How gear performs in the studio is one thing, how it performs in a public venue is an entirely different matter. Unless it’s just not practical, I almost always take gear I’m testing to a gig because to me at least, that’s the best test of gear as gigs are so unpredictable – you never know what might happen, and good gear will almost always be adaptable to the changing environment of a gig.
So how did the Nighthawk perform? In a word, spectacular!
In my recent review of the Nighthawk, the word that came to mind for me to describe the guitar was “comfortable,” and that was completely evident when I played it at my church gig this evening. The Nighthawk is comfortable in every way imaginable; from its light weight to its playability, and its ability to fit into any genre of music.
Now before you poo-poo that a church gig is not a “real” gig, guess again. I’ve played in a variety of venues over they years, and playing at church is one of the most challenging venues to play.
The reason for this is that the music at a church service isn’t the same style from song to song. Since I do kind of a “rock” service, we usually start and end with rockin’ songs with copious amounts of overdrive. But in the middle or meat of the service, we have to back it off a bit. Sometimes it’s bluesy, softer, classic rock with a bit of overdrive, but a lot of the songs are much softer: ballads and slower tunes that require playing clean. So versatility is absolutely crucial with the gear that I use for the service, and the Nighthawk delivers the versatility I require in spades.
For this particular service, I kept my rig very simple. For my amp, I used my trusty Aracom VRX22 hooked up to my Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator, then out to my custom Aracom 1 X 12 cab with a Jensen P12N. In front of the amp, I used just one pedal: my Boss TU-2. I normally bring my entire board that has a variety of drives and modulation effects, but this time I wanted to capture the raw tone of the guitar, and all I could say after the service was, “WOW!”
The Nighthawk can produce some very nice grind with the P-90 and Burstbucker 3, but it can also produce rich and pristine cleans; cleans that’ll just make you close your eyes and soak up all the tonal goodness. The P-90 produces lush, fat cleans, while the BB 3 – as expected – produces bright cleans. But engaging the middle selector position allows you mix the two in varying quantities and this lets you dial in all sorts of clean tones, from super fat to ringing. The thin body of the Nighthawk is exceptionally resonant, providing great sustain and tonal complexity, producing an almost reverb-like effect. I was absolutely floored by the gorgeous clean tones I was able to dial in. It was purely inspiring!
For more overdriven tones, the middle pickup again makes this guitar so versatile. In fact, I played most of the service in this position, and simply varied the amount of neck and bridge pickup volumes to get the overdrive tones I wanted. For our more rockin’ tunes, I switched the amp to the drive channel. On the Nighthawk, I dimed the treble pickup, and when I wanted more heavy crunch, would just dial in more P-90. It was so cool! Dialing in more P-90 didn’t result in significantly more volume; a slight amount, but nothing significant. When I got to a lead break, it was a simple flick of the toggle to the treble pickup, and I could get that classic Les Paul treble pickup tone! F$%kin-A!
Interestingly enough, the Nighthawk isn’t a bright guitar. In fact, its tone is the deepest of any guitar I’ve gigged with, save my old ES-333, which was both darker and boomy. But that darker tone isn’t a bad thing at all because the Nighthawk has BIG HAIRY BALLS. There is nothing subtle about its tone. It’s incredibly expressive and in your face, whether you’re playing clean or dirty, and it forces you to engage in a never-ending musical conversation while you play it. You can’t be timid with this guitar. It won’t let you. There were times when I was playing where I would normally hold back, but with the Nighthawk in my hands, it seemed to coax me to go outside my comfort zone and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Damn! If I were single and the Nighthawk was a woman… no, I better not go there.
As you can tell, I quite simply dig this guitar. I know, I say that about a lot of gear, and it’s genuine. But there’s gear that I dig and there’s gear that I REALLY DIG, like Blondie, my Squier CV Tele, and all my Aracom equipment. The Nighthawk definitely falls into that REALLY DIG camp!
By the way, not that it really matters a lot to me because I didn’t even think about what number guitar I got in the limited run of 350, but to my very pleasant surprise, I discovered that I have #29 in the lot. Like I said, I didn’t even think to check this, but a member on the My Les Paul forum asked me what number I got – it was first time I looked. Not sure if this really means anything because I’m not really a collector – I’ll never sell this guitar. But it’s still kind of cool to get a low number.
There’s a certain magic about the Nighthawk that harkens me back to the first Harry Potter movie when he went to the wand shop. The shopkeeper told Harry (paraphrasing), “The wizard doesn’t choose the wand. The wand chooses the wizard.” And in the case of this guitar, despite the fact that I was going to pull the trigger on an R9 Les Paul, this guitar reached out and chose me. I have absolutely no regrets about passing over the LP in this case, and I’m looking forward to the magic the Nighthawk and I can create!