Neil Ivison first crossed our radar when we featured his 1956 Les Paul Special and 1965 Telecaster in Vintage Bench Test back in 2017. We were aware that he was a pro guitar tech, but we were still struck by their superb playability – it was clear the guy really knew his stuff.
Motivated by the fear of his dream 1959 Les Paul Junior being lost, damaged or stolen while out on the road, Neil decided to build himself a replica, and this soon blossomed into a guitar-building obsession. “People started asking if I could build them one”, he remembers, “and before long I realised I could make a business out of this.”
However, “replica thing” always sat uneasily with him: “I feel there’s the potential to deceive, and I never put ‘Gibson’ on my headstocks. Eventually I just decided to do something that encapsulates what I want – with a slab body and a faded sunburst.”
Some may consider it heretical, but it has been suggested that the great Les Paul Standards of the late 1950s might have sounded even better had they been fitted with wrapover tailpieces. Equally contentious is the notion that vintage Les Paul Specials are even more special when a humbucker in the bridge complements the P-90 in the neck.
Both arguments have merit, and Neil’s inspiration for The Hurricane was a mid-1950s Special retrofitted with a genuine PAF at the bridge that came in for repair. “Juniors and Specials with bridge humbuckers always annoyed me,” he admits, “but when I tried that one, I thought hang about, we’ve got something here.”
Although The Hurricane’s vibe owes plenty to Kalamazoo, the body and pickguard shapes are reminiscent of a Höfner Club. However, there’s nothing even remotely Höfner-like about the Honduran mahogany neck profile, which is clearly inspired by 1950s Gibsons.
Carving fat neck profiles that fit comfortably in the hand without feeling unwieldy is a stern test for any guitar builder, and The Hurricane’s neck certainly passes muster. All too often necks that are billed as being 50s-inspired end up as crude U-shapes, but Neil has a rare understanding of shoulder subtleties and complex curves.
Though a Les Paul Special provided the inspiration, The Hurricane features a bookmatched maple top carved into a gentle arch. For the most part the central section is flat longitudinally, but it rolls over quite abruptly to meet the single-ply binding in the area around the upper bout and cutaway. Behind the bridge and beyond the waist, the height decreases quite gently, but the overall effect is more like a convex meniscus than a deep-dish archtop, and the shallow neck angle creates a playing angle more like a Junior than a Les Paul Standard.
Most new guitar builders go for well-established pickup brands – if only for buyer confidence. Neil felt inclined to do the same until he met Stuart Robson of Sunbear Pickups at a guitar show. Sunbears are now standard in Neil’s builds and here we have expertly aged P-90 and PAF-style units. If you want something different, single-pickup options or any combination of the two are also available.
The hardware comes from Faber in Germany and the wrapover bridge features compensated take-off points for each string. It’s solid aluminium with no adjustable parts, and there are no issues with the intonation. The control layout is like a Les Paul Junior with the addition of a three-way switch. Under the hood there are vintage taper CTS pots and an Ivison branded paper-in-oil tone capacitor.
Neil uses nitrocellulose for the finish, with faded cherry for the body and a faded sunburst on top. It’s a genuine fade, with aniline red subjected to UV light for a naturally aged look. The lacquer checking is natural too, thanks to a recently acquired freezer which occupies a corner of Neil’s spray booth.
With its ideal weight and extremely familiar neck profile, The Hurricane feels comfortable from the outset. It also helps that the Indian rosewood fretboard is as smooth as the Jescar frets, the edges are gently rolled and the guitar feels precise but easy to play.
The Hurricane certainly has an acoustic voice. String-to-string balance is even, chords are full-bodied and there’s ample sustain with a very even decay. The harmonic content isn’t quite as dense as our Les Paul Special, but it’s livelier than our Goldtop and it bridges the gap between them. Bass frequencies are deep but focused, the midrange has a full-bodied growl and there’s brightness that stops short of the metallic ping that often comes with aluminium wraptails.
With guitars of this type, the pickups are the most important component, so we fire up our mid-60s WEM Westminster. As PAF replicas go, Sunbear’s are among the very best we’ve heard, and the bridge unit successfully captures the Hurricane’s sonic character. It’s bright, clear, aggressive and very touch sensitive. If you are a fan of cocked-wah midrange quack, harmonic bloom, and the open-throated roar of vintage style humbuckers, you’ll find plenty to love here.
The P-90 is mellower, darker and sweeter, with a tonality that’s more mid than late 1950s. Much like the Telecaster neck/bridge pickup dilemma, some players will enjoy the contrast while others may find it a bit much. The shared tone control doesn’t help, but some pickup height adjustments improve the balance considerably and the middle setting evens out to a lovely phasey chime.
If the idea of early 1950s Goldtop and late 1950s Burst tones in one compact and convenient package appeals, look no further. Granted, there are some minor detailing issues, but they’re barely noticeable with an aged finish. As a player this is a live one – and one of the most enjoyable guitars of its type that we’ve encountered in quite some time.
Neil Ivison’s vintage replicas established his reputation as a guitar builder of note, but The Hurricane represents a successful transition into original guitar design. Like the most successful boutique luthiers, Neil has combined classic elements to create a look that is reassuringly familiar, yet fresh and original – we can’t wait to see what he does next.
- PRICE £3,495 (inc hard case)
- DESCRIPTION Solid body electric guitar, made in the UK
- BUILD One-piece African mahogany body with bookmatched figured maple cap, Honduran mahogany set neck, rosewood fretboard with 12” radius, 22 Jescar 45100 frets, bone nut
- HARDWARE Faber compensated wrapover bridge, Faber vintage-style tuners
- ELECTRONICS Sunbear P-90 (neck) and PAF-style (bridge) pickups, master volume and tone controls, three-way toggle pickup selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 24.625”/625.5mm
- NECK WIDTH 42.9mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 22.2mm at first fret, 25mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 37.8mm at nut, 51.5mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 8.39lb/3.8kg
- FINISH Aged nitrocellulose lacquer with faded aniline dye sunburst
- LEFT HANDERS Yes
- CONTACT ivisonguitars.com, atbguitars.com
Like this? Try these
- Gibson Custom 60th Anniversary 1959 Les Paul Standard £5,199
- Collings 290 £3,879
- B&G Goldfinger £5,499