namm 2009

The T-90 blends Tele-style twang with P-90 growl in a striking-looking package

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clean solo
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clean chords
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I had the pleasure of reviewing the Hanson Chicagoan about a year ago and was delighted to discover a new guitar company that seemed to have all of its ducks in a row from the outset. That Bigsby-equipped, semi-hollow honey had me from the moment I spied it at Summer NAMM 2009.

As it turns out, the Hanson crew has been supplying pickups and manufacturing instruments for other brand names since the ’90s. That helps explain why the Chicagoan displayed none of the new-to-the-biz growing pains, such as funky frets or finish. So when PG presented me with a new Hanson model to review, I jumped at the opportunity to test it out. I put the Firenze T-90 through its paces, running it into Orange Tiny Terror and Egnater Rebel 30 heads, each in turn driving a custom 1x12 cab with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker.

Ciao, Bella
As soon as I pulled the Firenze T-90 from its rectangular hardshell case (street $90), I understood the “T-90” part of its name. The bridge pickup, bridge, pickguard, and control assembly scream T-type guitar, while the “90” part is an obvious reference to the P-90-style neck pickup.

The “Firenze” part was not as quick to reveal its origin. I deduced that it’s Italian for the city of Florence, Italy, which is known as a place of great beauty. So that part of the name might symbolize the spectacular splendor of the figured maple top, glowing through the awesome orange finish that coats both it and the ash body. Still, the name could just as easily hint at funky Italian guitars—like Eko or Wandre—whose off-kilter styling is reflected in the truncated lower cutaway and the Teisco-inspired headstock. (Yes, I know Teisco is not an Italian make, but it is funky.) The truth of the matter proved closer to home and unrelated to guitar: Florence was a grandmother in the Hanson clan. Though the design might not appeal to all, the fiery figuring of the top and marvelous workmanship evidenced in the construction, finish, and frets is indisputably on par with the craftsmanship that gave us Florence’s Ponte Vecchio and Boboli Gardens. There is even a hint of flame in the maple neck. (A hint is plenty—you don’t want too much, as flame maple necks are notoriously unstable.) The finish on the back of the neck is highly glossed but smooth as silk, with none of the stickiness that sometimes rears its ugly head on heavily finished necks.

Lord of the Ring
Before plugging in the Firenze, I played it acoustically for a while. Strumming open chords produced a satisfying ring that I suspected would translate well electrically. In my hand, the neck vibrated like the “Magic Fingers” bed massager in cheap hotels. The body’s modest weight sat easily on my shoulder, and as a longtime Fender player, the 25 1/2" scale length was right in my comfort zone, too. The neck’s C-curve profile felt solid, and the high, narrow frets contributed to the instrument’s precise intonation, as did the six-saddle bridge. The frets were nicely rounded, which made it easy to slide into notes. The flattish neck radius and the height of the frets had me bending with the supple ease of a yoga instructor. The tuners moved smoothly and held their tuning well.

Attack of the Dark Twang
It was finally time to plug in, and the “T” in the T-90 moniker led me to start out by testing the guitar’s twang factor through the Egnater’s clean channel. The Firenze is equipped with Hanson’s Broadcaster-inspired bridge pickup, meaning it sounds darker and beefier than the ice-pick cut of a standard Telecaster bridge pickup. In part, this is to better match the midrange punch of the neck-position Hanson P-90. Hanson’s version of that early Fender bridge pickup delivers the iconic sound you’d expect—plenty of meat, but with the twang fully present. I often find that when I go for chicken pickin’ sounds on a Tele, I have to roll back the tone pot to keep from taking people’s heads off in the front rows. But with this pickup I could leave the tone control wide open, because the Firenze gave me plenty of cut without drawing blood.

Still in the clean channel, I checked out the neck P-90 and found it to be so hot and bass laden that it was hard to get a totally clean sound out of the normally pristine Egnater. Lowering the bass side of the pickup helped quite a bit, but if you want to get any bite out of this baby through a clean amp, you will have to crank the treble and roll off most of the bass. On the plus side, I didn’t have to roll down the tone control to get a warm, jazz timbre from this pickup. Combined with the bridge pickup, the neck P-90 chimed like the bells in the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Shifting Into Overdrive
Through the Egnater’s overdrive channel or the Orange with its gain up, the T-90 offered up another set of cool sounds. The P-90 provided some different blues tones—not SRV-ish Strat sounds or searing PAF tones, but more like the funkier tones of a National or Kay driving a Supro amp to the brink of destruction. I grew to love this sound, finding it perfect for slide. With a little more gain, the P-90’s sustain went on forever in a Big Muff sort of way.

Both pickups together yielded a 335-type tone, with the bridge pickup adding definition to the P-90’s girth. This sound was ideal for B.B. King blues or Larry Carlton-esque fusion.

By itself, the bridge pickup proved powerful enough to drive both the Egnater lead channel and the Tiny Terror like a humbucker, yet it offered enough bite for easy pinched harmonics. For extra sustain, I kicked in a Fuchs Plush Pure Gain pedal and served up some major Zeppelin raunch. Rolling back the tone knob introduced a throaty “woman tone” roar in all positions, but turning down the volume knob diminished the highs way more than I would have liked—especially in an instrument this bassy to begin with.

The Final Mojo
The Firenze sounds as unique as it looks. The pickups unite with the maple cap to create a dark tone with a very quick attack. The guitar blends the outline of a funky pawnshop prize with the figured top and finish work of an instrument costing well over twice as much. Hanson has leapt into a crowded market and rapidly made its mark. If you’re looking to make yours, this might be the guitar to help you do it.
Buy if...
you want a distinctive, quality-built instrument at a killer price.
Skip if...
you want your guitar to look and sound like what the other kids play.

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