Picking up the Nighthawk and subconsciously expecting the sheer heft of a Les Paul, I was surprised by how light it is. I think a gigging guitarist would appreciate it after 2 hours on stage. Both sitting and standing the thing felt balanced and comfortable against my bloated Welsh body.
The neck is slim without being silly and with its width, fills the hand nicely. I felt at home with the longer scale right away but neck scale is a personal thing, I just like the feel of the extra tension. What I did not like so much was the thick coating on the back of the neck which just seemed to slow me down, a thinner finish, or even better, a satin finish along the lines of the lovely Gibson SGJ I played recently (check out the review here) would have pleased me more. But the set up was good and frets and fretboard were smooth and polished.
Strummed acoustically things were a little flat, certainly lacking the zing and crispness of the SGJ, a guitar of not dissimilar bulk. But this is not an acoustic review, let’s plug it in.
I’ve used the Torpedo amp model from Tonestack for the clean sounds and a modified Mesa from Bias for overdriven tones.
Bridge pick up – clean, well, it may be an odd shape but this is a great pickup, clean there is a deep, clear, very focused tone, a long way from a Strat shimmer but hugely usable as a jazz or funk tone. It also handles modulation effects very well. Plugged into Bias, everything kicks up 4 gears, overdriven this is a fabulous pickup. The tone is clear without sharpness and really, really defined. With the gain down it gives a really juicy, lively Angus Scott sound and whacked up, there are pinched harmonics galore, very good string separation and excellent sustain.
With the coil-tap, things are less impressive. There was a larger drop in volume than I expected and the tone was thinner and less responsive than I hoped. With the through stringing, I had really hoped for a hint of Telecaster brashness, but I was disappointed with the flatness of the tone I got.
Things improved with the middle pickup, this is a puka strat-style single coil and it pumped out a very pleasing clean tone. With a tweak on the EQ there was much than a hint of Hendrix/SRV fatness there. This pickup dirtied up to a point but Bias drove it too hard and there was an unfortunate brittleness and shrillness to the tone that was more and more apparent the more it was driven.
Switching back to clean, it did work well with the bridge coil-tapped to give me a decent version of the classic Fender in-between tone. When coil-tapped, this is probably the most useful setting for the bridge pick-up.
Now this left the neck mini-humbucker. I like mini-humbuckers, I like their more focused tone and had a lot of fun recently with an old SG equipped with them. Here, the Nighthawk was a let-down. The pickup was quiet (indeed getting a balanced volume from all the pickups was a problem during my time with the Epiphone) and the tone wooly and oddly muffled. It was actually quite a good tone for some jazz, but I would struggle to find much more out of it. Tapping it only thinned out the tone a little more.
I tried another Nighthawk and found the same problem, so this may have been a problem with this particular production run, as other reviewers have loved this pickup, or Epiphone need to check their suppliers. I believe that production has recently moved from Indonesia to China, so this may be a case of new production bedding in.
So this is a bit of a pickle, I so wanted to love this guitar as this is a well-priced and very well made guitar that is filled with great ideas and huge potential. I love the longer scale and the range of tones that should be there.
But the version I played was let down by the electrics. The bridge humbucker is fabulous and a joy to play but the single coil did not like to get dirty and the mini-humbucker did not want to come out of its shell at all. I get the frustrating feel that another £10 spent on pickups would have turned a what-could-have-been in to a budget world-beater.