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Artist Review

Mark Kleinhaut

For the past two weeks I have been greatly enjoying my new Halfling guitar, which was built to order by Ribbecke Guitar Corp. in northern California. The time from deposit to delivery was just about seven months, and the entire experience has been excellent. The crew at RGC was a pleasure to work with at every step, providing helpful suggestions regarding the upgrades I wanted. I especially appreciated their “can do” attitude when it came to the custom electronics I wanted to combine with their own guitar making artistry to build my dream guitar.

My instrument started with the basic Halfling jazz model (MSRP $7,000) and was upgraded cosmetically with blue finish and custom inlay, and sonically with electronics provided by Graphtec’s modular Ghost pickup system. So, in addition to the floating Kent Armstrong neck position humbucker standard on the Halfling, the Ghost offers Piezo output and 13pin midi for guitar synth control. The surface mounted controls (located and arranged to my exact specifications) are volume and tone for the mag pup, volume for the midi, volume for the piezo and three little toggle switches that control the pup selections and midi program.

Versatile electronics are a bonus, but for my purposes it would have meant little if the instrument in any way lacked first class sound and playability. I’m pleased to tell you the Halfling scores a perfect 10 and is quite simply the best guitar I’ve ever played, let alone owned. It may or may not be possible to dissect exactly why this guitar is so good, and in the following paragraphs I’ll try, but the most important thing for me boils down to the sense of sheer inspiration I feel when playing. The sound is so smooth and articulate, while utterly responsive to every nuance of touch, one almost can’t help but play with a higher level of refinement. Of course, that may not be everyone’s cup-o-tea, but it sure is mine!

Ribbecke has created a guitar with a unique design, where the bass side of the top plate is like a flattop and the treble side is like an archtop (hence the name “Halfling”), and it is clear that this results in something very special with the way the low end speaks like an acoustic and morphs into an archtop sound as you go up the register. The change follows the rise and fall in pitch whether you move up or across the fingerboard, and it overlays the guitaristic changes in timbre we normally associate with playing in different parts of the neck. I've never heard or "felt" any guitar do that and the effect is really quite magical.

Amplified, the sound is rich and lush through my Clarus/ Raezer’s edge rig, almost velvety in the way a routed pickup sounds, and there is none of the nasal or brittle quality often equated with carved tops with floaters. Even with the piezo blended in, the sound stays very warm and round in a most pleasing way. The clarity of each note is right there, yet the blend on chords is rich everywhere on the fretboard. And sustain is another factor to rave about as notes and chords just ring and ring longer than you would ever expect, it gives new pleasure to playing slow luxurious long tones.

The first four days with my Halfling, I played in completely unamplified as it arrived the day I was heading out for a Thanksgiving getaway and didn’t bring an amp. It was quite enjoyable to play this way, although in retrospect I’d say that playing through the amp is still way better because the sound is just so huge this way. But I did notice something during my early acoustic stage, which was that there was not one speck of unwanted sympathetic vibration on any of the knobs, switches, jacks, pups or anything. Not one buzz or rattle on a guitar so expertly put together. Also, I found I could dig in really hard and it would not overdrive the string in that physical way where it bottoms out on the frets, gets buzzy and you start losing tone. It puts out a huge dynamic range as a result.

Weighing in at six and a half pounds, the guitar is nice and light, making it very comfortable for long periods of standing. The neck feels great to me, almost the same as the PRS neck I'm used to with the 25 inch scale and the geometry of the tailpiece and headstock provide all the right breaking angles to allow for very comfortable level of string tension. I’m using D’addario Chromes in 12’s, (just like on my PRS) and it’s easy to play. Another extremely important factor for me is that the guitar must be very feedback resistant so I that I can actually gig with it. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’ve not yet had the opportunity to play out with a drummer or horns yet, but I can tell it’s going to be fine. I turned the Clarus up to 1:30 on both pots, opened guitar all the way and now a single howl. I just held it with open strings within 5 feet of the cab and nothing. Tapped the box a bit to try to incite it, and again nothing.

I am only beginning to explore the diverse sounds and effects available with the midi implementation, but so far my impressions of the Halfling’s capabilities are excellent. I believe the same clarity of tone and separation of notes enjoyed acoustically, also play strongly to the digital conversion process, that is; the six Ghost saddle pickups receive a clearer signal which translates to better tracking. So far, my favorite effect is blending some mellow voices of woodwinds and French horns underneath the clean guitar tone for a subtle doubling effect. I think it’s a given that a guitar synth will never track as perfectly as a keyboard midi controller, but a strength we guitarists can play on is the blending approach of both analog and digital voices. Someone would have to put midi triggers in a concert Steinway to get the same effect of a Halfling guitar synth controller.

Finally, I have to add to top this all of, that this guitar is drop dead gorgeous. The Halfling is a very handsome instrument to begin with, but the blue finish and inlay really bring it up another level. Of course the workmanship is fantastic and it’s always inspiring to hold a work of art in your hands when playing.

In summary, she drives like a sports car, sounds like an angel and looks like a supermodel. What could be better?

~Mark Kleinhaut