From the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Mark Goldenberg
The renowned American luthier Kenny Hill has been making fine classical guitars for decades. His instruments feature premium tonewoods and hardware and often sport his take on the double top, a modern soundboard design that delivers enhanced volume and projection.
In the 1990s, Hill decided to offer a more budget-friendly line, initially producing instruments in Paracho, Mexico, a town legendary for its guitar-making tradition. Then, in the early 2000s, Hill moved production to East Asia, traveling frequently to China to set up shop and train luthiers for his New World line. Built from traditional tonewoods like spruce, cedar, and rosewood, New World guitars are inspected and set up at Hill’s California shop before being offered for sale. New World’s catalog includes the all-solid-wood Player series, the double-top Performance model, and the Estudio line, which features laminated Indian rosewood bodies as well as rosewood fretboards.
I recently auditioned a P640S FS—code for Player model; a shorter scale length of 640mm (compared to the traditional 650mm); spruce soundboard; and what Hill calls fingerstyle, a narrow nut of 48mm and radiused fretboard, specs designed to appeal to the steel-string guitarist looking to also play nylon-string.
The review model features a Canadian spruce top, Indian rosewood back and sides, a Spanish cedar neck, and an ebony fingerboard. Other appointments include a relatively narrow nut, a Venetian cutaway for higher fret access, and a Barbera Soloist pickup. The fingerboard sports 18 frets, with an additional mini fret at the end of the neck, around the soundhole. There’s also an adjustable truss rod—a feature not traditionally seen on classical guitars—which can be accessed at the end of the neck, underneath the top.
Stylish and Well Built
The fit and finish on the P640S FS is very good. The gloss polyurethane finish is very neatly applied—thin, with no buildups at angles and corners—and it feels smooth and even to the touch. Upon close inspection, I couldn’t find any buffing marks. The two-piece spruce top is expertly matched and exhibits faint bearclaw figuring and mineral striping. It’s very attractive and subtle, leaning to the whiter side of the spectrum in terms of coloration. The rosette, with touches of dark green and two parallel bands of reddish-brown, is stylish and understated; black-and-white purfling adds a refined touch at the soundboard’s edges.
A thin band of light-colored wood decorates the bridge’s string block, and the Barbera pickup—which is both a transducer and the saddle itself—blends in well, although it is different than the bone saddles most players are accustomed to seeing. (The guitar is also available with a traditional bone saddle and no pickup.)
The P6405 FS’s back and sides look lovely, well-matched with a dark-chocolate hue and an attractive grain pattern. The soundboard’s purfling theme is carried over to the back and sides, tying together the cleanly executed look of the guitar. And inside the box, the workmanship is unsurprisingly precise—I saw no glue drips, tool marks, or other signs of sloppiness.
The neck and heel are assembled together smoothly, although they are quite different in hue. I felt the contrast looked a little odd, but I’m admittedly picky about these things. The ebony fingerboard is evenly dark in coloration and the fretwork is super clean, without any jaggedness at the edges. There’s a single side dot at the seventh fret, traditional for classical guitarists but perhaps a bit too minimal for steel-string players. More dots, please—they’re cheap.
With a nut width of 1-7/8 inches and saddle spacing of 2.25 inches, the P6405 FS will feel familiar to guitarists accustomed to steel-string instruments. The neck has a very comfortable D shape, with a gradual thickening towards the body of the guitar, which feels even and natural. I should add that while the Der Jung tuners help the guitar hold its intonation reasonably well, they don’t feel as rock-solid as ones you might find on a more expensive guitar.
An Inviting Voice
Our review model’s setup was good, with the strings set slightly higher than you would find on a steel-string. I played up and down the neck on all six strings and every note rang true and clear, without any buzzy frets or dead spots. Working through some original tunes as well as jazz standards like “Nardis” and “Autumn Leaves,” I found the narrow nut and shorter scale length really advantageous for chord voicings that involved big stretches—the ones I love but usually shy away from when I’m on a nylon-string.
Played unamplified, the P640S FS really satisfies with its inviting voice. The treble strings have clarity but retain a nice roundness as one ventures higher up the neck; the basses are deep and clear, although at first I found the low E string ever so slightly more resonant than the others. Overall, the guitar sounds solid, round, and clear, with an authoritative presence. The instrument’s volume and projection seem similar to that of my own classical guitars—not quite as loud as my Kenny Hill double-top, but on par with a traditional nylon-string made by the luthier Julia Wenzel.
Responsive and Natural-Sounding Electronics
The Barbera pickup is a passive unit—no preamp or battery required. I plugged the P640S FS directly into my DAW with a UAD Apollo interface and also played it on a gig at the Ojai Underground Exchange, in Ojai, California, using Henriksen’s The Blu amplifier. (The accompanying video was recorded by the musician and producer Bernie Larsen at the Ojai gig using a microphone and a DI.)
The amplified sound is open, full range to the point of being bright and loud. It feels uncompressed, with none of the quack that undersaddle pickups often exhibit, and extremely responsive to dynamics. To my ears the pickup was a bit biting, however, and I had to use the amp’s tone controls to soften the effect a bit. Since the guitar itself has no onboard volume or tone controls, an external preamp and a volume pedal would be great complements to this system. And speaking of volume, I tested the guitar at higher levels than normal and found it to be fairly feedback resistant. In other words, it’s a very gig-worthy instrument.
The Bottom Line
The New World P640S FS is an extremely well-made guitar that is a joy to play. With its narrow nut, smooth cutaway, and natural-sounding pickup system, it’s a great choice for the steel-string fingerstylist or jazz guitarist who is looking to expand their sonic palette into the world of the nylon-string guitar.
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BODY Canadian spruce top; Indian rosewood back and sides; rosewood bridge with 57.5mm (2.25″) string spacing; polyurethane finish
NECK 640mm (about 25.2″) scale Spanish cedar neck with ebony fretboard (16″ radius); 48mm (1-7/8″) nut width; Der Jung tuners; polyurethane finish
OTHER Bone nut; D’Addario J46 hard tension strings; Barbera Soloist pickup; hardshell case
MADE IN China (set up in U.S.)
PRICE $1,900 street (as reviewed); $1,600 street (without electronics)
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.