Henman Rocka Guitar Review
April 19, 2011
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Clips recorded with a Blackstar HT Stage 60 amplifier, Shure SM57, Apogee Duet, Planet Waves Custom Pro cables, and GarageBand.
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 modern guitar.
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