A ''50s-style bass with boutique construction
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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.
Plugging in, I noticed the side-by-side Fralin pickup approximates a conventional P bass pickup with very little noise. Checking out the setup with my little steel ruler, I found the pickup poles to be 1/4" away from the strings (when fretted on the last fret). A usual string-to-pole-piece distance is 1/8", and once you get much farther away from the strings, bottom end and volume start to diminish. Hahn explained that this was a design choice in the interest of getting more of an acoustic-like tone. I tested it with his setup, but then pulled the pickup and added a piece of foam under it to bring it up to a more conventional distance. The change in output and bottom end was obvious.
Other than the pickup height, the bass was set up just how I like it: Neck relief was minimal and string height was about 3/32" at the octave. The 6150 nickel-alloy frets were beautifully leveled, crowned, and polished. And the 9-pound weight was ideal.
Taking the Hahn into Action
I was fortunate to try out the Model 22 in a few performance settings. At a moderately loud blues jam (with guitar, keys, sax, harmonica, drums, and vocals), it needed a little extra volume bump on an Ampeg SVT-3PRO (with a 1x15 cab) to keep up. I also found myself playing harder than usual, but I was surprised that the Hahn handled the extra attack without rattling or going out of control. It was one tight-playing bass, and the highly focused tone helped the Model 22 cut through the very muddy acoustics of the club.
In a small studio rehearsal (with guitar, harmonica, and vocals), the finer, more subtle tone characteristics were more noticeable. Running into my small Euphonic Audio head and a 1x12 cab with tight low end, the clarity and ringing, piano-like sustain were very apparent. By adjusting the tone control and varying right-hand technique, I could coax loads of tones out of the Model 22. Interestingly, few were what I’d consider definitively vintage-Fender tones, but this a truly multivoiced performer all the same.
The Hahn Model 22 is an instrument of the highest quality from top to bottom. Its design elements produce a modern-sounding instrument in an understated, vintage-looking package. If you’re looking for a trusty workhorse that can thump out a fat foundation for blues, rock, or roots music, there may be cheaper alternatives. But if your musical endeavors take you to where purity, sustain, and definition are essentials, the Model 22 is a potential match made in heaven.
you need a super-high-quality, painstakingly constructed bass with tone that stands out from the herd.
affordability is more of a concern than stellar tones and top-shelf quality.
Street $3200 - Hahn Guitars - hahnguitars.com