Photography by Nancy MacDonald
Full disclosure – I am now endorsed by FNH guitars but was not at the time of this review.
This gear review is for a customized Ultrasonic guitar that was built by FNH guitars. FNH guitars are a small custom shop consisting of Chris Fitzpatrick and John Harper (i.e. FNH) that are making hand crafted electric guitars starting at $1299 and several other instruments at other price points. Many of the stats can be found here. Note that the guitar pictured above is from the website as Nancy McDonald is a much better photographer than I am. The review model differs from the photo in bridge, color and lack of a pickguard. These are discussed in more detail below.
The body and neck aesthetic remind me of some of the 1960’s EKO designs. While many of the designs from that era looked really cool on paper they were also either impossible to play or just sounded awful, FNH has taken the best visual elements of those designs and hot rodded the instrument for playability. Wrist and belly cuts are nice features and make you feel like you’re playing a guitar and not a block of wood with strings. The weight of the guitar is light and well- balanced. It’s comfortable to play either sitting down or standing up.
In terms of build, the body is one piece poplar (I believe that poplar is similar to alder in a lot of ways if that is the body material you’re currently use to). It has a nice resonance to it when played acoustically – which is generally a really good sign of its amplified potential. FNH offers several varieties of finish – I went with a flat black which is a good call, but there are some nice finishes on various guitars on their web site as well. The Ultrasonic on the website has a Tele-style bridge but mine shipped with a Gotoh fixed bridge. Since the guitars are customized – you can also get them with any bridge style you’d like.
The neck is a 25 ½ inch scale (just like a fender) with a choice of fingerboard materials. 22 frets is the standard but mine shipped with 21 (so I’d have to go all Blackmore or Yngwie for those high D, E and Eb notes!). I requested a maple neck with rosewood fingerboard and a 12” radius. The website mentions maple and ebony as other fingerboard options but everything here can be customized to player specifications. The neck has a gorgeous amber tinted oil finish (nitrocellulose is also an option) that really brings out the rock maple. The neck is extremely comfortable and didn’t have any dead spots on the fingerboard. The rounded heel joint makes upper fret access very easy and assisted with playability as well.
The electronic controls (volume knob, tone knob and a 3-way selector switch,) are in a very logical place. They’re low enough on the body to be out of the way of strumming but still easy to reach. The Electrosocket output jack is mounted on the lower bout of the guitar which doesn’t get in the way when sitting down with the instrument. Pickups are customizable (They typically will use OC Duff, Seymour Duncans, Lollars, Fralins or Golden Age but no neck pickup is also an option) – I asked John to choose for me and he picked a Duncan Pearly gates for the bridge and a Golden Age ’59 for the neck. This is a really great combination that offers a lot of tonal variety. The pots are 250K which has some nice roll off characteristics for both volume and tone.
I’ve included some mp3’s of various tones recorded with a POD x3 straight into my laptop. The tracks have been kept as raw as possible – no post EQ or sweetening – to give you a sense of what the guitar sounds like when you plug it in.
First just some simple solo guitar sounds, I used a clean Hiwatt model with a little verb here are some simple fingerpicking sounds. There are 3 samples – recorded in order of neck, middle pickup selector position (out of phase) and bridge positions.
Next, 9 versions of a simple G major strum here with the same amp setting. First is a strum in the neck position followed by a strum with the tone knob rolled off to about 50%, then with the tone knob rolled off all the way. This order is repeated for both the middle pickup selector position and bridge pickup. MP3 of that is here.
Next is more of a lead tone recorded with a Marshall amp model here is a solo lead tone in the neck position with tone rolled off about 50%. MP3s can be heard here and here. A few more of these samples can be found on the April online lesson where all the mps3 were done with this guitar.
Next is a guitar/drum duo. The track ren can be found here. This was played on a LINE 6 Sparkle model. The drums are the Jazz expansion set of EZ drummer. Guitar part is fully improvised in kind of a Daniel Lanois type of mode and uses each of the pickup selections over the track.
Finally a short dirge/doom metal kind of track with a drop D guitar. This was played through a LINE 6 Big Bottom model. The drums are the Drummer From Hell expansion set of EZ drummer. Guitar part is full improvised – but uses the middle pickup selector position. The mp3 can be found here.
A hallmark of truly great design is translucency. A well designed guitar should just play, feel and sound great, and not draw attention to how it is done. $1299 for a completely hand built guitar of this quality is nothing short of miraculous. Additionally, FNH has another guitar model (The Beaumont), the Subsonic bass and an AMAZING electric mandolin based on a danelectro vibe the mandolectro.