THE ORIGINAL PEAVEY Wolfgang was one of my favorite guitars when I wanted to play fast and wild. So when I heard that Peavey and Eddie Van Halen had parted ways, I was disappointed that Wolfgangs would no longer be available. I should have realized that Peavey would treat this event as an opportunity to forge ahead and build something better.
The new HP Special CT USA, named for Peavey’s founder and owner, Hartley Peavey, is just that. It has the same timeworn feel and playability we’ve come to expect from the Wolfgang, but in every other respect it exceeds its predecessor, thanks to many of Peavey’s own logical design elements and tone-improving enhancements.
The HP Special CT (for “Carved Top”) is built around a double-cutaway basswood body that’s engineered to provide an ideal balance when the guitar is hanging from a strap (the Wolfgang’s lack of balance frustrated many players). The CT’s thick, carved flame-maple top looks magnificent on the black-painted body and adds bright punch and sustain to the basswood’s warm tone. I’m usually impressed with Peavey’s finishes, but the transparent Cherryburst stain on my test guitar’s figured maple top and headstock was truly outstanding. For those who desire it, the HP Special CT is also available in solid colors. Likewise, the flattop HP Special is available transparent and solid finishes.
At the heart of the guitar is the most comfortable neck I’ve ever played: it sits in the hand just like the Wolfgang’s neck but is slightly trimmer and even easier to navigate. This CNC-cut bird’s-eye maple masterpiece—you’d expect no less from the company that brought CNC technology to musical instruments—has a light oil finish and an asymmetrical back carve that replicates a guitar neck that’s been broken-in over 20-plus years. Because bird’s-eye can be a little soft, graphite reinforcement rods are built into the neck and run about three-quarters of its length. The 22 frets are tall and thin, and the neck is joined to the body with an exclusive five-bolt pattern that enhances stability and sustain.
The Special’s tone and playability certainly benefit from the exemplary hardware and setup. The double-locking Peavey-built Floyd Rose–licensed tremolo is set flush into the body, creating a clean look and a level plane across the pickups and neck. Wolfgang players always wanted the option to pull up on the bar, and the Special makes it possible by means of an ingenious sliding brass bracket inside the trem cavity that sets the unit for full-floating or blocked-trem action. The headstock features attractive three-on-a-side Schaller minituners with custom pearloid buttons.
The pickups are where this guitar really shines. The direct-mounted zebra-coil humbuckers are custom made by Peavey, have medium-to-high output and are wound for incredible overtones. For greater tonal variety, coil taps on the push/pull volume and tone pots allow the pickups to be switched to single-coil mode.
Peavey has also improved upon the Wolfgang with its placement of the pickup switch. Whereas the Wolfgang’s toggle was isolated on the upper bout, on the HP Special guitars it is clustered with its companion controls, something that makes large-scale adjustments much more feasible during performance.
I was so intrigued and excited by how the HP Special CT played and sounded that I “tested” it for five hours straight, right out of the box. The main amps that I used were my Voodoo Amps–modified Mesa Rectifier and a Marshall JCM800. Running the Peavey through a Boss overdrive and into these heads, I was able to create punchy, thrilling and screaming modern high-gain tones. Although the pickups traded some low mids for high-end overtones, it was worth it just to hear those exhilarating harmonics fly off the fretboard.
But this guitar is no one-trick pony. After I backed down the gain on my Marshall amp, the Peavey’s dynamic nature allowed me to create punchy old-school Van Halen–esque crunch sounds that were quite sensitive to pick attack. When I wanted a more mellow tone, the neck pickup’s single-coil mode provided lots of cut and a cool velvety bass signature. Pushing back my amp’s gain and using the single-coil produced enough note separation and liquid distortion to create the tonal balance that sweep picker’s love.
As for the Floyd-licensed trem, it’s about the best double-locking bridge of its type available today. After days and days of horse whinnies, dive bombs and primal screams, the HP Special CT remained in tune.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you liked the Wolfgang, prepare to be dazzled by the Peavey HP CT Special. This is a true high-end guitar that’s built around one of the world’s most advanced and playable asymmetrical guitar necks, custom-wound direct-mounted humbuckers and a flawless Floyd-style trem. For hard-hitting rock tones and heavy metal, I can’t give the HP Special CT a more enthusiastic endorsement.