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5 Tele-Style Builders You Should Know

Chihoe Hahn
Hahn Guitars

Hahn Guitars
Garnerville, New York
Years Building: 8
Starting At: $2800
Average Wait Time: 10 Weeks
Photo by Chris Murray. Photographed at Chihoe Hahn's Garnerville shop, November 14, 2008.
How’d you get into building guitars?
I got into it trying to get a guitar that I liked. I was searching for a tone that I just couldn’t find by buying new guitars and looking around at used guitars, so I just started making my own.

Has the Telecaster always been a favorite design of yours?
Yeah, I’ve played Teles since I was a kid, for no other reason than that’s what was around. [laughs] I’ve always loved that clean Fender tone, and that’s just sort of what I started with, and eventually I fell in love with.

Do you have a particular model of Tele or Esquire that you look to for inspiration?
It’s really early to late-fifties Tele-style—I’d say up to ’59. And that’s the inspiration; the one thing that I like to say is that I like to be as inspired in the execution as Leo was in the design. It’s probably the most basic design in a guitar that you can have. You can’t even break it down beyond how it has been broken down. So that is really what I try to stay true to: the absolute simplicity of the design. And I sort of stay away from anything that is either ornate or tone-sucking. I just keep it as plain as it can be.

That sounds like a very stripped down building philosophy.
When you buy something today, you sort of look at it and you inspect it for any imperfection, and if you find any imperfection, you sort of summarily reject it—I think that’s generally how things are today. And that gives people a sense of quality, perfection in the execution. And what I try to do in the guitars, my aesthetic goal, is to straddle the line between manufacturing perfection and “handmade.” So that the person can get the sense of superior quality, but it retains that human element.

What is your flagship model?
The model that I offer is called the 228. And it’s, again, inspired by a fifties Telecaster. There are variations on that that I do; I do swamp ash, alder, and I’m working on mahogany bodied guitars now. But it’s all built off the 228 platform.

You fabricate most of your hardware in-house, correct?
Yeah, the bridges, the saddles, all of the knobs, the neck plate and the control plate.

Does the fact that you’re making all of these components yourself give you a different perspective on the building of these guitars?
I don’t think so; they’re really just tools. A friend just showed me a Glendale bridge, and I was blown away by it, period. So I called up Dale and I’m talking to him about working to fabricate some stuff for me. Because, to me, the hardware is like the pickups—it’s a tone shaper, it allows you to achieve something with the guitar. So I talk to the customer, I usually ask for favorite guitars, for favorite songs, for audio clips to get inspiration from the customer. And from there, we talk about it and decide what the hardware and pickup choices are going to be. And that’s the starting point, but then you actually build the guitar, and then you’ve got something, usually an X factor that you couldn’t have anticipated, and you can even tweak it from there. So I do a lot of my own parts, but it’s just one choice that’s available for the customer.

Is there a go-to pickup that you use in your guitars?
I’d say there are go-to manufacturers that I’ve used, and I certainly don’t mean to say that some are superior, but I’ve worked a lot with Lollar, Fralin and Duncan.

What brings you back to those builders?
I like the way that Jason achieves specific things with specific pickups. They’re very dialed in to what it is he’s trying to achieve, and they do it really well. I think Fralin— they all sound amazing, but I love the flexibility, the versatility of his pickups. And I love the balance of the Duncan pickups. What makes your guitars unique? When you’re dealing with small builders, you could put all of the guitars up against each other, and they’re all going to be radically different. I think it’s just that there are 100 decisions to be made in making any guitar, and they all add up to more than the parts. I’d say if there’s one thing, it depends on the ear of the builder and the aesthetic of the builder which flows through every one of those 100 decisions.

Why should our readers consider buying a Hahn?
I think people will find it to be an extremely musical instrument. It’s made to be extremely dynamic and articulate, but primarily musical. The notes are articulate, but it’s a seamless blend between strings and as a whole. It’s as much a rhythm guitar as a lead guitar.

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