With all the talk about “Going Green” and protecting the environment, it’s only a matter of time before the guitar industry will need to start seriously considering the use of non-wood alternatives for building instruments. The reports are becoming more and more frequent, stating that precious tone woods and exotic woods are becoming increasingly rare. They will soon be either too expensive to build with or, even worse, protected and unavailable entirely for instrument builders.
|Documentation & Support
|OVERALL RATING = 3.3
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
XOX Audio Tools has stepped up to the plate with some real innovation and creativity by providing a quality alternative to the wooden guitar. The Handle is completely manufactured out of carbon fiber, once again demonstrating that many long-held beliefs about guitar making are in need of rethinking. From headstock to fingerboard to the body of the guitar, not a splinter can be found on this creation. And at just over four pounds, you don’t have to worry about a back breaker either. Could this be the next evolution of the electric guitar?
At first impression, the most appealing feature of The Handle is the unique body design. While staying true to a traditional single cut outline, the body contains some very art deco cutout shapes adding to its contemporary appeal. It’s only when you grab hold of this lightweight (4.85 lbs) instrument that you realize it’s not made of wood, but of something way more exciting – carbon fiber! Though we’ve seen carbon fiber material introduced into guitar manufacturing before, The Handle is the first single piece, mono-chassis body manufactured of carbon fiber from the headstock to the bout of the body.
Closer inspection reveals the beauty of rolled carbon fiber — there’s something very beautiful to behold in the weaved pattern of the carbon material, much like the latest racing bicycle or tennis racquet.
The fretboard is constructed of a pressure-formed thermostat laminate containing twenty-four full-scale frets, and the neck has a slim tapered profile measuring a 12” radius. One of the best advantages to a carbon fiber neck is that it maintains tuning under the most extreme temperature and humidity changes – and it is not likely to snap or crack, either. From an adjustment standpoint, the neck is fitted with a dual action truss rod to enable full adjustment as desired.
Where would such an instrument originate? The Handle is designed in Italy and manufactured in Europe, striving to use only high quality European and American parts including:
- Planet Waves auto trim tuners
- GraphTech nut
- Nickel-Silver frets
- Hipshot Baby Grand bridge
- DiMarzio PAF Pro pickups
The Handle is equipped with one anodized aluminum Volume knob and one Tone knob. A somewhat unique three-way Blend control knob manages pickup selection. A center detent marks dual-pickup operation while turning the knob left or right will blend all tones in-between until reaching full bridge-only or full neck-only position.
The body contour is concave in form, providing added comfort and playability.
The two main factors when considering an instrument are playability and tone — and if you’re one to get bored fast or aren’t fortunate enough to have multiple instruments, you may want to consider flexibility. The Handle provides quite a bit of flexibility yet maintains very identifiable characteristics of its own. We found the guitar excellent for rock, jazz-fusion, and jazz in particular, though it might not fit your taste if you are looking for a high gain, over the top, shred guitar.
The Handle offers a wide range of tonal options due in part to the pure sonic characteristics of carbon fiber, the hollow chamber of the body, and the 3-way Blend control knob — the options are endless. However, if you like to change pickup settings at the flick of a switch (like instantly switching from your neck to your bridge pickup), you won’t be able to do that here.
We’ve seen a lot of different knob configurations and designs to help improve accessibility and pinky finger control. XOX Audio Tools got it right – with the “Scream” knob located directly under the high E string and positioned between the bridge and bridge pick-up, pinky finger control while playing was a breeze. In most applications using smaller diameter knobs, you would run out of pinky before you reached your desired volume level. The diameter of the “Scream” knob provided excellent control in just the right proportions for volume swells and fades.
The Handle is equipped with twenty-four frets, and to our pleasure, they were all accessible with ease. The slim tapered neck provided added comfort and ease in playing our blistering solo lines (we’re all rock gods in our own minds).
From a cosmetic standpoint, The Handle is all but conservative. Strap this guitar on and it’s pure attitude — young, new, and vibrant, sexy, bold, and gregarious. After all, a guitar should be inspirational and help extract your inner being – or at least help portray the image trying to escape from within. What we’re trying to capture in words is that this guitar took us to a whole new place that just makes you feel like you want to rock, and rock hard. Everything we played from rock to funk to fusion – it all provoked a hint of edge.
For purposes of this review, we tested The Handle through two different amps by Mesa/Boogie: a Lonestar and Road King II. Playing through the Lonestar, The Handle provided a very clean, even-sounding tonal characteristic, and there was definitely a semi-acoustic sound providing certain warmth.
When playing through the drive channel, one noticeable difference in comparison to a solid-body wood guitar was the decreased amount of bite and sustain. Not to be construed as a bad thing, The Handle seemed to simply lack more of the unwanted overtones. The guitar just bloomed differently, somewhere in between that of a solid-body and a semi-hollowbody guitar.
The Lonestar, providing crystal clear cleans and warm overdrive tones, was a good match for The Handle. The sound really lent itself to a warm tight drive popular in most fusion guitar environments – clean, crisp, and well defined. And let’s not ignore the less shred-focused tones – The Handle could hold its own on a Jazz gig as well. It definitely provided that deep, warm tone favored by many jazz enthusiasts. Getting over the image may be a different obstacle, though. We just couldn’t picture Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass playing The Handle.
Plugging The Handle into the Road King II served mainly one purpose – we wanted to see how hard the guitar could rock through dual rectifiers. As in the Lonestar example, the overdrive of the guitar provided more warmth than that of a solid-body wood guitar. Even the harmonics during feedback seemed controlled and warm. The guitar rocked with a very brown sound characteristic no matter how much gain was applied from the amp, and while it didn’t sustain notes nearly as long as some of our traditional rock guitars — our only significant criticism, it did deliver great tight rhythms and worked well with solos that were more staccato in nature.
Documentation and Product Support
The Handle came equipped with the tools necessary to make bridge and truss rod adjustments. An included brochure outlined the key features of the instrument. For any additional information, XOX Audio Tools provides a full service website providing galleries, specs, video tutorials, and more...
Are you ready to go carbon fiber? The Handle sells for approximately $3,200.00, comparable to… a nice racing bicycle! Or, more relevant, other custom shop guitars made from that typical wood stuff.
Considering the quality and strength of carbon fiber, innovative design and craftsmanship, and hey – the cool factor, this guitar is an attention grabber from both a musician’s standpoint and a spectators view. Though aspiring musicians will presumably stick to less expensive wood alternatives, The Handle will appeal to the pro-level player looking for something versatile that is a little different, a little wild, and a little showy.
XOX Audio Tools provides a variety of custom options for The Handle, including: a single-dot or zig-zag neck inlay, Hipshot Baby Grand or Stetsbar tremolo bridge, polished, matte or lacquered color finishes, and they also offer Baritone or Piezo models. Special requests for other custom options will also be considered.
XOX Audio Tools