HARTLEY PEAVEY IS an american success story. The small company he founded 40 years ago took on the more established competition and became one of the most important manufacturers in the music business by offering pro-quality gear at workingmusician prices.
To celebrate, Peavey is offering a first: the HP (Hartley Peavey) Signature Series of guitars. For this review, I tested the top-of-the-line HP Signature USA Custom, a classy, dual-cutaway solidbody that embodies the virtues of down-home American luthiery.
Visually, the Signature is all about the wood. The black-finished model I tested features an arched, finely quilted maple top over a solid mahogany back. Clear finish around the top's outside edges creates a natural “binding” that shows off the grain of the wood and makes the top pop very strongly in the light. The carved headstock is capped by beautifully figured maple, which matches the body's finish.
The mahogany neck carries a two-octave, 24 3/4-inch-scale ebony fingerboard, which, like the top, is framed in a clear finish. This finish was somewhat rough in the upper reaches of the neck-not sloppy in the least, but not flawless either.
The Signature's strings pass through the back of the guitar via Peavey's patented Dual-Compression bridge system. This unique design features metal tubes that go all the way through the body, so that the strings make contact with the metal, resulting in greater sustain. From there, they go over an adjustable Schaller Tune-O-Maticstyle bridge and up to Schaller nonlocking tuners.
The Signature's elegant design is completed by mother- of-pearl trapezoid fingerboard inlays, gold hardware, and pearloid tuning keys. The net effect is that of a timeless, classic guitar that doesn't imitate any specific vintage icon. On the contrary, the Peavey could easily pass for an original instrument made 40 years ago.
The Signature is a joy to play. The neck is shod with jumbo frets, and its action is low up and down its length. Even when handled aggressively, it produced nary a buzz, even with the Peavey Nickel Wound Balanced .009 strings the guitar came with from the factory.
Some 24-fret guitars can feel unbalanced, but this one is comfortable to hold. The neck joins the body near the 19th fret, and the low-profile heel provides no barrier to the upper reaches. The cutaways are slightly offset but deep enough to allow easy access to the very highest notes. The arched top actually enhances the playing experience, providing support for the right forearm and a perfect picking angle for the right hand.
Unplugged, the Signature has the stamp of any mahogany/maple combination, with tone that's present, but not too bright. Electronics include a pair of Peavey high-output, dual-wound, hum-canceling pickups mated to a threeway switch. Each pickup has its own volume knob, while a master tone control governs both. The pickups sound punchy and full of presence (imagine vintage PAFs with a little more kick). One expects high-output humbuckers to be designed solely for distortion, but the Signature's pickups are superiorly clean, with much of the detail typically associated with single-coils. They work well for blues, pop and rock rhythm, R&B and country. Roll off the tone control and the neck pickup delivers a mellow jazz sound.
The HP is equally effective when driving moderate distortion and tube-type overdrive, where it sounded fat, yet ripe, with brightly vibrant harmonics. The tone was biting and focused—very reminiscent of Santana and early Clapton. Sustain, perhaps thanks to the bridge design, was exceptional, even without the aid of overdrive or compression. If you're into clean by legato solos, this may be your dream guitar.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Well made and nicely appointed, the Peavey HP Signature USA is a professional's instrument. Its good tone, easy playability and ability to cover a wide range of styles are qualities that never go out of style.