Harden Engineering''s Switchblade has unique looks and down ''n'' dirty tone

“She’s sure fine looking, man. Wow, she’s something else!” That’s the Eddie Cochran lyric that came to mind when I first laid eyes on the Harden Switchblade. It oozes tail fins, chrome, and custom-car culture. It’s the cool kid on the block with a duck tail and a leather jacket listening to the gritty sounds of Link Wray. Blending retro-cool and classic American-modern design, this guitar is unique and fresh. Harden guitars (as well as amplifiers and overdrive pedals) are handmade in a little shop in Chicago. Every aspect of this guitar, from the body to the handwound pickups, is made to order. You pick the wood and the details you want, as well as finish color and number of pickups. On their website, Harden proudly states, “We are dedicated to making guitars and related items the old-fashioned way.”

Under the Hood

Our review instrument resembles a maverick Les Paul with a cocky attitude. It’s fairly heavy and obviously built for strength and durability. The solid, single-cutaway body appears to be made of three pieces of mahogany with a maple cap. The neck is glued to the body at the 17th fret, but the single cutaway allows full access to the entire 22 frets. The neck is also mahogany, and the fretboard is of rosewood.

The appointments are very creative. A stylish faux tortoiseshell pickguard accentuates the body curves. The handmade pickup looks like something out of a ’50s sci-fi movie, and it’s mounted on a plate that’s shaped somewhere between a rectangle and a trapezoid. The chrome tailpiece looks handcrafted as well, with a convex center that tapers down at the ends. A distinctive chrome piece is mounted right where your arm would create wear on the guitar finish. Pretty smart detail. Target-shaped fretboard inlays give the axe a pop-art vibe, and the headstock logo is most unusual—a V-shaped chrome triangle with an “H” cut out of the middle and filled with faux tortoiseshell.

The instrument’s single Volume and Tone pots sit on an oblong chrome plate. The knobs—which look like they came from an old guitar amplifier or radio—complement the overall design. The Tuneo- matic-style bridge and Wilkinson tuners are probably the only stock parts on this guitar.

Taking a Test Drive
I plugged the Harden into my trusty reissue Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb. The “C”-styled neck was easy to grip and invited me to dig into some riffs. With a clean amp setting, this guitar kicks up some grit and a dirty tone—think Danelectro, Airline, or National. It has a Link Wray bite that cuts through with clarity and character. The tone also reminded me of a smoking bluesman from Chicago’s south side—like Hubert Sumlin knocking out some killer riffs behind Howlin’ Wolf at a rough-and-tumble, ass-pocket whiskey, gun-toting establishment in the late ’50s.

When I cranked up the amp, the Switchblade got to the beef fairly fast, offering chunky power chords and single-note sustain. Adding a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver pedal to the mix, I was able to throw down fat pentatonic lead lines, as well as some buff, hard-rock riffage. I really had fun exploring the nastier side of overdrive with this guitar. With only one pickup, it does have a limited range, though. You can get a little more tonal variety by rolling back the tone knob some, but it gets a bit muddy before long. A neck pickup would make it possible to get that out-of-phase tone and add a thicker, Santana-type sound that would really make solos sing. My only other minor gripes are that the mustardy finish doesn’t have a lot of panache, and that, considering the guitar’s overall vibe, it seems to beg for a Bigsby tremolo.

The Final Mojo

A Harden may not be for everyone, but it has many of the capabilities of the classics. It looks amazing, and it offers a mean, cutting tone you just don’t find in many current guitars. Add a good amp and overdrive pedal, and you just might find that elusive tone you’ve been hunting for all these years.

Buy if...
you’re looking for a one-of-akind guitar that’s down ’n’ dirty.
Skip if...
you need a unique guitar that also has a lot of tonal flexibility.

Direct $1500 - Harden Engineering - hardenengineering.com
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