Most luthiers play at least a little guitar, but few are as musically proficient as Kenny Hill, who spends as much time composing and performing as he does overseeing the skilled artisans at work in his Ben Lomond, California, workshop. One of the great classical makers, Hill blends traditional and contemporary elements in instruments that are uncommonly playable and dynamically voiced.
This 2019 Legacy model, the luthier’s main guitar, is a prime example of his company’s top-tier offerings. Its modern features include a lattice-braced cedar/spruce double top, adjustable two-way truss rod, twin sound ports, an ergonomic body design, and True Temperament frets. Old-growth Brazilian rosewood back and sides, French polish finish, and engraved Rodgers tuners are among the aspects that give it a time-honored feel. “It’s all the things I want in an instrument,” Hill says. “The experimenting has been going on for more than 30 years. I have absorbed a lot of tradition, but I have also cultivated it and morphed it into a 21st-century instrument that both retains and enhances the beauty of classical guitar sound and feel.”
The frets, conceived of by the Swedish inventor Anders Thidell in 2005, might look as if they belong more in a cubist painting than on an actual guitar. But they help the instrument sound more in-tune than standard frets, especially for complex chords, without any adjustment in technique required of the player. Hill says, “I do have to try to explain the concept to almost everyone who notices it and try to do it in 25 words or fewer. I’m still working on that.”
French polish is a delicate finish, susceptible to damage from heat, moisture, and fingernails, but even so, Hill’s guitar has a surprising amount of wear for being such a young instrument. The soundboard sports a number of prominent scratches, imprinted by nails both human and animal. “I’m pretty indiscriminate about whom I loan my guitars to,” Hill admits. “And my cats sometimes have boundary issues.” hillguitar.com
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.