Ask acoustic devotees in the States to namecheck some of their fave high-end makers and chances are that, alongside the likes of, say, Collings, Santa Cruz and Bourgeois, the name of Huss & Dalton will crop up.
For a company only founded in 1995 - by long-time luthiers Jeff Huss and Mark Dalton - this is no mean feat, and reflects the high regard in which their instruments are held, not least by high-profile users like Paul Simon and Albert Lee.
In global terms, it's not a big operation: in 2007 the Staunton, Virginia company produced just over 350 guitars and is targeting to top 400 per year, using both traditional handcrafting and modern CNC machinery.
‘We made about 45 guitars in our first year when it was just the two of us,' says Jeff, ‘and we now have 10 people in the shop. We have always maintained a slow growth.'
Finding, training and retaining good people has always been a challenge... and it's not easy, what we do. It takes a long time to get people up to speed.'
Despite the limitations of production capacity, Huss & Dalton is slowly but surely becoming known over here.
Hampshire retailer Oasis Music started selling H&Ds three years ago, and was appointed exclusive distributor earlier this year. It is currently setting up a small nucleus of stockists across the country.
In a catalogue that ranges downwards in size from dreadnoughts and medium jumbos, the 12-fret 00-SP is the smallest model on offer; ‘SP', which denotes a slot peghead, differentiates it from Huss & Dalton's conventional-headstock 00.
The SP also hasa pyramid-end bridge, not a straight bar type, but otherwise the two are essentially the same.
Like the K Yairi reviewed elsewhere in this issue, the 00-SP is a concert-size acoustic strongly influenced by Martin's vintage 00 design.
Span across the lower bouts is a compact 360mm (just over 14") with 104mm-deep rims, dimensions which bridge the gap between the parlour guitar and the larger folk, or 000.
Huss & Dalton promotes the use of triple-A grade tops on all its instruments, and the Engelmann spruce top on our sample is beautifully clean, close-grained and rich in cross silking.
The internal strutting is Appalachian red spruce which, the company says, offers a greater strength-to-weight ratio than other bracing woods.
The back and sides are good-looking Indian rosewood, and refreshingly H&D doesn't charge extra for this timber compared with the mahogany-backed option.
‘Rosewood guitars have always been perceived as a premium,' says Huss, ‘but in fact the price of the two woods is nearly the same, and mahogany requires the extra step of staining.'
On a guitar which is beautifully turned out, with an immaculately buffed, all-gloss catalysed urethane finish and super-clean internals, the trim is tasteful and not overblown.
Coachlined rosewood is used to bind the body and ebony fingerboard, the former including maple/black/white purfling around the front, the latter carrying discreet slotted-square pearl markers at the 5th, 7th and 9th frets.
Herringbone features as part of the soundhole rosette and for the back's centre strip. The peghead, toting a set of pukka Waverlys, is faced with rosewood.
The only minor visual reservation is that the coachlining along the fretboard binding gradually tapers into the table above the neck join.
This isn't an error, simply an effect of a 25ft lateral radius that's built into the guitar's top, necessitating a shallowing of the fingerboard over that area.
Though I reckon it'd look better if the coachlining stopped at the body join for a definite cut-off point, H&D says the radiusing enhances the top's load-bearing properties - and it helps the tone, too.
As on some Martins, the 00-SP's dark-stained, one-piece 632mm-scale neck is fashioned from Spanish cedar, not mahogany.
‘It's a touch lighter in mass than mahogany, and helps the guitar to feel balanced,' says Jeff - and indeed it does.
Secured by a flat-faced bolting system involving three locating dowels and twin bolts, the neck is unequivocally pickers' territory.
It kicks off at over 47mm across the nut, progressing to a super-airy 60mm string spacing at the bridge (where, incidentally, the bridge pins are semi-recessed to provide steeper break angles over the saddle).
This may sound dauntingly broad, but the neck feels snugger than it measures thanks to its gently V'd, moderate-depth profile.
Even for a smaller-mitted player like myself, it proves comfortable and accessible (within the confines of a 12-fret design), and is superb for fingerstyle - the prime raison d'être of 00s.
You'll be hard pushed to find a more boisterously voiced 00 than this Huss & Dalton. It really pumps out the volume, to an extent that would shame some larger 000s and OMs.
This projective muscle is matched by excellent and fast dynamics, resulting in a truly responsive instrument.
Tonally, it might lack some of the fluidity of a bigger-bodied acoustic, but the bright, attacking timbre is a positive aspect of its personality and is backed by a generous amount of depth plus that kind of hollow front end that typifies the 00 genre.
It's a very engaging player.