Handmade Guitars United Kingdom

The Hartington

The Hartington Review

A medium-sized British acoustic, made from Brazilian mahogany and Sitka spruce and retailing for a very reasonable sum. Review by Martyn Booth

As the trend back towards curvy acoustic guitars continues to gain momentum, British manufacturers Northworthy have responded to the demands of their retailers by developing a new 000 style model; the Hartington.

Construction

Although the overall dimensions are similar to a Martin 000 style, the construction of the Hartington shows that it is far from being a copy. The most outstanding difference could be detected with closed eyes, as the neck is super slim all the way to the heel. It is made from Honduras mahogany with an Indian rosewood fingerboard and simple mother-of-pearl dot fret markers. Such insubstantial necks are subject to great variations of relief, according to the different string tensions and gauges the player chooses, so Northworthy employ their own design of double-acting truss rod to keep everything under control. Owing to the mechanics of their system, adjustments need to be made in the opposite direction to most rods; i.e. looking down the neck towards the body, turn the nut clockwise to increase the relief and anticlockwise to reduce it. The headstock is faced with kingwood and carries a matching truss rod cover and an abalone logo, which obviously has some significance that eludes me. It’s the sort of logo that will drive you wild as you try to figure out how the meaning of something so simple could be so elusive; at the same time you know that the magic would be lost forever if someone explained it to you.

The body may, at first glance, look like a fairly conventional 000 but Northworthy have stamped their identity firmly inside the soundbox. The back and sides are Brazilian mahogany and very tall, peak-topped mahogany back braces made me

wonder if it really could be true that personality is moulded by geographical environment - well, the guitar was made in the Peak District! The ribs have no ties but the end blocks are fitted with the grain at right angles to the sides. The bottom block is chamfered to minimise stressing and therefore distortion of the top and back, should it encounter any shrinkage or expansion. I prefer this type of bottom block to the parallel side and block grain concept used by people like Martin and Guild; I think it is more likely to resist the sides splitting should you drop the guitar and impact the endpin — the force of a wedge-shaped endpin being accidentally rammed into the block has the potential to split a guitar quite a few inches into the ribs, but the simple expedient of turning the grain at right angles imparts considerable extra strength to the region. Having said all that, the Hartington doesn’t have an endpin anyway; it is fitted with a chrome screw-mounted strap button!

The top is solid Sitka spruce with an Indian rosewood bridge and ziracote soundhole rosette. The latter matches the

heel cap and end seam fillet. Table bracing is a conventional X pattern but, again, the struts are wider and higher than on something like a Martin, and finished with a triangular top.

Although the bracing and kerfed linings are finished off with slightly less finesse than some other well-known British guitars, the workmanship is still more than adequate considering the price tag. Externally, where finish is open to scrutiny, the Hartington can hold its own with the best.

Despite the generous bracing, the Hartington is a fairly tight guitar and worth every penny.

Northworthy have chosen to use Brazilian mahogany and English sycamore for the body binding. This could have looked a little bland had they not had the foresight to use a ‘slab’ cut for the mahogany pieces. This alters the way light is reflected off the surface and changes the colour slightly. The result is a very attractive 2-tone effect, which is maintained at all, points on the guitar and in all lighting angles.

In Use

The acoustic player who likes to feel the proverbial tree trunk in the palm of his left hand is going to have a severe culture shock on picking up a Hartington. The neck has more in common with a contemporary ultra slim electric guitar; it is a shallow C-profile and a mere 20mm deep at the first fret, increasing by only half a millimetre at the 10th. The fingerboard is broad and flat and the wide, low frets are perfectly polished, without a trace of a sharp or lifting end. With the action set at 2.25mm/1.75mm at the 12th fret and slightly more relief than I would personally choose, the guitar is superbly easy on the fingers. A set of 12-52 gauge strings on this will not offend even the wimpiest of electric players!

Sensibly thought out string spacing at nut and saddle (see spec check) means the guitar should feel comfortable for most people, whether fingerstylists, flat-pickers or strummers. Cosmetically, I could not help noticing that the bass string is slightly closer to the edge of the fingerboard than the top string, but it certainly doesn’t cause any playability problems.

More surprises are in store when it comes to the tone. The Hartington seems to sound like a bigger guitar than it really is. It is also warmer and darker than you would normally expect on a brand new acoustic. The bass strings are very rich and the top strings are clear and lively, but I thought I could detect a slight lack of attack on the G and D strings. Whether this is a natural disposition of the guitar or the result of a not-quite-new set of strings is hard to say, but I found the resulting predominance of bass and treble over the mids an unusual and attractive sound.

Conclusion

Despite the generous bracing, the Hartington is a fairly light guitar and worth every penny of its price tag. It has a very appealing warmth and resonance and plenty of individuality and character. I know I keep banging on about all the superb British acoustic guitar makers who are deservedly finding wider recognition after years in the wilderness, but you need to make sure that Northworthy are on your growing list. For all this British talent to survive, they need the support of their home market. The days when you needed to buy an American or top Japanese acoustic to get anything good are long gone, and many fine British guitars are half the price of similar quality imports. Building acoustic guitars is an art, a craft and a science, which can only be carried out by people with knowledge, experience and skill. Because of this, bad handcraft builders are a rare breed; so don’t be scared off because a name is unfamiliar or small scale.

Now, electric guitars... that’s another story.

Spec Check

Northworthy Hartington

Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Back & Sides: Brazilian Mahogany
Neck: Honduras Mahogany
Fingerboard & Bridge: Indian Rosewood
Number Of Frets: 20 (14th at body)
Scale Length: 645mm
Neck Width At Nut: 44mm
String Spacing At Nut: 36.5mm
String Spacing At Saddle: 55.5mm
Overall Length: 997mm
Maximum Body Width: 385mm
Body Depth: Approx. 100mm
Machine Heads: Gotoh
Case: Hiscox Liteflite or Calton, Both Extra

Reproduced with kind permission of Guitarist Magazine (Future Publishing)

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