Based out of California’s Bay Area in the town of Cupertino, Halo Custom Guitars has made quite a name for itself in a short period of time. Their aggressive marketing, evident in their large street team, NHRA racing involvement, and the Halo Gals has garnered the attention of many players, ranging from local musicians to more famous acts. Likewise, their assortment of instruments has exploded, now covering the gamut from entry-level instruments to high-end boutique pieces. One of these higher-end instruments, the AshCourt, was designed by master luthier George Bisceglia, and is also built by him personally. Knowing Bisceglia’s reputation for craftsmanship, I was eager to see the guitar first hand.
How It’s Made
Pulling the AshCourt out of its case, my first impression was that it was a hefty instrument. I’m sure that this was due in part to the AshCourt’s neck-through construction and dual maple caps. It would seem that Halo has pulled out all of the stops to wring out as many sustaining properties of the electric guitar as possible with the AshCourt.
The headstock is oversized, attached to a large mahogany neck that runs through the entire length of the body. Sitting on both sides of the mahogany slab in the body are chambered wings, tastefully joined together by two carved AAA flame maple caps on both the front and back. This tight assembly, a hybrid of solid body designs and time-tested hollowbody construction, really allows the AshCourt to sing with authority.
The custom taper Honduran mahogany neck, topped with an exquisite West African Gabon ebony fretboard, was unquestionably on the vintage side, having a very baseball bat-like quality that I haven’t felt in too many guitars (think the Fender Jeff Beck model or a rounded Gibson ’58 Les Paul neck). It took some getting used to, so those players who like a thin, fast neck might want to look at other possibilities before deciding on the AshCourt’s profile.
Playing a few licks on the AshCourt’s beefy neck brought back memories of one of my favorite single cut instruments, the Les Paul Florentine, which shares some of the AshCourt’s traits (such as its semi-hollow body). Remembering how great that guitar sounded through an old 1971 Marshall Bass 50-watt head, I decided to give the guitar a run through a 1973 Marshall Super Bass head with a Mesa Boogie Stiletto 4x12. This Marshall in particular was fitted with four KT88 power tubes, which gave it massive headroom and a hi-fi clarity that I haven’t found in many high-powered tube heads.
The AshCourt was equipped with a Seymour Duncan Triple Shot pickup switching system, which is a really nifty invention that has recently come out of Duncan’s factory. In an effort to minimize the added wiring and issues that a traditional series/parallel and coil tap system would provide, Seymour Duncan relocated the switches to the pickup rings, giving the player the ability to make drastic tonal changes from right where the actual picking would happen. It definitely invoked thoughts of “why didn’t I think of that,” as it proved to be infinitely useful and effortless to use.
How It Sounds
Setting the switches for the bridge pickup to the inner positions (this set the pickup to standard wiring), I dialed up a neutral clean (controls at noon) with the volume control set to the 9 o’clock position. The pickup, a Seymour Duncan P-Rails, barked with authority from my rather percussive pick attack. The P-Rails is a combination of a P-90 and a traditional rail single-coil, offering the player a myriad of possible tones from just one single pickup. It was a great tone, full-bodied and cutting with the best that both pickup types embedded in the bridge position could muster. Flipping either coil switch in the direction of its respective coil effectively removed it from the circuit, in effect giving me either a fat, greasy P-90 tone or a crystal-clear, Strat-like chime.
I really enjoyed playing around with these settings, especially when I was utilizing only the rail coil. The fact that the coil is closer to the neck tamed a lot of the highs that I usually have to dial out with the tone control on a conventional bridge single-coil setup, and added more bass to boot. Every chord and fill sustained extremely well, with some of the best jazz guitar tones that I’ve ever coaxed out of that particular Marshall.
With a Fulltone OCD set to moderately high gain, the AshCourt showed off its mean side, with thick midrange and a clear top end. I’ve never been able to resist the unique sound of a bridge P-90 with the tone knob rolled all the way down, and the AshCourt only reaffirmed that love; if I could somehow draw out and inject the killer Leslie West vibe that it had going into one of my personal instruments, it would be a dream come true.
Higher gain settings stayed clear and crisp, yet solid and detailed, á la the tones of Tim Sult of Clutch (it was probably the closest that I’ve ever gotten to the Elephant Riders
tone without utilizing a customary full-size humbucker). It was a little frightening to realize that I hadn’t even explored the options of the neck pickup yet, as the bridge pickup had just about every tone that I would ever need, and then some.
Regardless, my curiosity prevailed and I forged on to the neck position, first setting the switches there for a standard humbucking setup. There was no noticeable volume difference in the pickup change, more or likely due to the calibration of the pickups and the near perfect setup that the guitar arrived with. The fat-yet-focused tone of the neck position yielded tones very similar to those I had previously gotten from the bridge position. This was surprising, as many calibrated pickup sets still have distinctly different sounds from either position. Granted, the neck pickup inherently had more bass and high-end roll off due to its positioning in the body, but the great midrange and character that the bridge position had was preserved.
Some neck humbuckers have a rather “scooped” sound, making them sound hollow and boxy. The P-Rails, combined with the construction techniques of the AshCourt, overcame this, giving me some of the best neck humbucker tones that I’ve squeezed out of a guitar in a long time. Clean or dirty, the tone was always fluid and punchy, with cut and definition abounding.
The Final Mojo
The Halo AshCourt is, quite simply, a blast to play. The amount of tones that are available are staggering, and the sustain and build quality are out of this world. The instrument is not on the light side, so players who are not used to heavier guitars might want to look at other semi-hollow guitar possibilities. The neck is rather bulky as well, but is definitely playable, lending itself to more intricate forms of music, such as jazz guitar. However, Halo’s Custom Shop offers players total control over the instruments specs, so if you need a thinner neck, you can have it made that way. For the amount of ground it covers (and covers extremely well), the AshCourt should be on the list of every player who is tired of bringing three different guitars to a gig just to cover all of the tonal bases. For those looking to cover classic rock, jazz, country and blues, the AshCourt is a jack-of-all-trades, yet a master of all.
you’re looking for a great jack-of-all-trades instrument for several styles of music.
you’re looking for something lighter on your shoulders or your pocketbook.