Things To Keep In Mind When Buying An Acoustic or Acoustic/Electric Guitar
Buying a New Acoustic or Acoustic/Electric Guitar
The acoustic and acoustic/electric guitar market is confusing at best but what’s worse is that it might be construed as being full of loopholes and underhanded trickery. There are a multitude of acoustic guitar brands, some familiar and some not so well known. In my opinion the “Big-4” are Martin, Gibson, Taylor and Takamine. Gibson is the only company that competently makes top end electric guitars and is equally adept at crafting a truly superior acoustic guitar(Acoustic/electrics included). The other three are primarily acoustic luthiers although all have dabbled with producing electric guitars during the 80’s hair band era. Martin came out with the “Stinger”, Takamine with the “Flying A”(Sometimes known by another similar but less acceptable name) and I believe Taylor is still in the electric guitar market with their solid bodies and the T-5. In recent years I have been disappointed in all but Gibson who maintains it’s American integrity. If you see “Gibson” on the headstock you can rest assured your guitar was made in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. Not so true with the other three. Martin has started making their lower end acoustic models in Mexico. When I think Martin I think Nazareth, Pa. not Navojoa, Mexico but if you see an “X” in the model number chances are it was made in Mexico. Taylor’s lower end guitars are made in Tecate, Mexico. Takamine, on the other hand, chose China for their G-series acoustics and Singapore for the D-series. Few music retailers are up front about the country of origin of these famous maker guitars in their advertising. Often, the guitar companies themselves don’t list the country of manufacture in their descriptions, opting for a sound hole surprise for their uninformed customers. Caveat emptor.
Solid Wood vs. Laminates
Most people think all guitars are made of solid wood, but then, they would be mistaken. Most guitars under $1500 are composed of a solid top(Not always)usually spruce(Not always) and laminate back and sides in reference to the guitar’s body. A laminate consists of two pieces of wood veneer(Thin sheets of wood) glued together. Some laminates sound very good and resonate well while others leave much to be desired. A solid wood back and sides seems to have become a premium appointment in guitar construction. It has been my experience that if the description of a guitar does not say “Solid Wood Back & Sides” chances are they are laminates. The key words are “Solid Wood”. A common problem, aside from the resonance factor in laminated wood, is it’s tendency to warp. Different types of wood have different characteristics and tolerances to humidity and temperature change. If one of the wood sheets in the laminate has a lower humidity tolerance than the other and begins to warp, it will stress the lamination(glue) and adversely affect the integrity of the guitar’s construction. Some guitars have laminate necks. Martin makes an acoustic(DRS series) with a laminate neck as do several other companies. It seems recently that you, as a customer, are paying for a name on the headstock rather than the tradition of superior construction that has been C.F. Martin’s legacy. One of their Performing Artist models($1399 at Guitar Center in November 2012) has “Solid East Indian rosewood back and sides” but sports a “Richlite fingerboard and bridge”. According to Wikipedia, Richlite is made from a combination of recycled paper and phenolic resin. Perhaps Richlite is a superior fretboard material, I don’t know, but for $1399 I’d prefer a solid wood, like rosewood or even maple. I don’t mean to pick on Martin which is an iconic guitar brand with very excellent instruments in their higher end($2000 range) guitars. The same laminated construction can be found on lower end Takamine and Taylor guitars among others.
Korea: The New Kid on the Asian Block
Starting with the Teisco company back in 1946 Japan has made great strides in guitar construction, design and respectability over the years. Companies like Takamine and K. Yairi now enjoy luthiery prominence all over the world alongside their American peers; Gibson, Martin and Taylor. I believe that this success was the direct result of the tenacity of the Japanese people coupled with the country’s history of time honored craftsmanship. My favorite guitar is my own Alvarez-Yairi JY-84 Jumbo that features select woods, elegant appointments and meticulous attention to detail. The upper tier Takamines are superior instruments as well and serve as a tribute to Japanese luthiery excellence. In 1972 Hyun Kwon Park a Korean luthier started the Sung-Eum Music Co. Ltd. in the basement of his home and began creating classical guitars for the Korean market. The company expanded and eventually Hyun’s son Jae joined the company in 1986 and changed it’s name to Crafter. Jae wanted to focus the company’s attention toward craftsmanship and entered the international market with a line of acoustic and acoustic/electric models. In the face of fierce competition from it’s already established American and Japanese counterparts, Crafter slowly began to emerge as a force to be reckoned with. In recent years Crafter has gained tremendous credibility in the acoustic guitar market. I personally own a Crafter guitar although the name Breedlove appears on the headstock. At first I was skittish about the thought of buying a Korean guitar but eventually I put my faith in Breedlove’s reputation and took a chance when I found Crafter was building them. I was not disappointed but rather overwhelmingly surprised. I won’t go into detail now but will save the details of my new guitar for a future review in an upcoming hub. I will say that the guitar was very, very good in both construction and sound quality.
Do Your Homework!
When buying an acoustic or acoustic/electric guitar it’s important to do a little research. Know what you’re buying. In this competitive, global economy it seems companies in general, not just guitar companies, are more focused on profits and longevity than anything else. Most guitar companies have their under brands that are well known to have lesser quality than the “Name Brand”. Gibson has Epiphone, Martin has Sigma, Takamine has Jasmine and Taylor has, well, I guess the 100 & 200 series. Name brands don’t mean the same thing that they used to. Do your research online. Peruse the different guitar brands and compare the product details against the details offered by online music retailers. The truth is out there somewhere. Remember the key words, “Solid wood” and “Laminate”. Compare electronics and “Country of origin”. E-bay is a very informative source for determining what a particular model is worth or will be worth in the future. E-bay sellers often lists details about a particular model that may be hard to find elsewhere. Use Harmony Central’s User Reviews and Ultimate Guitar which post reviews on many of the popular guitar models. I’ll list the links below. Go to Guitar Center and check one out if you don’t mind an overanxious sales person popping into the acoustic room every 5-minutes trying to rush you. Let your ears and fingers be your guide. The one thing to remember above all others is: Play...
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