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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.