A Brief History
Huss and Dalton Guitar Company, Inc. took root in the fertile soil of the Shenandoah Valley, late in the summer of 1995, when Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton’s friendship and mutual interests inspired them to envision eminently playable, resonant, and attractive guitars that were true to their sense of aesthetics and tone. While the luthiers appreciated traditional design, they imagined a guitar that paid homage to tradition and also incorporated improvements to the structure and cosmetics of the distinctly American steel string guitar.
Jeff Huss left North Dakota for Virginia, in 1984, to pursue his interest in bluegrass and traditional music. It was this interest and a Staunton law firm’s decision to purchase a computer that led him to Stelling Banjo Works where, for nine years, he honed his skills as an instrument maker. While Huss was still working for Stelling, he began building guitars in his home shop.
Native Virginian and equine aficionado Mark Dalton grew up in the South Central part of the state, where his family always enjoyed traditional music in the home and community. He began playing guitar at age 13 and banjo by 18. At a jam session in the early ’90s, he met Jeff Huss. Dalton, with years of experience working with finish processes, was hired by Stelling in 1994 and began his career in instrument building.
During a visit to Huss’s shop that fateful summer, the two began brainstorming ideas that sparked the evolution of Huss & Dalton Guitar Company.
Huss & Dalton guitars are based on two distinct blueprints. On all of our Standard Series models, we build a 25-foot radius into the guitar’s soundboard. We create the radius by sanding an arch into the braces, and also preparing the guitar’s sides with a matching radius to accept the soundboard. A positive by-product of the radiused soundboard design—other than its increased load-bearing capacity—is a boost in the mid-range, giving our guitars more perceptibly balanced tone than that of strictly traditional designs. Our Traditional Series guitars feature the same 25-foot-radiused braces, but the sides are left flat for a more traditional instrument build and tonal character, emphasizing the lower frequencies a bit more.
All Huss & Dalton guitars are braced with hand-split Appalachian red spruce, which has a greater strength-to-weight ratio than other woods more commonly used for braces.
The bridge plates on all our guitars are made from Honduras rosewood, selected for its superior tonal properties, durability, and resistance to string-ball wear.
We use AAA-grade top woods, which are tested individually to determine their load-bearing properties, and are thickness-sanded to achieve the best balance of strength and flexibility.
Our guitars all have bone nuts installed, as well as fully compensated 1/8" bone saddles. We compensate the scale of every string to make the guitars’ intonation as close to perfect as possible. Every hand-crafted guitar neck is quarter-sawn Honduras mahogany, maple, walnut, or Spanish cedar, and all are fitted with a steel-reinforced, adjustable truss rod. Each neck is hand carved for a sleek, comfortable feel and ease of play. On request, we can custom-shape and size the neck of your guitar to fit your hand and your personal requirements.
The radiused fingerboards on Huss & Dalton guitars are made of ebony, a beautiful, dense, tropical hardwood that is resistant to wear, and no fingerboard leaves the bench without binding. Boards that need to have an unbound look are bound in Ebony, which is nearly invisible against the same wood. Binding the fingerboards means that you don’t see—or feel—the fret ends. Also, since finish tends to chip away from unbound boards, binding them preserves the integrity of the finish at the fingerboard’s edges.
In addition to any technical improvements to the design of our instruments, we have made aesthetic improvements, as well. Most of the instruments we build feature solid wood bindings and are tastefully appointed with shell inlays. All of our guitars feature the finest quarter-sawn woods available, and are priced with a hard-shell, tweed case.
In 2004, Huss & Dalton purchased a Computerized Numeric Control (CNC) machine. It is a fairly complex machine, which Dalton programs to cut parts accurately; it saves time by removing the possibility for human error, making our workflow more efficient. We use the CNC machine to shape necks (which are hand-finished by Huss), cut bridges, braces, pick guards, truss-rod covers, nameplate covers, back grabs, kerfed lining, saddles, fretboards, and almost all of the machined parts. The majority of our production jigs and fixtures have been re-designed and re-cut on the CNC, which has improved reliability. Having the CNC in the shop has made the components in Huss & Dalton guitars more consistent, easier to work, and has improved the overall quality of our guitars—but there is still a great deal to be said for a pair of hands, guided by years of experience, at a workbench.