I have just been looking back over the past year and thinking about all the guitars I have been lucky enough to have played and tested but, which one was my favourite of the bunch?
When I first thought about that question It seemed like there would be a clear winner but as with all things the answer is not so clear cut. There are reasons why I would like some aspects of one guitar and then prefer certain things about another. However I think if I look at it overall I can at least narrow it down to maybe a top 5.
Through 2018 I have played and tested the following guitars, in no particular order:
Dowina Cabernet D
Dowina Chardonnay GAC
Dowina Marus DE
Dowina Rustica GAC
Vintage Gordon Giltrap VE2000
Vintage VE9000 Roger Williams
Breedlove Pursuit Exotic MY
Breedlove Discovery Concert CE NY
Simon & Patrick Songsmith CH
Harley Benton CLA-15MCE
Eastman AC222CE OV
Tanglewood TW10 Winterleaf
Tanglewood TW2 Winterleaf
Takamine GN71CE NEX
Ibanez AW54 Artwood
So how do you pick a top 5 out of that lot? Well it has to come down to which ones I enjoyed playing the most.
Any of the Dowina guitars could be at the top of the list because they are so nice to play and the sound is just pure quality but my “go to” guitar is the Chardonnay GAC. It is an all solid build guitar with a Solid Dolomite Spruce top, Solid American Walnut back & sides, Ebony fingerboard and bridge, Buffalo bone nut & saddle, Maple binding, Grover Machine Heads, Abalone fretboard inlays. Abalone detailing on bridge pins and beautifully done Open Pore Finish. It sounds incredible and is a delight to play.
Next would be the Yamaha FS-TA. This is based on the Yamaha FS820 so same guitar but with the transacoustic tech added. The standard guitar sounds great but when you add in the transacoustic magic it takes it to a whole new level. Specs are Solid Spruce Top, Layered Mahogany Back & Sides, Rosewood Fingerboard, Nato Neck and Rosewood Bridge. The transacoustic tech adds different types of reverb from small room to large hall and also chorus. The only slight niggle I have and this is from a personal standpoint is that although the nut width is 43mm which would normally be fine, the string spacing is just 10mm and for my hands it can feel a little crowded. I sometimes find that an open string above a fretted note will vibrate off my fingernail but I guess it is just a matter of concentrating more and adapting playing style. Apart from that this is a fantastic guitar and I love playing it.
Starts to get a bit tricky now but I think I would have to go for the Breedlove Pursuit Exotic MY next. This is the sort of guitar you just want to keep picking up. Not only does it sound great but it looks amazing. The grain pattern in the Myrtlewood back & sides is a wonderful thing to behold and Breedlove have done a really nice job of highlighting it. Ok the back and sides on this particular model are layered not solid but, that doesn’t detract too much from the overall sound and feel of the guitar. Specs are Solid Sitka Spruce top, Layered Myrtlewood Back & Sides, Mahogany Neck, Ebony Fretboard and Ebony Bridge. I would definitely have kept this one but it had to go back. Definitely one I would buy in the future though.
I have always been a big fan of Gordon Giltrap so the chance to try his signature guitar the Vintage VE2000GG could not be passed up. Of course this model is not identical to the Rob Armstrong designed one Gordon uses but it is very closely based on it and is a collaboration of Gordon himself, JHS who own Vintage Guitars and Rob Armstrong so it is as close as can be but at a much lower price point. Specs are solid cedar top, mahogany back & sides, mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, Nubone nut and saddle, rosewood bridge, Grover 102 gold tuners and Fishman Presys Blend preamp with Fishman Sonicore pickup. Soundwise I don’t think there is anything like it. It has a very pronounced but controlled bass end with defined mids and highs. It’s a fingerstyle players delight but strums really well too. It is a guitar I am very fond of and I think is definitely a keeper. Oh by the way it comes in a really nice Kinsman fitted hard case and all for around £450. Incredible!
Final mention goes to the Ibanez AE245. This is a pretty much an all Mahogany guitar including solid mahogany top with scalloped x-bracing, layered mahogany back & sides, mahogany neck, ovangkol fingerboard & bridge and bone nut and saddle. Ibanez have put their in-house designed electronics in this guitar so it has the Ibanez T-bar under saddle pickup married to a custom endpin jack integrated preamp and it sounds excellent when plugged in. Finish is high gloss except for the neck which is satin. There is also some really nice detailing on the fretboard in the form of a wood inlayed branch and leaf pattern which runs the full length of the neck along with diamond shape inlayed fret markers. In terms of sound it is mellow and warm as you would expect from mahogany but there is also a distinct sparkle to it along with very defined mids and balanced bass and treble. It’s a lot of fun to play and lends itself well to many different styles.
The great thing about all of the guitars I have played through the year is the quality. From the entry level Epiphone AJ-220S and Fender CD-60S through to the upper mid range of the Dowina Chardonnay each guitar is fantastic value for money and the build quality is so far ahead of where we were back when I started playing guitar in the mid 70’s. It has never been a better time to be an acoustic guitarist!
I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has played one or more of the guitars I have mentioned and to hear your thoughts about them, good or bad. After all we are not all the same and what I might like, you may not and vice versa.
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