Article; For Blues Matters Magazine Herlin Guitars
-Acoustic Guitar Sensibilities With Electric Guitar Reach
Words by Brian Kramer
Jim Herlin, from Stockholm is primarily an acoustic player,
lover, appreciator and builder, but his admiration for his heroes
like the eminent slide master Ry Cooder urged his vision to
create an instrument that was more than familiar in the hands
of acoustic players but gives you the ability to dial-in vintage
electric guitar tones with his use of customized pickups.
An instrument grounded in acoustic guitar sensibilities,
with electric guitar reach.
Jim states; “As an acoustic folk musician, Old-timey, bluegrass
and Hawaiian fingerpicker, my relationship to electric guitars
has been rather mixed, I was always uncomfortable being
plugged in with my onboard piezo. Numerous times I ended up at venues with my expensive acoustic howling at the speakers, or having to sit exactly still while playing in front of some microphone. ”His choice of woods is very purposeful and knowledgeable giving bell-like resonance, even unplugged. You believe that the body must be semi hollow or chambered, but it isn't. Jim adds; “Is there a type of wood that could meet up with my wishes? I want big vibrations, quick response/attack and a slightly shorter sustain, I want the entire guitar to vibrate like an acoustic guitar. A solid body guitar that will by natural causes be far more resistant to feedback than any acoustic guitar and will meet the needs of most blues and jazz venues with ease.
For body wood I chose Western Red Cedar, light weight, stiff and it even smells nice.
For the neck I started experimenting with Scandinavian birch, its easy to find high quality birch and even some curly wood here in Sweden, a lightweight hardwood makes excellent tone wood.
I saw no reason to import expensive (near extinction) tropical wood if I can find highly vibrant curly birch just down the road.
”Compact, reminiscent of a vintage Harmony Stratotone, but doesn't feel "small" against the body, with a sexier, balanced contour.
Jim; “The birth of the Arbolito; Since my late teens I’ve been fiddling/ruining/repairing/restoring guitars and stringed instruments for friends and their friends.
About 6 years ago during a turning point in my life I ended up working professionally with guitar building and repairs. While producing electric guitars in someone else’s name, my experiences from playing acoustic music came to my mind; what would it take to cure my unwilling attitude towards electric guitars? what is the difference?
”For Blues based music, it is simply a superb player. You can fingerpick on it Delta style and easily slip into a Chicago shuffle with the flick of a finger. Add a bit of overdrive, and get your Blues/Rock boogie, without losing any of the inherent harmonic resonance.
Plus It rings beautifully for delicately fingerpicked ballads.
I first encountered this particular build about a year ago when Jim posted a few pics as he was preparing to display at the Great Scandinavian Guitar Show and immediately felt a bit smitten.
I quickly sent him a message to arrange trying one out and he graciously brought it to me at the end of my weekly Stockholm gig. I plugged in & within seconds I found myself wanted to fall in love with the way I play Blues all over again.
We then discussed creating one specific to suit my needs, which was extremely easy because Jim knows the music, the instruments, the players.
He responds to unique possibilities like a kid opening a present on Christmas morning, eager to explore and try anything to fulfill a playable end result.
And the result in my case was beyond expectations.
Jim ; “For a while I was searching for info about oak wood in instrument building, I found close to nothing written about it, I decided to ask Brian Kramer if he would consider an oak fretboard on his custom order, if I promise to make him a new neck if it doesn’t work out. That day Brian and I wrote Herlin history.
The oak turned out to work very well on a solid body guitar, the lower weight compared to the typical rosewood, ebony or maple, seem to set the vibrations free to travel up the neck, it makes the entire guitar to come alive. ”It took me a lifetime to acquire and understand the kinds of guitars I wanted and needed for professional use as well as for inspiration.
I am no stranger to vintage Gibson’s, Fender’s, National resonators. However after my first time on stage with the Herlin Guitar, it's the only one I am compelled to grab and want to bring out the door for my band gigs. I've tried but the others just go back in the case after stroking side by side for a few seconds.
Notable roots/Blues players like Kevin Brown and Eric Bibb are added to the list of pro artists who now own Herlin's guitars. Eric, currently on an extensive two-month tour in Australia, plays his custom Herlin on stage every show. If that doesn't speak for itself, then I don't know what does.
When talking to Eric about his new Arbolito & our shared fondness,
he stated; "It's a bit of a life-changer. A new sound, but not so far away from my acoustic sound. Easier to play, so I'm a new player overnight!" “The combination of the humbucking and the piezo pickups, fine design and craftmanship and attention to detail gives Jim Herlin’s guitar a unique, warm sound perfect for an acoustic fingerpicker like me. ”Jim; “Building a solid body electric does allow some creative freedom, it was time for some soul searching. With my background playing guitars and ukuleles around 100 years of age, electric guitars often appear hard and heavy in comparison, with shiny metal parts and a high gloss finish.
I´ve done some crazy repairs in my days, restoring antique Mexican and Hawaiian instruments I often had to make new parts by hand. I already knew how to make Hawaiian rope bindings so why not use my superpower on my own creation? While working with colorizing and painting the guitars, the idea just came to me, a love relationship between my musical influences and my homeland. A mixture of Hawaiian rope bindings and
Scandinavian traditional "Allmogens-painting", by using earthy soft colours and then gently scraping them off to reveal the wood grain. ”There's an old joke, not unfamiliar to us guitar players suffering from what we call Guitar Acquisition Syndrome; "How many guitars does a guitarist really need? Just one more... "Herlin's Guitars could be the "one more" that puts an end to GAS.…Unless it’s one more Herlin!