Tune-o-matic bridge. The Bigsby is set up for a soft, easy action, and moderate use causes no dramatic tuning issues, while, of course, inducing a sultry wobble that adds another dimension to this instrument’s versatility. Amped up, however, the bridge pickup setting offers a darker, more aggressive midrange assault that really helps the 454 rock with a little crunch applied from a pedal or an amp. With the coil split, this pickup still has some sting to it, but a lot more shimmer, too. With the neck pickup also in split-coil mode, the 454 offers a range of Gretschy voices that excel at rockabilly and classic country, but pop that neck pickup back into ’bucker territory and there’s no end of smooth, singing, bluesy ’Burst-like fun to be had.

Both the 327 and the 454 are beautifully built, immaculately finished, and flawlessly set up. Both are great guitars, and there’s little to fault here on any front.

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