Went to the local GC. I went there intending to try a late 70’s Guild D40 they had listed, but it was already gone. They have been re-stocked, and were basically overflowing with guitars. There was a LOT to try out, so I dug in. The following is my basic assessment of the state of new acoustic guitars. It’s my opinion, yours may differ. I’m not here to argue with anybody, just sharing my observations. I first dug into a couple different Gibson and Martin models I’ve been sort of halfway stalking online. I’m glad I haven’t pulled the trigger. I was not terribly impressed. Martin- The MIM stuff is garbage. Sorry, not sorry. I picked up probably a dozen and they all sounded like dull, clunky, cardboard boxes. Which is too bad, because they LOOK great. They’re well put together and detailed. Fit and finish are fantastic. The sound however, is nothing you can’t get from any one of dozens of import brands for less money. The setups are ATROCIOUS. Nuts and saddles cut so high you could drive a truck under them. And almost all had far too much relief in the necks. Which explains a lot of the clunky, dead sounds. This isn’t from sitting around. None of them were there a month ago. This is just bad setup work. I understand leaving room for a player to tailor it to his or her individual taste, but good grief. This is ridiculous. Getting into the lower end MIA stuff wasn’t much better. At the 16 series and associated price range, you start getting an “ok” guitar. Meaning it stops sounding like a cardboard box and has some life and bounce in it. Some great sustain as well. But the voicing... I have a feeling they’re attempting to compensate for a lesser (though still very nice) wood quality and build techniques with an exaggerated voicing style. Everything sounded super scooped. Huge, booming, thunderous lows, and tinny and strident highs, with nothing in the middle. At first it sounds big, but compared to higher end models it just sounds empty. Again, assembly is SPOT on. The fit and finish are absolutely beautiful. The setups issues remain intact, although without the excessive neck relief. Gibson doesn’t do an import line, so I started with their studio series. Fit and finish is on par with Martin across similar price ranges. They’re well assembled boxes. Setups are much better, resulting in playability that’s night and day better. And the voicing seems to be more down to earth. They have some mid range to them, and sound better balanced. Although, I still found the highs a bit tinny and ear fatiguing in fairly short order, and the midrange, while present, was fairly honky and nasally compared to higher end models. Both makers hit their stride when they start getting into the $2k-$3k territory. At that point, I feel you really start to hear and feel what these companies legends are all about. Although even at that level, Martin’s setup and playability is still not terribly impressive. Taylor has zip to offer until you get to that range, IMO, and no matter what the price, their electronics are not anything I would pay money for. I do not understand how anybody serious can gig with an expression system. I cannot get a decent sound out of one to save my life. Every working player I know personally, agrees. I will say that at virtually all of their various price points, Taylor is a very well put together guitar. And when you get up into the $3k and higher range, their build quality is as good or better than any boutique builder on earth. At that point, it becomes a personal preference thing, and they just don’t build guitars for “me”. Their voicing and necks just aren’t my thing. So what did I like? New MIJ Takamines take the trophy home today. Hands down. And it’s not even close. First of all, the build, fit, and finish are flat out flawless. The models I played were half the price (around the $1500 range) and built and put together every bit as well, or better, than the guitars from big name American competitors that really got me excited. Setup work was better than all of the competition for action height and playability. Fretwork and nut work were out of this world. Nobody else hit Tak’s marks in these regards. Onboard electronics were better than anything else I tried. Just more natural sounding. The other systems by Baggs and Fishman were pumping out more eq’d and optimized tones, but they didn’t seem as “real”, to me. FWIW- I’m a huge Baggs fan. I think of the Element Active systems as kind of a gold standard. I think the Tak system has an edge over it. Now the most important part- straight acoustic sound. Tak doesn’t have a rep for doing what Martin and Gibson and other high end makers do. They’re a different thing. If you’re looking for a “cannon”, they aren’t it. Move along. I would rate them as much better sounding, and louder, than anything in the MIM Martin range. They aren’t as loud as full sized offerings from Martin and Gibson once you get into comparable price ranges. But they are more balanced. The bass is a little more subdued. They aren’t boomy. This will give them less low end thump in an unplugged acoustic jam situation. But will probably be a big help in mic’d recording where taming excessive bass can be an issue. The mids are very present, but not harsh or honky at all. Nice and warm, they give the impression that they’d help the guitar sit very well in a mix, without having to be turned up really loud. The highs are much nicer and smoother to my ears than other guitars in their price range. More pleasant and less stabbing. The Tak models would *not* be my first choice for a bluegrass circle. They don’t have the volume or punch. Though I think for folk or songwriter circles they could hold their own better than fine. I think for live, amplified performance or recording they have an edge both with their incredible electronics packages, and their extremely balanced sound. There are no harsh peaks or stabbing frequency centers that stick out. Just a very pleasant sounding instrument. With playability through the roof. Extremely comfy necks as well. Narrower at the nut than most of the competitors, but not what I’d call thin or skinny at all. I can see playing one for hours on end with little or no hand fatigue. Extremely ergonomic. I’ve had Pro Series Taks before. And always liked them. Especially for stability and reliability in a touring guitar. But I feel these new models are a serious step up sonically as well. Given all this newfound firsthand knowledge, I’ve changed my mind about the competition, and will be ordering a new Tak very soon. When I really think about it, for what I do, it will be an infinitely more useable workhorse guitar for me than a high end Martin or Gibson, at half the price. While I’d like to own one of those again at some point (I’ve had several of those in the past, as well), the Tak just makes a lot more sense for my applications, and the tonality and playability is light years ahead of anything else in its immediate price range from those competitors. That’s my review. Remember, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it.