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Tried a TON of acoustics today. (Long)

Discussion in 'Acoustic Heaven' started by Jakedog, Sep 30, 2020.

  1. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    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.
     
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  2. GGardner

    GGardner Friend of Leo's

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    Fun read, thanks. Which Takamine models did you like?
     
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  3. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    They had two. The EF341C “Legacy”, and the PD3C. I preferred the PD3. But both were very good.
     
  4. Middleman

    Middleman Friend of Leo's

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    Yeah, I did the GC thing on Gibson and Martin guitars as well as Sam Ash a few months back. Really bad setups made them hard to evaluate. I ended up at a local shop in Laguna Beach that had a richer selection and offered free setup prior to taking it home. I wonder if these manufacturers send GC seconds because their acoustics were definitely a notch below the same models I encountered elsewhere. I picked up a really nice D35 which sounded and played better than 7 other guitars I tried in various GCs and Sam Ash.
     
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  5. Kevin Wolfe

    Kevin Wolfe Tele-Meister

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    Man, you deserve a session with a higher end Larrivee. Make you wanna throw rocks at a Taylor.
     
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  6. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I used to sell Larrivees. Back in the day. Very nice guitars. Incredible workmanship. Although super prone back then to cracking with humidity swings. Don’t know if they’re still like that. No dealers around here.
     
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  7. 985plowboy

    985plowboy Friend of Leo's

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    Sounds like a fun afternoon.
    Last few times I’ve strolled through either the NOLA or Baton Rouge GC there were many more empty spots on the walls than guitars.
    Perhaps I shall make a GC run.
     
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  8. GGardner

    GGardner Friend of Leo's

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    Just another reason to stick to the used market.
     
  9. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    On the seconds thing- I’ve heard this asserted or wondered about many times. I think it’s a silly notion. Why would any manufacturer send their dregs to the dealer who sells 5-10 times more of their stuff than anybody else on earth? It’s fashionable on the internet to dislike GC or to pontificate on how their days are numbered, but the fact of the matter is they sell far, far more guitars than anybody else.

    it’s far more likely that smaller chains and dealers just spend more time setting stuff up and dialing it in.
     
  10. cravenmonket

    cravenmonket Tele-Holic

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    I would tend to agree - I have been generally unimpressed with Martins below the 18 series, and there's a jump up to the 28 series which makes it worth stretching a bit further to get one if you can. The 18 series are nice, solid, reliable workhorse guitars which age brilliantly.

    With a 28 series you get slightly higher grade tonewoods, and obviously a little more decorative detail. Full disclosure: I have a D28 and a 00028 and they're both achingly lovely guitars which I wouldn't part with unless forced at knife point. I feel blessed but I don't believe I "got lucky" with them. Martin is making some very consistently high quality guitars in their US factory today. I got them both new and I don't regret anything.

    Martin is a HUGE company making thousands of instruments, and like Fender they are trying to appeal to every price point, including the entry-level. But the entry level guitars are not worth the money you pay for the name on the headstock. Just my opinion...
     
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  11. aging_rocker

    aging_rocker Tele-Afflicted

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    I think that's probably very true, yep. The 'big' stores probably only have the time for a quick 'once-over' before they go out.
     
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  12. Dan R

    Dan R Poster Extraordinaire

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    Nice read and perspective, Jakedog. I've maintained for a while you can't get out cheap on an acoustic guitar. Even a grand really won't get you much. I guess that quality wood and workmanship costs $2-3K. It's shocking to many new players.

    FWIW, I'm a Gibson kind of guy on acoustics. Many good boutique makers, but certainly not cheap.
     
  13. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Not even that. I worked for a couple twenty years or so ago. Event then, when the people who ran them actually cared about guitars, they didn’t get any special attention. We just unboxed them and tossed them on the wall. If it was a slow day, we might have time to give them a quick, ballpark tuning.

    Contrast that with the mom and pop store I worked for in high school, where every single instrument that came in got unboxed, thoroughly checked over, dialed in, and tuned up with the strings stretched. Of course a big shipment for that store was 8-10 guitars, and getting them all ready and displayed took most of a work day. Now imagine that when I worked for GC we might get 25-40 in a shipment, and twice that at Christmas time. They sometimes we never even opened the boxes. Just stuck signs with price tags on them.
     
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  14. Greggorios

    Greggorios Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Thanks for taking the time to write the OP @Jakedog. Very thoughtful and clear. I'll be checking those Tak models next opportunity.
     
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  15. P Thought

    P Thought Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Your post gives an old Takamine nut like me the flutters! I like the ones best with the one and three-quarter inch nut. Thanks, Jakedog
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  16. stormsedge

    stormsedge Friend of Leo's

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    I've had mine since new in '76. Sounds better every year.

    IMG_7722.JPG
     
  17. kingofdogs1950

    kingofdogs1950 Tele-Afflicted

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    Sounds like a fun afternoon.
    It's been a while since a chance to run the racks and try out a bunch of guitars.
    Back in the day, I lived close to Fuller's which was a huge stocking dealer for Gibson acoustics.
    Lots of uncommon stuff that Fuller's special ordered.
    Cost me some $$ too.

    Markrk
     
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  18. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

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    Well said. That’s all any opinion is worth.
    I was in GC about a year ago, just browsing and checking out the Taylor’s with the new bracing. Some dude was playing a J45 which sounded magnificent to my ears. I complimented the fellow’s playing and he said thanks but he found the Gibson lacking. IMO, it sounded just like it should and what I prefer for a full size guitar.
    One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. We all have different tastes.
     
  19. fishermike

    fishermike Tele-Meister

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    Agree that MIM Martins are unimpressive. The Standard series and up is where the action is at, though you'll find some who swear by the -15 and -17 series as well. 18s and 28s are the same animals, only difference that I'm aware of in the current lineups is hog or EIR B&S. Despite the "Martin sound", voicing is very different depending on body size and bracing pattern, among other things. My 00-28 is very balanced across all strings, as are most of the smaller-bodied Martins. But yes, Martin dreads boom, especially the rosewood ones.

    Curious why you don't consider Epiphone to be Gibson's import line? Pretty sure that's what Gibson considers them to be! :) They don't say "Gibson" on them, but they are owned by Gibson and make Gibson designs (Dove, Hummingbird, L-00, jumbos, etc, though they do a lot more on the electric side with the LPs and ES-xxxs). Martin and Taylor just use the Martin and Taylor names for their non-MIA stuff, trading on (cheapening?) the value of the name. Seems like Gibson is just a little more up-front about what you're getting. Though I don't want to get banned for saying anything nice about Gibson, lol!

    Taks have plenty of fans, sounds like they made another one. Glad you got out there and enjoyed yourself!

    No kidding! Not to mention that an acoustic is going to sound very different to someone in front of the guitar vs. the one who's playing it. I've thought about having soundports installed in a few of mine for that very reason.
     
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  20. LAPlayer

    LAPlayer Tele-Meister

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    Epiphone IS Gibson's import line, for the most part. As fishermike stated.
     
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