There’s something alluring about a simple bass—an instrument that
helps you just dig in and gets the job done. The early-’50s Fender
Precision bass was about as simple as you could get: slab body, maple
neck and fretboard, one single-coil pickup, two knobs. It was a testament
to Leo Fender’s genius and innate sense of practical elegance.
It’s simple enough to make you think you can put one together yourself.
In fact, I did once—from a neck found online and a discarded
Warmoth body that had “MORE BEER” crudely gouged into its back.
When I saw Chihoe Hahn’s Model 22 bass, it conjured thoughts of how
beautiful those simple Fender-style basses can be. It also reminded me
of the world of difference in quality and craft that can exist between a
beater like my old Tele-bass wanna-be and an instrument like Hahn’s.
The Model 22 is built to an absolutely superb level of craftsmanship,
and it’s a sonic performer capable of a breadth of tones.
Back to the Basics
A glance at Hahn’s website hints at his artistry and dedication to building
top-notch ’50s-style guitars in the Telecaster mode. But a few
emails back and forth with Hahn really highlighted his dedication to
quality: He’s the only builder at his company, and he keeps a vigilant
watch on what goes into each axe he sells.
The Model 22 (like any good classic-
Fender-style instrument) represents more
than the sum of its parts. The two-piece
body is made out of light swamp ash,
which Hahn uses to keep his instruments
light and resonant, and it’s finished in 15
to 20 ultra-thin coats of nitro finish—a
difficult and labor-intensive process. The
two-piece, quartersawn neck fits precisely
into the body’s neck pocket, which almost
certainly gives the Model 22 vibration-transmitting
qualities that are closer to
a set neck instrument. Staying true to
design elements of the ’50s, Hahn put the
truss-rod adjustment screw on the neck
heel. That means tweaking neck relief
requires removing the neck, just like the
good old days.
Hahn suggested I remove the neck to check
out the finish and neck fit, which I did.
Doing so revealed a very thin finish and
bare wood where the back of the neck and
the bottom of the pocket meet. Presumably,
this, combined with the tight fit, enhances
resonance. Hahn even uses a stainless-steel
neck plate that flexes less than a conventional
plated-steel plate to bolster the
strength of the joint even further.
The Model 22’s hardware includes a black,
one-layer pickguard, a cast-chrome Gotoh
through-body bridge, and Gotoh vintage-style
reverse tuners with long stems. The control
cavity contains a pair of 250k CTS pots,
an Orange Drop capacitor on the tone knob,
a sturdy jack, and neatly routed cloth-covered
wiring that used just the right amount of solder.
I was surprised, though, that the cavity
was not shielded with copper foil, conductive
paint, or even a brass plate on the bottom, à
la Leo’s classic design. Again, Hahn explained
that this was a design choice: He feels those
shielding measures negatively alter tone. To
me, this makes sense in sonically antiseptic
environments, but after playing so many spaces
brimming with extraneous noise—from
dimmers, neon signs, fluorescent lighting,
etc.—I can’t help but feel that the small tonal
loss from shielding would typically be offset
by the lower noise.