Kenny Hill–designed classical has a double top, lattice bracing, and soundports.
by Teja Gerken
May 27, 2015
Luthier Kenny Hill has been one of the most influential North American classical guitar builders since the mid-1970s. Although Hill started out as a solo builder, for the last two decades, he has been highly successful at making his guitars available to a wide audience and within a wide price spectrum. While Hill’s New World line of affordable instruments is manufactured in China, the creative heartbeat of his operation is found in his shop near Santa Cruz, California, where Hill and a team of builders create high-end classical guitars in a European-style production environment. Hill originally made his name by producing highly regarded copies of designs by builders such as Fleta, Hauser, Rodriguez, Ruck, and Torres, but for several years now, his primary focus has been on his innovative contemporary designs.
In this video, Peghead Nation Guitar Theory instructor Mark Goldenberg demonstrates his 2015 Hill Performance series guitar. Although similar to traditional classical guitars in terms of body shape and other dimensions, the Performance has many modern features. Most significantly, the guitar has a double top, which uses extremely thin pieces of cedar (on the outside) and spruce (on the inside) around a core of honeycomb Nomex (a kevlar material). Pioneered by German luthiers Gernot Wagner and Matthias Dammann, the double top is lighter and stiffer than one made from solid wood. On the Hill Performance Series guitar, the top is braced with a lattice pattern (a more traditional fan-pattern is available as an option). The instrument also has two soundports, one on each side of the neck’s heel. The guitar’s back and sides are made of solid Indian rosewood, and it has a Spanish cedar neck, rosewood bridge, and ebony fingerboard. Like all US-made Hill guitars, the instrument is finished with French polish.
Double-top guitars are known for their exceptional response and volume, and the Hill Performance is no exception. Playing with a soft touch, Goldenberg is able to produce a highly dynamic tone, which he demonstrates on his original composition “Song 13,” and he praises the instrument’s tonal balance and playability.
The Hill Performance is not an inexpensive instrument, but at $5,500, it is among the most affordable double-top guitars (many of which reach prices in the five figures), and serious nylon-string players in search of a modern instrument would do well to audition one of Hill’s guitars.
SPECS: Classical-size body with 12-fret neck. Double top (cedar/Nomex/spruce). Solid Indian rosewood back and sides. Spanish cedar neck with adjustable dual action truss rod. Rosewood bridge. Ebony fingerboard. 650-mm. scale. 2-inch nut. Gotoh tuning machines. Made in USA. $5,500 list. hillguitar.com
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