Half a decade ago, Henman-Bevilacqua
asserted itself as a formidable name in
boutique guitars. Far from typical knockoffs
of classic electric models, Henman-
Bevilacqua guitars were created by Graham
and Paris Henman, a husband-and-wife
team that brought a fresh aesthetic to
the guitar via their backgrounds in commercial
design and fashion. Luthier Scotty
Bevilacqua helped realize these elegantly
minimalistic axes, which featured updated
functionality, including a dramatic rethinking
of the traditional truss rod.
Now known simply as Henman, the
company has enlisted the legendary master
luthier Rick Turner to oversee the small
team that handmakes its instruments at
Turner’s facility in Santa Cruz, California.
(Turner’s Renaissance guitars are also built
here.) The Henman line includes two solidbody
electrics, the Rocka and the Mod, as
well as a bass guitar, the Rolla. We checked
out a sweet gold-painted Rocka equipped
with twin Seymour Duncan humbuckers
and an optional Skyway bridge. And to be
sure, the modern virtues of this guitar are
more than skin deep.
Subtle to Stylish Innovations
At a glance, with its double-cutaway asymmetric
body and offset waist, the Henman
Rocka owes something to the Leo Fender-school
of styling. But the comparisons
really end there. The Henman is made from
a special combination of woods, including
an eight-chambered one-piece African
mahogany body with a two-piece American
maple cap, a three-piece African sapele neck
and macassar ebony fretboard. And clearly,
the mahogany-body-and-maple-cap construction
is more influenced by Gibson’s Les
Paul than anything out of Fullerton.
The Rocka features some subtly unconventional
design details. The contoured
headstock—which looks a little like a nod to
Martin’s ill-fated, but super-cool ’70s solidbodies
channeled through a future-tech aesthetic—
is attached to the neck via a bell brass
nut mount. A tension-free square truss rod is
epoxied directly into the headstock and fits
into a metal channel in the neck—a configuration
that Henman says enhances the instrument’s
resonance and sustain by absorbing
string tension. Henman claims the design
improves stability and requires less periodic
adjustment than a traditional truss rod.
Other inspired design moves on the
Rocka include a 5-pin connector system
for changing pickups quickly and easily
without soldering. The instrument is
also almost entirely devoid of plastic
parts—even the fretboard position
markers are made of aluminum.
Henman even refinishes the Skyway
vibrato units—like the one found
on our review model—to match
the rest of the hardware, and
fabricates its own whammy-bar arms. Most
of the hardware is proprietary too, and
Henman makes its own pickup rings, control
knobs, and logos out of anodized aluminum.
Not only do these parts look really cool,
many of them are tuned to specific pitches
in the manufacturing process to further
enhance the resonance of the instrument.
The craftsmanship on our Rocka is
impeccable. The 24 nickel-silver frets, .084"
wide and with a .039" crown, are flawlessly
seated and polished. Made from an exclusive
composite of graphite and glass, the
1.7" nut is perfectly cut and doesn’t catch
strings, even under heavy whammy bar use.
All of Rocka’s solid finishes and stains
(most of them earth-toned) are named
after James Bond girls. And our Honey
Pale Gold (inspired by Ursula Andress’
character Honey Ryder in Dr. No
) is both
reminiscent of the opulent lacquer on
1950s Les Pauls and almost as pretty as
Honey herself on the silver screen. Entirely
devoid of imperfections, the Rocka’s satiny
surface makes it a joy just to hold.
The Rocka comes in aluminum hardshell
case made by John Dixon cases in Hull,
England. Opening the case, I found some nice
bonuses that are included with each Henman
guitar: a deluxe leather strap, plus three
wrenches, for adjusting all of the hardware.
Where Henman-Bevilacqua guitars were
known to be a tad hefty, our Rocka was
light at just under eight pounds, thanks to
its new, chambered construction. Given
the guitar’s factory-perfect setup, the action
on its 25.5"-scale bolt-on neck (with compound
10"–14" radius) felt low and slinky.
Our Rocka had a Seymour Duncan
’59 neck pickup and a Duncan Custom 5
bridge pickup. Controls include a 3-way
selector and master Volume and Tone controls.
(Other pickups, including Lollars and
Fralins, are available, or customers can send
their own to be installed.) The Tone control
also functions as a coil tap for the pickups,
and the Volume control works with the
same push-pull action to boost the gain.
To experience the amplified sound, I
plugged straight into a Blackstar HT Stage
6 and was wowed by the Rocka’s complex
and singing tone on all settings. Cleantoned
altered chords sustained with great
clarity, and overdriven lead runs played with
bends and legato phrasing sounded rich and
defined. The Skyway vibrato helped me add
everything from a subtle shimmer to more
dramatic fluctuations in pitch, and I was
impressed by its responsiveness, smoothness,
and stability—a trio of attributes
rarely found on the same tremolo unit.
Splitting the coils added a luscious chime
to some ringing arpeggios à la Jeff Buckley,
and the notes merged together with great
definition and dynamic balance. Boosting
the guitar’s gain via the Volume knob,
on the other hand, made an explosion of
pentatonics sound downright mean. This
is definitely a guitar that can fit almost any
situation—and one that players of all stripes
would find inspiring.
Henman’s Rocka is an uncommonly good
boutique electric built around tastefully
streamlined and adventurous design, and
packed with thoughtful features like a reengineered
truss rod and tuned aluminum hardware.
It plays extremely well and its expansive
range of complex tonal colors is very impressive.
While not cheap, it is a high-performance
guitar that can become a mainstay in
a player’s arsenal. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine
much the Henman Rocka can’t do.
you’re looking for a thoughtfully
designed, marvelously versatile, and
almost perfectly executed handmade
you’re a traditionalist or are not ready
to splurge on a boutique guitar.
As reviewed: MSRP $5150 ($4850 w/ custom Mono gigbag) - Henman Guitars - henmanguitars.com