The Masterpiece - Frank Hartung Guitars Embrace Hollowwood Deluxe
Frank Hartung belongs to the few German luthiers who have earned great respect from the international scene with their masterful design and artisanship. The presented Embrace model makes us hold our breath once again...
It is in a place called Langewiesen, not far from Erfurt, where Frank Hartung works - substantially alone - on his unique guitars with highest demands on quality. Besides the three official model lines Diavolo, Enigma and Embrace, all clearly recognizable by their characteristic top contours and distinctively designed headstock, also full custom instruments are projected in close cooperation with the customer. Frank explains: "There are boundless possibilities to bring in the personal touch".
The Embrace Hollowwood Deluxe is a guitar of superlatives. It's the top end; this is the first thought that comes to your mind at the sight of this spectacular Quilted Maple with its 3-dimensional appeal. The top as well as the bottom are perfectly bookmatched, and the cavity covers on the back are cut from the wood and thus stay harmonically in the natural figure of the grain. Best Honduran Mahogany was used for the body base. Two resonance chambers were cut in sideways from the back and filled with "Tunable Composite" by Heiko Höpfinger (Basslab); a material that boosts attack and ring.
The one-piece neck is made from absolutely magnificent Brazilian Rosewood (wow) and set in the body at the 16th fret. The fretboard with Compound Radius (10" to 14") from best color-matching and not less attractive Snakewood bears 22 jumbo stainless steel frets. The fret slots do not span all the way to the fretboard edge, thus the edge feels totally smooth and silky. Only small Abalone side dots provide for orientation on an otherwise undecorated fretboard. The design of the relief-like and low-angled headstock with a volute beneath the bone nut is a typical Hartung feature. Schaller locking tuners with matching Snakewood knobs and countersunk pegs lead the strings towards the nut in an almost straight line. The gold-plated TonePros Wrap Around bridge enables intonation adjustments through movable saddles for each string. For neck adjustments using the truss rod, a small cover plate cut from the fretboard wood and mounted in the 22nd fret with two screws needs to be removed first. Proper tools are included.
The Embrace's electronics comprise two hand-wound custom humbuckers "Sunburst Style" from Ray Gerold with gold covers, mounted in Snakewood frames. The latter is also used for the 3-way toggle switch tip as well as the volume and tone pot knobs (Snakewood Package). A special "Custom Wiring" provides alternative switching options (see below). The high-gloss body finish is called "Golden Tiger"; neck and headstock are finished thin silky matte. Left to mention are the 635mm scale and of course Frank's work with highest intent on the details that make his guitars so exceptional and extraordinary.
The first acoustic test immediately proves that the exceptional genes of the Embrace Hollowwood Deluxe are not restricted to the optical appearance - in fact, it actually gets out of focus. There you have it: With confidence and authority she addresses us, and everything she says makes sense, clear and compelling. The Rio neck and the filled body chambers account for a bell-like clear articulation and super-spontaneous attack, while the chambers also entail a slight semiacoustic resonance response, giving contour and life to the tone. Everything is splendid so far - now let's go electric.
The pickups from Ray Gerold have previously made a huge impression as great sounding and powerful tone sensors. The "Sunburst Set" used here features ceramic magnets. These are said to make the sound harder and push the treble. But it is a matter of balance, because Ray takes along power and transparency, but knows well how to provide a harmonic roundness to the tone. Combined with the special "Custom Wiring", these humbuckers are remarkably versatile. Instead of a bread-and-butter type, they deliver many facets of tone with an absolutely sophisticated base. However, the essence is still in the good old humbucker settings, neck solo, bridge solo and both combined. The neck pickup is free of slag and convinces with full depth. Always clear and straight in its expression, thus having a precise definition despite of its ballsy volume. With distorted amplifier settings dialed in, the guitar's enormous sustain manifests in tremendous string vibration. Thus, juicy notes with mighty overtones are no problem at all and fast played lines in the upper registers become very fluent but still stay distinct.
Let's switch over to the colleague at the bridge position. It replies with a slightly accentuated voice. With quite a bit of boost it leaps into the pole position. But let's not forget that this bridge humbucker talks big on the one hand, but on the other hand it comes up with a healthy treble spectrum. A balancing act that apparently doesn't trouble it, because it can cover dynamic and transparent pick actions in melody, chord and rhythm using clean amp settings, but become aggressive and buck-wild using distortion. Still the tone has immense stability and density, and answers the pick with precise and offensive attack and power. Power chords get an impressing completeness and lead lines get an assertive presence.
The marriage of both humbuckers in the toggle switch's middle position completes the vital tone in clean amp settings with a bell-like clear chord definition. In the crunch range, but also in heavy distortion, harmony is retained stable. Three of the mounted potentiometers are equipped with a push/pull function, giving a second level of switch positions for alternative sounds. Pulling the neck pickup's pot knob activates only the outward humbucker coils, but if the bridge pickup's pot knob is pulled as well, only the inner coils are active. The neck pickup's volume pot provides a phase switch to create interesting out-of-phase sounds - think of Peter Green. All this gives us a whole range of more combed-out tone options. However, these do not resemble Fender sounds too much, but deliver slightly more transparent sounds; high-class alternatives for diverse applications.
Now we haven't yet talked about the neck and the playing feel. But, no surprise, we find ideal conditions within the Embrace that provide nothing but joy to my hands, with its rounded and fluffy neck profile, ultra-sleek Stainless Steel frets for buttery bendings and a smoothly flattening compound radius. What else could you ask for?
Oh boy. The Embrace Hollowwood Deluxe from Frank Hartung quite rightly deserves its name. If you are willing to invest serious money, it should be for the best possible - deluxe, that is. In this case this does not only apply to the blinding facade, but especially for the design, the tone creation and the artful craftsmanship. The man from Thuringia works on his guitars virtually alone, thus the production numbers stay manageable; and unique specimens of this quality are expensive, but they have all rights to be. A neck made of Rio Rosewood is a rare and costly extra, but it has a great impact on tone definition. Of course there is a need for pickups that can harmonically and masterfully stage the tight tonal behavior - and this is where Ray Gerold comes into play by contributing his absolutely great "Sunburst Style" set of humbuckers. The superb basic tones receive useful supplements through "Custom Wiring" with push/pull functions for coil split and out-of-phase options.
To play the Embrace Hollowwood Deluxe is pure joy, it's a privilege. It's unnecessary to praise Frank Hartung for his mastery - we can let his work do the talking. By the way, Frank grants his customers time to save up because the waiting period is currently one year starting from order confirmation.