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Soloway Single 15" Electric Guitar Review

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Soloway Single 15" Electric Guitar Review
Mention a hollowbody electric and most players will think of a thick jazz box with heavy strings. But Jim Soloway has few qualms about turning those preconceptions on their heads. Over the years, Soloway has pushed the boundaries of guitar construction with his innovative designs that focus on playability as much as sound. The Single 15" is the latest hollowbody creation to come out of his Portland, Oregon, workshop, and with options like the fingerstyle string spacing on our test model, it’s a fine example of how Soloway is bending convention to build a better playing—and potentially more expressive—guitar.

First Impressions

Soloway is all about options. Just about every part on the guitar from pickups to nut spacing to scale length is customizable for the individual. Soloway stands behind his guitars too—so much so that he even makes a few models available for a test-drive for the cost of return shipping.

Like many Soloway instruments, the Single 15" represents an evolution of earlier designs. And in this case, it’s a fresh take on his signature Full Hollow shape with a larger lower bout that extends the body further past the bridge. Our Single 15" came in a beautiful Loarburst finish. Soloway says he developed the finish after coming across some pictures of Lloyd Loar mandolins, and it’s a perfect match for the lovely one-piece maple body, which features a remarkable flame pattern that spans the width of the body. The back is made of swamp ash and has a more subtle grain. Elsewhere, African blackwood abounds, and Soloway uses it for the bridge, the Master Volume and Tone knobs, and the pickup selector, which switches between DiMarzio 36th Anniversary humbuckers.

When I first picked up the Single, I immediately noticed how comfortable the guitar is to hold. When you’re seated, the contours on the back and front where you place your forearm make the body feel smaller than it is. And because the guitar is rather thin compared to other hollowbody axes, you can really feel the resonance when you strum it. The other thing you notice right away is the neck and string spacing. Our review guitar’s neck is built around what Soloway calls fingerstyle spacing, which goes from 1 13/16" at the nut to 2 3/16" at the bridge (standard spacing is also available—1 11/16" at the nut and 2 1/16" at the bridge). And if you aren’t used to this wider spacing, you’ll instantly feel like you just hopped into a king-size bed after sleeping in a twin-size bed for years. But with the wide neck and big frets, bends are about as smooth as can be.

The radius of the neck is a rather flat 16", which is standard on all of Soloway’s guitars. And when combined with the 25 1/2" scale length, you have plenty of room on the fretboard for everything from complex chords to intricate fingerstyle passages. Soloway uses what he calls an American Standard profile for the neck shape—essentially a C shape that feels very comfortable and smooth.

Tones and Tones

Eager to explore the Single 15" in realms beyond just its jazz roots, I lined up two amps. First I plugged the Soloway into an Egnater Tourmaster (a 100-watt beast boasting eight 12AX7 preamp tubes) fired up the clean channel and set the tone controls flat. With the pickup selector switch on the bridge pickup, the tone was warm and beautiful, if a little too bright, so I backed off the Tone knob on the guitar until I found a sweet spot that was darker but with plenty of clarity, a little like George Benson’s tone on Cookbook. One of my favorite things about hollowbody guitars is how much definition they give chords with tight intervals. The Single was no exception, and as I played through some cluster-type chords I was able to discern each note at the highest volumes.


The middle position moved me into faux-Strat territory, which lent itself nicely to some percussive funk grooves. But even though the sound begged for some old-school Leo Nocentelli moves, the neck made playing syncopated patterns a little difficult. Indeed, it almost felt like there was too much room at times. I wanted to see if this guitar could hang when things got a little dirty, so I turned up the amp enough to get a little break up when I dug in. And as my pick attack became more forceful, the tone became more defined and punchy, but with plenty of the breadth you’d want and expect from a well-built hollowbody and well-selected humbucking pickups.

Solid as a Rock
Solid-state amps are common in jazz circles for their clear tone (they’re also the basis for many classic jazz recordings), so I also ran the Soloway into a Tech 21 Trademark 60. The Trademark 60’s first channel is designed to replicate a Fenderstyle amp without the tube noise. Running through this channel, the Soloway felt right at home with the Bass control at about an 8 and the Treble at 4. And with the Tone control all the way up on the neck pickup, the Soloway delivered the delicious mellow-yet-lively tones you’d associate with Grant Green and some earlier Jim Hall recordings.

On the second channel, I dialed up a slightly dirtier tone than I used with the Tourmaster. The added distortion sounded a little muddier than the tube amp, but the tone cleaned up a little bit with the Volume knob rolled off to about 50 percent. It was obvious this guitar is designed to shine on the lower gain side of the spectrum. But even at higher volumes, I didn’t feel I was fighting the feedback issues that plague other hollowbody guitars, and there’s no reason this guitar couldn’t hang with say, a good Gibson ES-335 for more out or rock-inspired jazz explorations.

The Verdict
The Single can cover more than just your weekly jazz gig. It lives in that area between a jazz-dedicated box and a jack-of-all-trades. It’s very comfortable to play both sitting and standing, and Soloway’s work in shaping the contours and optimizing the guitar ergonomically speak to a thoughtful and evolutionary design sense that’s unencumbered by the shackles of tradition and inspired by the real needs of players. The long scale length and wide string spacing aren’t really for your average blues-rocker, and in many ways, this is a guitar for exploring the outer limits of technique and sound. But the range of tones it produces makes it capable of beautiful—and beautifully defined—tones beyond archetypal round-and-wooly jazz sounds. If you want to take your playing somewhere way beyond, the Soloway Single 15" is a great place to start.



Buy if...
you need a guitar that can handle blues to bebop and beyond.
Skip if...
high-gain tones are more your bag.
Rating...


Base price $2700; $3030 as reviewed - Soloway Guitars - solowayguitars.com
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