Interview with Huss and Dalton

As part of our ongoing Luthier Interview series, we present our conversation with Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton. We will follow with another interview every few weeks through the next couple of months.

MF: When you first started building guitars, what innovations or craftsmanship did you feel made your guitars different? Are those goals the same today?

Huss & Dalton OM

Jeff Huss: “Coming out of our background with Stelling Banjos, we knew the difference between OK craftsmanship and good craftsmanship. We knew how to take care of all the little things which add up to good quality. We didn’t have any kind of learning curve to deal with, we had the skills, we just needed to apply them to guitar building.”

MF: What makes your guitars different from other guitars of a similar build and value?

Mark Dalton: “Red spruce bracing, Honduran rosewood bridge plate, 25′ radius on all but our traditional series.”

Tim Nelson: “We also use wood bindings standard on all but our traditional series. Every Huss & Dalton, except our Singletree banjo, has a bound fretboard. In addition to keeping the build quality very high, we try to incorporate a lot of premium design features into our instruments. Although we do have an extensive custom options list, our standard models are a tremendous value when you compare our standard model features to other standard models on the market.”

Note: Tim Nelson is the national sales rep for Huss and Dalton guitars and helped facilitate this interview.

MF: What is the most common body shape you sell? Why?

Tim Nelson: “When you look at body shape only, the dreadnought is our best selling body style. When you break the sales down by models you begin to see the sales reflect the diversity in the market. Here are our top five sellers, starting with a tie for the number one spot our DS and CM models. These are followed in order by our D-RH, OM, TD-R, and our OO models.”

Huss & Dalton D-RH

MF: What are the most common woods sold for back and sides? Why?

Mark Dalton: “Indian Rosewood. Tradition, tone, volume, appearance, durability.”

Tim Nelson: “Indian rosewood is the best selling single tone wood we offer followed not too far behind by Mahogany. Brazilian Rosewood, Honduran Rosewood, Koa, Australian Blackwood, Maple, and Walnut are also tone woods that have been selling for us.”

MF: When designing a completely new model, what process do you use to determine the woods used? Bracing pattern? Etc.

Jeff Huss: “Most of our new models are based on the result of dealer requests. We have not been terribly innovative, at times, in terms of design, models, wood choices, etc. This is mostly due to the market. For example when we first started we used lots of different kinds of exotic woods and were pleased with the results, however it was an uphill battle using less traditional materials. Eventually we realized that it was foolish to try and change the the desires of the buyer. Now we try and build what our customers want. We try to figure out what there is a market for and build that instead of trying to create a market.”

MF: What are the benefits/disadvantages of a bolt-on neck? A radius top? Radius fingerboard?

Mark Dalton: “The benefits of a bolt on neck are serviceability. The butt joint we use provides better wood to wood solid contact than other types of joints. A radius top will boost the mid-range, which makes the guitar cut better when played in a group. This design also cuts down on the wolf tone when using a microphone.”

Huss & Dalton OO-SP

Tim Nelson: “Regarding bolt on necks, all sorts of things have been said regarding the pros and cons of different neck joints. Huss and Dalton, along with many other high end builders, recognize the bolt on neck as a design improvement. We are building heirloom instruments for our customers. What we are building will be around a very long time. It just makes sense to make a guitar that the neck can easily be removed for future restoration. Frank Ford had some great things to say on this topic in Acoustic Guitar magazine. You can read his thoughts on thoughts on the topic here.

[Regarding radius tops,] we use two different build styles here at Huss & Dalton. On one style, which we call our standard models, we cut a 25′ radius into the brace wood. This same 25′ radius is sanded around the entire perimeter of the top of the guitars sides before the top is glued on. The other style, our traditional series, features the same 25′ radius cut into the bracing but the top of the sides are left flat.

We use a radius in the fretboard to improve playability.”

MF: What strings do you recommend for your guitars? What guage? Why?

Tim Nelson: “We string all of our guitars with D’Addario EXP strings. We try to use the gauges most players will prefer depending on the style of guitar we are shipping. We use medium gauge on our large body models and light gauge on the smaller body models. We use D’Addario medium gauge banjo strings on all our banjos.”

MF: Do you have an over-all philosophy of building that defines your decisions and building choices?

Mark Dalton: “Our build philosophy is just to try to continue to improve, and build the best guitars and banjos that we can build. As far as building choices, we are ever in search of efficient methods to make improvements to what we build. We also try to make our system easier to understand so that new employees don’t have as huge of a learning curve.”

MF: What plans do you have for the future?

Mark Dalton: “We are adding new technology to the shop in the form of our first CNC machine, which will make more accurate parts and help us move boldly into the future.”

Note: The opinions expressed by Jeff, Mark, and Tim are not necessarily those of Music Folk and should not imply Music Folk’s endorsement of one product over another.

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