Tag: Acoustic Guitar

Fender Paramount PS-220E Review

Fender Paramount PS-220E Review

Fender’s new Paramount PS-220E Parlor is a million kinds of fun. For starters, imagine picking up a little old Stella tucked away in a dusty corner of a garage sale—only to find the action is perfect and the tuners actually work. Then consider the basic joys of any good little acoustic: how easy it is to hold, how light it is, how little room it takes up when you leave it sitting around the living room waiting for whatever spark of inspiration hits at random. The PS-220E dishes oodles of those small pleasures. And while the price isn’t exactly small for an imported instrument of this stature, the playability and versatility are equal to much more expensive instruments.


All Dressed Up

There are a lot of reasons the Paramount sells for a somewhat premium price. It’s charmingly handsome—in no small part because of the detail work that reveals itself up close. The purfling, rosette, and backstrip are fashioned around a pretty feather-and-checker pattern of blue, green, and red that alternate with spaces of antique white. The entire neck and headstock are bound, and quite immaculately at that. The ovangkol fretboard inlay and headstock overlay are classy and understated but feel that extra bit luxurious. The visual charm is reinforced by a subtle chocolatey burst finish on the solid mahogany top. And while the solid mahogany back and sides are made from what some might call rough grain, the rustic effect works in harmony with the fancier details to create a sort of restored antique look.

While the price isn’t exactly small for an imported instrument of this stature, the playability and versatility are equal to much more expensive instruments.

You certainly can’t complain about the detail work on the guitar’s exterior. Adding so many visual treats means more spots where workmanship can go wrong. But everything from the frets to the binding, purfling, and inlays are pretty much perfect. Inside, things are less so. There is evidence of sloppy gluing and less-than-precise kerfing cuts—none of which have any bearing on the sound. But the price of the guitar does leave you longing for a tidier touch on that count.

Sit and Strum Awhile

If you imagined the perfect guitar for sitting down with after a long workday, or the ideal songwriting partner that you drag from the garden to the beach to the living room and down to the studio, it might feel a lot like the Paramount PS-220E. The action is delectably low, and you can vigorously strum barre chords from the 1st fret to the 12th without hearing any buzzing or clanking strings. The C-profile neck is just substantial enough to make you feel like you’re not squeezing to fret effectively, but slim enough that you can move around quickly. The easy playability means the PS-220E very handily transcends simple strummer roles. Fingerstyle moves and complex chords are made significantly easier for the low action and nice set-up, which can give you a lot of confidence for stretching your playing. It’s great for leads for the same reasons. Occasionally there is a slight sense of disappointment because the small parlor body can only generate so much muscle for these applications. And there is inevitably some limits to the dynamic range you can generate. That said, the PS-220E has impressive headroom for a guitar of this size. And pushing it to its limits rarely creates any harsh overtones.

The Fishman Sonitone Plus undersaddle pickup and preamp are, in general, an effective addition to the PS-220E. The tones most suited to the guitar tend to live in the lower third of the tone control’s range, and I generally played with the volume as low as possible to soften any undersaddle transients. Hard strumming, needless to say, brought out the least flattering of these sounds. But the Sonitone could sound quite sweet in fingerstyle situations, which makes it a nice fit for the very fingerstyle-friendly PS-220E.

The Verdict

It’s hard to find a reason to complain about any aspect of the PS-220E’s performance or playability. It feels fantastic—at times like a natural extension of your body. And if you struggle at all with hand or body fatigue from wrestling with a bigger instrument, it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable alternative. But the PS-220E is appealing for many reasons beyond comfort. The playability makes it a much more direct line between your musical intuition and imagination, which is a pretty invaluable thing whether you’re a songwriter or tackling a challenging tune or arrangement. It’s a good thing the PS-220E is as stylish and easy to play as it is, because $829 is pretty steep for an import instrument. But regardless of price or place of manufacture, you can’t argue that the PS-220E is a pure joy to hold and play.

Gear Finds: Acoustic Edition 2022

Check here for some of the latest and greatest acoustics in 2022!


SE P20

The PRS SE P20 is a parlor-sized acoustic with a
big voice. Boasting traditional parlor features
like sweet, midrange tone, historic vibe, and easy
portability, the PRS SE P20 also brings a unique
voice to players. The PRS hybrid “X”/Classical
bracing locks down the back and sides while
allowing the top to freely vibrate, allowing the
PRS SE P20 to project with even, bold tone, while
the all-mahogany construction provides an organic
warmth to the guitar. Its smaller size keeps
playing fun and comfortable for hours, so whether
writing, recording, or performing the P20 is sure
to impress.

Available in three satin finishes with herringbone
rosettes and accents, PRS SE Parlor acoustics look
as good as they sound. Other high-quality features
include a solid mahogany top, ebony fretboard and
bridge, bone nut and saddle, as well as PRS
trademark bird inlays and headstock design.

SE P20E

The PRS SE P20E is a parlor-sized acoustic with a big voice. The PRS P20E features all-mahogany construction, and has an organic, warm voice. Featuring PRS hybrid “X”/Classical bracing, which allows the top to freely vibrate, the SE P20E projects with even, bold tone. Its smaller size makes playing for hours fun and comfortable and allows for more convenient transport.

Parlor-sized acoustics can be miscategorized because of their size but make no mistake this is a professional-grade instrument. Plug in, and the PRS-Voiced Fishman Sonitone pickup system delivers dynamic, organic tone, so whether writing, recording, or performing the P20E is sure to impress. This electronics system features an undersaddle pickup and soundhole mounted preamp with easy-to-access volume and tone controls, which essentially transforms what some may consider a “couch guitar” into a workhorse stage instrument.

SE T40E

The PRS SE T40E pairs ovangkol back and sides with a solid spruce top for full, lush tone. When matched with PRS hybrid“X”/Classical bracing, which allows the top to freely vibrate, the SE T40E’s voice projects with breathtaking volume and delicate nuance. The Tonare Grand body shape delivers a familiar feel and a thunderous tone, well suited for picking and fingerstyle playing.

Plugged in, the PRS-Voiced Fishman Sonitone pickup system delivers dynamic, organic tone and allows players to easily take this guitar from rehearsal to the stage. This electronics system features an undersaddle pickup and soundhole mounted preamp with easy- to-access volume and tone controls.

Additional high-quality features include a solid spruce top, ebony fretboard and bridge, bone nut and saddle, as well as PRS trademark bird inlays and headstock design. Ships with a high-quality hardshell case.

SE A40E

The PRS SE A40E pairs Ovangkol back and sides with a solid spruce top for full, lush tone. When matched with PRS hybrid“X”/Classical bracing, which allows the top to freely vibrate, the SE A40E’s voice projects with breathtaking volume and delicate nuance. The Angelus Cutaway body shape delivers comfort and playability, well suited for picking and fingerstyle playing.

Plugged in, the PRS-Voiced Fishman Sonitone pickup system delivers dynamic, organic tone and allows players to easily take this guitar from rehearsal to the stage. This electronics system features an undersaddle pickup and soundhole mounted preamp with easy-to-access volume and tone controls.

Additional high-quality features include a solid spruce top, ebony fretboard and bridge, bone nut and saddle, as well as PRS trademark bird inlays and headstock design. Ships with a high-quality hardshell case.

SE A60E

The PRS SE A60E pairs ziricote back and sides with a solid spruce top. The tone favors a full bottom end with rolled-off highs reminiscent of some vintage acoustic guitars. When matched with PRS hybrid “X”/Classical bracing, which allows the top to freely vibrate, the SE A60E’s voice projects with breathtaking volume and delicate nuance. The Angelus Cutaway body shape delivers comfort and playability, well suited for picking and fingerstyle playing.
Plugged in, the PRS-Voiced Fishman Sonitone pickup system delivers a dynamic, organic tone and allows players to easily take this guitar from rehearsal to the stage. This electronics system features an undersaddle pickup and soundhole mounted preamp with easy-to-access volume and tone controls.
The SE A60E is beautifully appointed with abalone and figured maple accents. Additional high-quality features include a solid spruce top, ebony fretboard, and bridge, bone nut, and saddle, as well as PRS trademark bird inlays and headstock design. Ships with a high-quality hardshell case.

SE Hollowbody II Piezo

The SE Hollowbody II Piezo combines the balanced, clear, resonant tone of a hollowbody instrument with the power and stability of a solid-body electric guitar. The 58/15 “S” pickups deliver clarity and balance that sound big and musical in a hollowbody platform.

Boasting an LR Baggs/PRS Piezo system, the SE Hollowbody II Piezo provides musicians with the versatility of wielding both acoustic and electric tones in one instrument. Players can plug into the “Mix/Piezo” jack and use the individual volume controls to blend the 58/15 “S” pickups with the piezo’s acoustic tones. Alternatively, players can plug into the jacks separately, so the guitar can run magnetic pickups into an amp and run the piezo through an acoustic amp or DI into the soundboard. This is the most versatile SE instrument in the Series twenty-year history.

Advanced Acoustic Series

The Advanced Acoustic series represents an important step forward in the long and storied tradition of the acoustic guitar. In what amounts to a fully reimagined acoustic experience, these instruments were designed from the ground up to deliver a richer, brighter, and louder tone, with an unprecedentedly wide dynamic range. With slightly larger than typical proportions, Ibanez decided to name this new body shape the “Grand Dreadnought.” This reinvented design achieves a superb, powerful sound, and thanks to the extensive consideration given to the ergonomics, it’s extremely comfortable to play. The Advanced Acoustic series pushes the acoustic guitar to new heights in a way that promises an exciting experience for all players.

PA Series

The PA acoustic series from Ibanez affords fine-tuned fingerstyle playability and tone to a wider range of musicians by offering some of the key elements from the JGM signature models at a more accessible price point. The PA300E features a uniquely shaped asymmetrical jumbo body made from a solid German Spruce top and Pau Ferro back and sides. The 5-piece African Mahogany / Pau Ferro neck features a wider 45mm nut, allowing more space between strings for precise note access, a critical element for fingerstyle. The PA300E also features an extremely unique three-pickup system paired with an Ibanez custom preamp with three individual volume controls for the magnetic pickup, under-saddle pickup, and contact pickup. It also has stereo outputs for tailored signal routing options. The PA230E is largely similar except the top is made of Cedar and the back and sides are Okoume.

Altstar

The Ibanez Altstar is the perfect option for the aspiring electric guitarist with a drive to explore the world of acoustics. Its compact dreadnought body, 15.7” fingerboard radius, tighter string spacing, and 25.5” scale was all chosen to offer electric guitarists a seamless transition to acoustic playing. The Altstar line also offers one more surprise; the neck joins the body at the 16th fret rather than the 12th. This small but important feature, along with a single-cut body, affords unparalleled upper fret access offering uninhibited and comfortable playing in any register.

UKC100 and UKS100

The UKC100 and UKS100 are concert and soprano-sized ukuleles, both featuring a side sound port for accurate, natural acoustic tone. These Ukuleles also feature creative build elements that deliver major improvements in tone and playability. They both feature a neck joint at the 14th fret rather than the 12th, which offers significant benefits in terms of higher fret access. This design modification also allows the bridge to be positioned more towards the center of the instrument, producing improved volume and tone. Taller frets afford a faster and more accurate playing experience, and a reshaped, more rounded neck heel greatly improves playing comfort. The top, back, and sides of the instruments are made of Sapele, while the neck is a single piece of Okoume. The fretboard and bridge are made of Purpleheart, and each has an open-pore finish for better acoustic resonance and projection.

UKC100 and UKS100

The UKC100 and UKS100 are concert and soprano-sized ukuleles, both featuring a side sound port for accurate, natural acoustic tone. These Ukuleles also feature creative build elements that deliver major improvements in tone and playability. They both feature a neck joint at the 14th fret rather than the 12th, which offers significant benefits in terms of higher fret access. This design modification also allows the bridge to be positioned more towards the center of the instrument, producing improved volume and tone. Taller frets afford a faster and more accurate playing experience, and a reshaped, more rounded neck heel greatly improves playing comfort. The top, back, and sides of the instruments are made of Sapele, while the neck is a single piece of Okoume. The fretboard and bridge are made of Purpleheart, and each has an open-pore finish for better acoustic resonance and projection.

AEGB24E

The AEGB24 features an AEG body shape with a Sapele top, back and sides. The scale length is 32”, which affords a comfortable reach and playing position. Other notable features include a 3-piece Nyatoh/Maple neck, acrylic rosette, and die-cast tuners, along with a Walnut fretboard and bridge. The onboard electronics include an under-saddle pickup paired with an Ibanez AEQ-2T preamp equipped with an onboard tuner. The preamp delivers flexible tone-shaping possibilities with individual controls for volume, treble, and bass frequencies. This model also features a removable, extra-long finger rest, allowing the player to find a comfortable resting spot for their right hand across a wide span of the instrument. The bass is offered in two finishes, Mahogany Sunburst Gloss and Black High Gloss.

JGM Series

The Ibanez JGM series guitars are the signature instruments of Jon Gomm and represent an exciting advancement in the design of fingerstyle acoustics. They feature a number of unique specifications, not least of which is a distinctive asymmetrical jumbo body. This design enhances acoustic properties and provides ample surface area for the percussive elements of Jon’s playing. The body is made of a Thermo Aged™ Solid Sitka Spruce top and Pau Ferro back, and sides. The body also has Thermo Aged™ Spruce, Modified X-M bracing, helping to deliver lows that are more pronounced and brighter high end. The electronics include a Fishman® Rare Earth Mic Blend active sound hole pickup and Tap pickup, paired with Fishman’s Power Tap Earth Blend Preamp. The electronics offer an extremely organic sound that preserves the brilliant acoustic properties of these instruments.

Natura G550RCEL

Left-Handed Guitarists: mid-priced acoustic-electric with an Ergonomic Armrest seeking partner to make beautiful music.

“Wow, the armrest really helps keep from cutting off blood circulation when I’m practicing and feels like I’m playing a smaller instrument. Responds nicely both to some intimate playing, and has nice character when you hit it a little hard; it responds with a good full low end and is still crisp and clear.” ~ Sean Harkness, NYC

The NATURA G550RCEL is a Left-handed acoustic-electric featuring an Ergonomic Armrest for comfort. The G550RCEL is a solid Spruce top Grand Auditorium Cutaway with weight reducing Low-Mass bracing. It has a voice that is focused and harmonically complex and suitable for left-handed players looking for the volume of a full-sized instrument and the comfort of a smaller body. A Glass-fibre reinforced neck ensures a lifetime of neck stability.

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Elite Series Hanging Guitar Stand

We love metal at Gator – both the head-banging and physical types. While our metal stands are great for the stage and studio, they don’t always blend into their environment. Sometimes you need something more elegant and adaptable to the overall vibe of

your living room or studio furniture, which is exactly what the Elite Guitar Hanging Stands by Gator Frameworks provide – simplicity with an aesthetic to match any home or studio décor. These stands satisfy all types of players by providing a comfortable fit for most electric, bass and acoustic guitars. Show off your collection with style!

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BiX Instrument Preamp, EQ and DI

The Grace Design BiX preamp shares the exact same DNA of its bigger siblings, FELiX2 and ALiX, but with an intelligently streamlined feature set and a price that puts it in reach of any performer, whether on your way to the coffee shop or the Megadome. BiX delivers maximum clarity and detail for any plugged in instrument, with dead simple controls – input gain, high and low shelving EQ, and a 10dB variable boost circuit, with footswitches for mute and boost. I/O includes instrument input, separate send and return insert jacks, an unbalanced line output, and a balanced ISO DI output on XLR. And BiX is pedalboard friendly, with a 9VDC power input and a compact, rugged low-profile chassis. Visit www.gracedesign.com for complete details.

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Riversong Glennwood TS6 Review

The first and perhaps most important thing to know about Riversong’s Glennwood TS6 is that it aspires to hybridize elements of electric and acoustic guitars. This is not a new idea—certainly not in the amplified acoustic era, where the straightest route to eliminating feedback is by reducing the resonant elements that cause feedback in the first place. Some acoustic/electrics achieve these ends by slimming bodies down to electric-guitar thickness. Riversong, however, sticks to traditional acoustic formula by making the TS6 a full-sized instrument. Its dimensions are a little bit atypical: the 16″ wide body and 4 3/4″ thickness are about the same size as Martin’s “jumbo” J body and the Taylor Grand Pacific. The pretty silhouette also echoes the curvaceousness of those larger guitars. Those similarities sometimes feel like an exception, though. At nearly every other turn, the TS6 very happily breaks the acoustic design mold.


 A Nuts-and-Bolts Approach

You don’t have to look very hard or be an acoustic guitar construction expert to see that there is a strong deconstructive thread in the Riversong’s design. The gap in the top behind the bridge, the slim heel, and, above all, the bracing and neck-through build are major breaks from classic acoustic design philosophy. These very overt differences are also a clue to how the Riversong stretches the definition of what an acoustic guitar is.

Most tradition-minded acoustic builders would consider the small space aft of the bridge detrimental to a resonant top. And few would opt for the bolt-on neck and through-body re-enforcement that runs the length of the body. These obvious deviations from acoustic design dogma are just the start. Peek through the side port and you’ll see “skeletized” bracing that looks like sections of a cantilever bridge in miniature. Adjustment to the action and neck tilt? They’re made with an Allen key that you place through an access cavity on the back of the guitar at the heel.

All these very unconventional elements are executed at a very high level of workmanship. I failed to find a construction miscue anywhere. The fretwork is pretty much perfect and the solid wild cherry back and sides, Sitka spruce top, maple neck, and walnut fretboard are all shaped and put together with obvious care.

Electrified Vibrations

Considering that the TS6’s primary mission is that of a hybrid electric/acoustic—and that so many of its fundamental design elements would traditionally be considered detriments to acoustic tone—the TS6 sounds pretty good unplugged. If I had to guess, I’d venture that the Jumbo-like dimensions were adopted, in part, to offset the diminished volume and overtones that could result from the neck-through design. Yet the TS6 is notably resonant, particularly in the low-midrange, and exhibits nice sustain. It may not be as loud or detailed as a dedicated acoustic of similar dimensions, but it holds its own, and the combination of projection from the side port and soundhole creates a nice composite sound image that would be well worth miking and doubling with the pickup signal in a studio or on a quiet stage.

The combination of projection from the side port and soundhole creates a nice composite sound image that would be well worth miking and doubling with the pickup signal in a studio.

The TS6’s amplified qualities and its electric-like playability are the main attraction, though. The Fishman Flex undersaddle pickup and preamp hold up pretty well to hard strumming without getting quacky, but the guitar and pickup work best together in dynamic fingerstyle settings. I tended to work from fairly tame tone settings on both the TS6 and the Fishman Loudbox I used for amplification, but the TS6 left ample headroom for adding sparkle to the basically well-rounded tonal foundation. Playability, as advertised, is excellent for a flattop. The 16″ fretboard radius and jumbo frets make it easy to fret with a light touch. The 1 5/8″ nut width and the neck profile (which to me felt at various times like a 1960s Guild or a Rickenbacker) also conspire to lend a very electric-feeling experience. The neck-thru system’s ability to facilitate and withstand pitch-bending neck wobbles also checks out just as Riversong claims. I can’t remember using an acoustic in this fashion so readily, dramatically, and with such negligible effect on tuning stability.

The Verdict

At around $2,000, the TS6 is a flattop for players committed to the unconventional or performers that can also afford to keep a classic flattop around for recording pure acoustic tones (if they are concerned with such expressions). It’s a niche instrument, but it does a brilliant job of blurring the lines between acoustic and electric.

Martin 000-18 Modern Deluxe Review

Martin 000-18 Modern Deluxe Review

It would be easy for a company of Martin’s stature to coast every now and again. Maintaining brand mystique is exhausting in an age when hype rules the day. Keeping quality and substance intact—and maintaining commitment from the folks on the shop floor that deliver it—is even harder. But year in and year out, Martin continues to make instruments that simultaneously dwell in the realms of the practical, the musical, and the exquisite.


At nearly $3,600—a full $1K more than a standard 000-18—it’s a good thing the Martin 000-18 Modern Deluxe looks and feels as luxurious as it does. But while details like a pearl-inlay, 1930s-style script logo, EVO gold frets, and flawless lutherie and woodwork at every turn will make even the most cynical function-before-form grump pause, it’s the functional facets of the 000-18 Modern Deluxe that impress the most.

Building on Perfection

The 000 body (which shares dimensions, more or less, with the OM) is a cornerstone of the Martin line. Mating it to the “18” tonewood formula, which combines mahogany back and sides, adds up to a guitar that, to many ears, is the essence of balance and sweetness. So how does one refine something that’s so near perfect to begin with? Well, even in the case of an architectural masterpiece there’s always room for a little tasteful landscaping, and Martin has done a fair bit of that here. The 1930s-style logo is inlaid in pearl, while the body binding is East Indian rosewood—a very subtle but rich contrast to the mahogany and beautiful wheat-colored torrefied Sitka spruce top. The bookmatched, 2-piece top has a beautiful grain pattern with medullary rays that add a sense of almost watery depth and a classy, not-overbearing hint of flame out at the edges. I’d imagine our review guitar will be a joy to watch age. The gold, open-gear Waverly butterbean-style tuners may be the most overtly “deluxe” appointment on the guitar. But they are a stylistically cohesive element and feel super smooth and precise.

The additions to the 000-18 that put the “modern” in this very deluxe model include enhancements that appeal to tone scientists that work at the microscopic level: Liquidmetal bridge pins and a carbon composite bridgeplate—components said to improve sustain and volume. Such benefits can be very hard to qualify without a raft of test equipment at your side. But I did sense a more immediate, sometimes explosive, response, which also seemed to expand the guitar’s already considerably dynamic range. If you’ve ever checked out a 000-18 and been at all disappointed with its capacity for fast response, this version could alter your perception. Other non-traditional elements have more tangible effects, like the asymmetric neck, which puts a little extra mass on the bass side and shifts the apex of the neck in that direction as well. The effect is subtle, especially given that the neck is a bit slim. But with its ability to offer more support for the thumb when barre chording or fretting bass notes, I felt less fatigue—and I was testing this instrument at a time when my hands were feeling like a mess. However subtle the effect, I was grateful.

Song from a Siren

There’s another reason that the 000-18 Modern Deluxe feels easy on the hands: The guitar is incredibly even in touch responsiveness and output along the whole length of the fretboard. You’re never squeezing a bit extra here or there to get a note to ring true or free of buzz. Making the connection between thought, instinct, and execution of a note or chord feels like a more fluid and effortless sequence of actions. This quality can have a real upside as you formulate or play melodic sequences, as can the OM-style 1 3/4″ nut width (most 000 guitars have a slimmer 1 5/8″ spacing).

The dynamic response is also superb. Softly plucked notes have substance, body, and complexity. And even a gentle touch with flesh on string gives individual notes blooming, ringing resonance. Approach the 000-18 Modern Deluxe with a more forceful touch and it surprises with big-time headroom and fast reactivity—the kind you more readily associate with rosewood-backed 000s and OMs and bigger bodied D-series dreadnoughts.

The Verdict

Though I tried, I didn’t hear many, if any, weaknesses in the 000-18 Modern Deluxe’s tone makeup—which is what you should expect for (gulp) $3,599. I suppose you could make a case for a sort of new-guitar antiseptic edge in some harder-plucked notes—the kind a torrefied top should help avoid. But I heard nothing that sounded like it wouldn’t mellow over time. And the dynamism of the instrument makes it easy to work around any trace elements of harsh overtones, which are very, very few. Playing a flattop that you feel at one with—ergonomically, tonally, and responsively—is a treat. The 000-18 Modern Deluxe makes it extraordinarily easy to tap into that well of sweetness.

Guitar Prices: An Inflation Study

Guitar Prices: An Inflation Study

After two-and-a-half years of Covid-created mayhem, who doesn’t want to celebrate? And what better way to celebrate survival and better times to come than with a new rig? The bucket list of guitars you’ve wanted for months or even years is long, but this is no time to start at the bottom. Whether it’s a guitar, that otherworldly octave mandolin, or an amp or boutique pedal, it’s time for a reward that only you can deliver. The top item on your list is finally available, you’re ready to buy, but suddenly you notice the price: What the …? Are they kidding? You check other sources but it’s not a misprint, and certainly not a joke. The price of your reward to yourself for sticking it out and staying safe has gone up, and not by just a few bucks. You’ve been eyeing this gear for quite a while and the price hadn’t changed much­—until now. What’s going on?


Welcome to inflation, the killjoy that punishes you for not having purchased something months earlier, perhaps before you could afford it. In retrospect, a few months of additional interest on your credit card would have been a bargain compared to the price increase you’re looking at now. Unless you’ve been living in a cave in the wilderness, you’ve heard about inflation, of course, and noticed it at the grocery store, and you’ve certainly felt it if you’re putting gas in your car. But when inflation hits your music budget, it feels personal, more insulting, and unfair.

The shock a price hike delivers depends more upon your age than you might think. For geezers like this writer, the recent price increases of guitars don’t seem that horrible. But those who started buying guitar gear less than 30 years ago usually began their shopping in a very different pricing landscape, so some time-machine data crunching might help ease the pain. Rather than wade into the Wall Street weeds of charts and graphs tracking inflation over the last several decades, we’ll use the cost of Martin’s venerable D-28 acoustic, partly because it’s so well-known but also because the model was essentially unchanged for so many years.

When inflation hits your music budget, it feels personal, more insulting, and unfair.

C. F. Martin had been forced to raise prices every year in the late ’60s, as labor costs in the U.S. were rising steadily. But inflation hit especially hard in the early ’70s. The cost of building an acoustic guitar like the D-28 was almost all labor—the prices Martin paid for Sitka spruce, East Indian rosewood, mahogany, plus a set of Grover Rotomatics and a case were a small percentage of what you were paying for when you bought a polished and playable dreadnought. Martin’s list price of a D-28 first crossed the $500 line in July 1972, when it went from $495 to $570. The next price increase came only nine months later and was even more painful, going up to $660. Then came two more price increases, and by September 1974 the price had jumped to $770. Those numbers represent a price increase of more than 50 percent between early 1972 and the fall of 1974. No wonder a popular parody of Janis Joplin’s humorous “Mercedes Benz” began:

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a D-Twenty-Eight
My friends all have Martins, how long must I wait?
The prices keep rising, I fear I’m too late,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a D-Twenty-Eight

Yet 20 years later, inflation in North America had long since cooled. Price increases throughout the ’70s and ’80s had taken their toll, and Martin’s D-28 crossed the $2,000 line in 1993 (to $2,060), but then leveled out. Ten years later, the MSRP of a D-28 was still less than $2,500 ($2,469 in 2004). That’s an increase of 20 percent over more than a decade. Needless to say, the young guitar-picker who’d been saving for a D-28 in the late ’90s, when the price was unchanged for five years and then went up only $69, didn’t feel punished for saving. But during the high-flying inflation of the early 1970s, even folk-rockers and the bluegrass faithful, at least when shopping for a new D-28, were singing the blues.

The takeaway from all this? Financial forecasts suggest that inflation isn’t going to back off in the near future. Buying that dream rig now rather than later is probably a good idea, especially if you put it to good use!



Last Call: The Fawn & the Bear

Last Call: The Fawn & the Bear

Playing acoustic guitar is an entirely different experience than playing electric. For that matter, playing an acoustic that’s plugged in is entirely different from playing an acoustic acoustically. Try your normal electric go-to stuff on an acoustic and you’ll probably be disappointed with the results. Plug an acoustic with a pickup straight into a DI or board, and it’s not going to respond or sound like an acoustic in your living room.


As a guitar nerd, I disliked that whole MTV Unplugged series. Mostly it was rockers just strumming away, kumbaya-style, on a harsh-sounding, plugged-in acoustic where you hear the pickup rather than the guitar body. Unless the song was either acoustically friendly or the artist came up with a completely different interpretation of the song, like Clapton did with “Layla,” most acoustic covers of electric songs undermine the guitar part.

Van Halen – You Really Got Me (Acoustic)

In 1978, Eddie Van Halen put his swagger, groove, and ferocious riffs on “You Really Got Me,” and turned a weird Kinks’ tune into a game-changing rock anthem. But watch their 2012 acoustic version: It sounds like a solid but unremarkable player sitting around a campfire. Eddie was a brilliant acoustic player, as “Spanish Fly” from Van Halen’s second album demonstrates, but that was Eddie doing a specific acoustic composition.

Acoustic guitar is a different animal than electric. Ergo, one of the greatest guitarists ever sounds like a mere mortal when trying to make an instrument do what it can’t do. In fact, a basic electric guitar in 1978 wasn’t capable of what Van Halen wanted it to do, so he built his own. But the point of Unplugged was to showcase the song more than the riff.

Most of my session work is on acoustic. I love playing acoustic sessions: low pressure. With electric sessions, you must deal with buzzy amps and scratchy pots that you only hear under the microscope of recording. Take away pedals, amps, pickups, or cables, and nothing goes wrong. There’s rarely equipment failure when you’re not plugged in. But that’s not the only benefit.

“It’s like putting something delicate and sweet, such as a tiny fawn covered in white spots, next to a grizzly bear on its hind legs.”

With electric sessions, there’s pressure to wow the audience with riffs and fresh signature parts. With acoustic, it’s always serve-the-song and rarely look-at-me. Usually you’re laying down a simple, sturdy foundation, supporting the vocals and building the bed for the electric to shred. If done well, it brings out the best in the song and the lead instruments. Acoustic sessions are probably a bit like being a pilot: smooth/simple/routine procedural bits with the occasional terrifying part where you must land a plane with a wing on fire (or play a fast bluegrass solo).

The juxtaposition of an acoustic with an electric is a tried-and-true production approach because those textures work perfectly together. Some of the most epic hard-rocking songs rock all the harder because they start with acoustic. Por ejemplo: Heart’s “Crazy on You,” Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

It’s like putting something delicate and sweet, such as a tiny fawn covered in white spots, next to a grizzly bear on its hind legs. The bear and the electric guitar seem even more powerful and scary by comparison.

That said, an acoustic guitar in the right hands can sound as big and awe-inspiring as a great three-piece band in full flight. Players such as Mike Dawes, Andy McKee, and Marcin Patrzalek cover bass and lead with 6-strings, then add their percussive element by beating on the guitar. They use internal mics and reverb to get a huge drum sound that you can’t pull off on a Tele or Les Paul.

Joe Bonamassa Official – “Woke Up Dreaming” – Live From Royal Albert Hall

On the other hand, masters of bluegrass flatpicking, like Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, and Tony Rice, play single-note melodies that, even when unaccompanied, sound complete. For an amazing example of a hybrid approach, check out Joe Bonamassa’s “Woke Up Dreaming.” At times, it’s classical fingerpicking. Then it’s Al Di Meola-eque blazing, then a hybrid thing that really sounds like two guitar players at once. I’ve listened to that track probably 20 times and I still don’t know how he does it.

Then there’s Tommy Emmanuel, who has everything in his bag. He does the percussive guitar-as-a-drum thing and combines it with Travis thumbpicking and break-neck flatpicking. And Jerry Reed played some of the most complex, funky guitar music ever recorded on his gut-string.

Guitar shredding predates electricity, so it all started on acoustic. Charley Patton, Lonnie Johnson, Skip James, Son House, and the Devil’s own, Robert Johnson (armed with a high-action wooden box with strings bought from a Sears catalog), reimagined what the instrument could do. It’s a long, winding journey, but the road to rock ’n’ roll and blues was paved with acoustic guitars.

Acoustic Guitars and Fender Amps

Acoustic Guitars and Fender Amps

Have you ever tried to plug your acoustic guitar into a classic-style Fender amp? There are some hurdles to overcome, and this month I’ll provide some advice on how to get past them. But first, some background.


Amps made for electric guitars are carefully designed and matched to the voltages and frequency profiles of signals delivered by electromagnetic pickups. An amp sounds best when it does a good job at amplifying or filtering out certain frequencies. So many of us have stumbled upon challenges when the input signal—say from an acoustic guitar or other instrument—is way different than what the amp expects.

A guitar signal is initially created by moving the strings. The more vibrating metal mass closer to the pickup’s magnet, the more magnetic pull and more current is induced inside the coil wire in the pickups. More windings and stronger magnets induce more current, but also reduce brightness and clarity. The coil-wire thickness, wire material, and coating material and thickness also play a role in signal strength and frequency response. The signal voltage produced by a pickup is low—typically between 0.1 and 1V—and contains frequencies between 80 and 1200 Hz.

On the amp side, there are even more factors that amplify or weaken certain frequencies—so-called frequency filtering. Take a vintage Fender Deluxe Reverb. It is designed with specific tubes, resistors, and caps in the preamp stage to amplify a weak input signal and shape it through EQ, mix in some reverb, and transport the result to the power amp circuit, which does three things. First, it splits and duplicates that result into an inverted signal, then it amplifies the two signals as much as possible, and then feeds them into each side of a power transformer that alters the resulting voltage to a suitable level for a loudspeaker. That’s typically 30 to 50V. The speaker cabinet and loudspeaker itself are the final stage in delivering a filtered and amplified guitar tone.

For acoustic guitars I prefer modern American-style speakers that can handle high power and both a firm bass response and a crisp top end.

If you hook up other instruments, like an acoustic guitar or a harmonica with a microphone, and feed an electric guitar amp their signals, you will get totally different results throughout the circuit. You may not get the tone you expect, or, in the worst case, you might damage the amp. But generally, all passive sources with electromagnetic coil pickups are safe to use. This includes piezo pickups mounted to the bridge of an acoustic guitar and vocal microphones. Since they are not powered by an external source like a 9V battery, they are passive and create a weak signal.

You should be careful using electrically powered sources like an acoustic guitar with a battery-powered preamp and EQ. Also, electric pianos, synthesizers, or Bluetooth speakers with mini-jack outputs are dangerous, too, since they can easily blow the loudspeakers due to a wrong volume or EQ setting. Electric pianos can sound very good through a vintage Fender amp. I’ve seen Fender Rhodes keyboards played through Twin Reverbs, and we’ve all heard organs through Leslie/Vibratone speakers, which can be run by Fender guitar amps.

Acoustic guitars with active pickups can be difficult. With typical default amp settings for electric guitar, the tone is narrow and focused around certain mid frequencies. It lacks fullness, top-end clarity, and overall balance. So, I have some tricks you should try if you’re experimenting with this option. First, set all the EQ knobs to 10. This allows the guitar signal to travel through the preamp section with minimum change of tone. Be very careful with volume and start low—at around 1.5—and increase from there. I find big, powerful Fender amps are best for this, since they have plenty of clean headroom and wide EQ possibilities with a full set of bass, mid, treble, and bright-switch controls. And that makes them less prone to howling feedback.

A big speaker cabinet will enhance the low end, allowing the preamp and power amp to relax more without maxing out clean headroom. Remember that the power and energy lie in the bass. I suggest the silver-panel 40-watt Bandmaster Reverb and 85-watt Showman Reverb as practical amp heads for acoustic purposes. I use my Bandmaster Reverb with a 1×12 extension cabinet loaded with an Eminence Maverick. For acoustic guitars, I prefer modern American-style speakers that can handle high power and both a firm bass response and a crisp top end. Speakers are very important for your tone. The guitar’s pickups are also important, together with a correct setup, so the action permits the optimum proximity of the pickups.

Acoustic pickups don’t have to be expensive. They just need to be balanced and clear. A good guitar amp and some careful adjustments of the controls will do the rest.

Pedalboard Options for Your Acoustic Guitar

Whether you’re a professional player, weekend warrior, or a once-in-a-blue-moon open miker, you will likely be put in a position to play both electric and acoustic instruments on a gig. As you’re looking to build your switch-hitting pedalboard, you may find that electric and acoustic guitar processing haven’t exactly been treated equitably in the marketplace. Even a bog-standard electric guitar rig these days is populated with three overdrives du jour and a gaggle of space-age DSP-driven effects culled from a market saturated with bobs and bits intended to fatten your sound and thin your wallet. When compared to the smorgasbord of electric guitar processing products, the selection of acoustic-guitar-specific offerings may seem a bit spartan.


But flattop pickers need not be forlorn! I’ve had the opportunity to build lots of guitar rigs for players who needed to serve both the electric and acoustic parts of a setlist, and there are many options for getting your acoustic signal out of your instrument and into the PA. Some of these builds were biased toward the electric side of things, when acoustic playing was just a small part of the job description, and others were mostly acoustic-minded affairs with just a sprinkling of electric-centric equipment. You’ll need to look at your situation to determine how much board real estate and budget resources you should be allocating to your double-minded setup.

The simplest way to get your acoustic instrument’s sound to the PA is to add a plain old DI to your board. I’d highly recommend the transformer-isolated variety, like the Radial ProDI ($114 street) or, if you can spring for it, something like their J48 ($229 street), which includes a higher-quality Jensen transformer. You can stick this DI to your board with a permanently connected guitar cable and simply plug in your acoustic when you need it. Neutrik silentPLUGs ($12 street) will help you avoid those nasty connecting/disconnecting pops as you transition from electric to acoustic by automatically muting the unused signal chain.

If you wind up sharing effects between acoustic and electric, be cautious about the settings of your overdrives and distortion pedals.

Maybe you’d like to have only one instrument cable into your rig? Put a simple A/B switch in front of your first electric pedal and the DI. Whenever you select your DI, the electric chain will be muted. Turn off the effects in your electric chain, particularly overdrives and distortions, to keep the white noise from the deselected backline amp at a minimum. Switching the A/B selector back to the electric will effectively mute the DI output to front-of-house. You’ll need to be careful here as you can accidentally send electric guitar to FOH or acoustic guitar to your backline amp if you lose track of the state of your A/B switch. You can alter this arrangement by putting additional effects after the A/B switch and in front of your DI or sharing effects in both chains by putting your A/B switch after your electric-guitar effects. If you wind up sharing effects between acoustic and electric, be cautious about the settings of your overdrives and distortion pedals. Accidentally engaging one could lead to some surprising—and painfully loud—results. The line between exciting and execrable can be very thin.

If you want to go beyond the straight piezo-pickup sound of your acoustic, consider acoustic imaging. You can replace your simple DI with something like Fishman’s Aura Spectrum ($399 street) or LR Baggs’ Voiceprint ($399 street), which use impulse responses (IRs) and DSP to produce realistic miked and in-the-room sounds from a humble undersaddle bridge pickup. Alternatively, if your rig already contains something like the Line 6 HX Stomp ($649 street), you can use it to process and route your acoustic signal. Several purveyors produce acoustic IRs that you can load as effect blocks on your Stomp (3 Sigma Audio and Worship Tutorials are two). You can then use your Stomp’s FX send port to connect it to a plain external DI and configure your specific electric and acoustic presets so they output to the correct port. An additional benefit to this type of setup is that you have access to all the HX Stomp effects as well, so compression, modulation, delay, and reverb are readily available for your acoustic processing needs.

Whether you connect your acoustic instrument to the PA via a run-of-the-mill DI or the latest in high-tech signal processing, there are many ways to sound great in our amplified world. Don’t let your electrics have all the fun, bring acoustic signal processing into your pedalboard world!

The Unadorned and Adored Wonders of the Acoustic Guitar

The Unadorned and Adored Wonders of the Acoustic Guitar

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.


By the late 1960s, everybody had to have an acoustic guitar. America’s youth had gone through the Greenwich Village folk boom and entered the West Coast Laurel Canyon scene. Young women who wanted to be Joni Mitchell and Neil Young-inspired men floated on down to local musical instrument emporiums to pick out their badge of artistry. In Europe, folkies blended traditional troubadour tunes with blues and rock, creating a genre that survives to this day. The most fuzzed-out psychedelic combos proudly displayed their introspective acoustic side. Everybody had an acoustic guitar. Of course, country music never forgot. Except for a short interlude of microphone-hugging country crooners, Nashville kept the strum going.

So, what makes the acoustic guitar so indefatigable? First and foremost is the beauty of its sound. Like the violin or the piano, the unadorned guitar has a purity of sound and purpose that is moving in a way electronic instruments are not. In concert, the connection between the musician and the sound the audience hears is undeniable. It’s a tightrope walk, where technology cannot fool the listener. The fewer links in the chain, the closer the bond between performer and patron—and that’s the experience people crave.d

Before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied cowpoke guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again.

Another more practical aspect is portability. Although buskers have more recently turned to elaborate amplifier and looper setups for street concerts, not much beats a great singer accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Certainly, I can’t imagine dragging an amp and a synthesizer down to the beach to jam some Bill Evans while friends roast s’mores. Okay, maybe. But the simplicity of a naked guitar in a dorm hallway or in a coffee shop can be a refreshing break from the relentless attack of electronic pop culture. In a world of autotune, backing tracks, and the layered-to-death ambush of modern music, a fingerpicked guitar is like a walk in the woods on a spring day. The fact that it can be easily taken anywhere makes it the instrument of choice for so many.

Another strong argument for the acoustic axe is its supremacy as an accompanist. Being a singer-songwriter doesn’t leave a lot of viable options. Although Chet Baker managed a career as a crooning trumpeter, playing a horn while vocalizing requires additional backup. Singing while playing the violin isn’t much easier. The piano is probably the most versatile sounding accompanist, but as much as I like Diana Krall, Ray Charles, and Elton John, their instrument of choice forces them to bring the party to the piano, not the other way around. You can argue that the electric guitar is a contender. Unfortunately, the slight portability downside of needing an amp and its tendency to drown out vocals makes it the second choice, whereas the acoustic guitar checks all the right boxes.

This all isn’t to say that an acoustic guitar lacks the ability to deliver impressive soloing performance. Some of the most inspiring and emotionally vibrant instrumental music is delivered on acoustics. The roster of players currently burning up the fretboard in every genre is immense—possibly the most in history. The acoustic guitar’s forte is to bring passionate and thoughtful melody to any song. This secret weapon has been applied to recordings from artists as diverse as the Beatles, Kiss, and Dream Theater. In the rhythm department, the acoustic steel string has been responsible for the foundational power of the Who, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, Guns N’ Roses, and countless other “heavy” bands.

So before you write off the seemingly fragile, hollow-bodied, cowpoke acoustic guitar as the electric’s poorer cousin, think again. They might not be as loud, or as flashy, but they pack an emotional wallop that often flies under the radar. Many decades down the line, I wish I’d paid more attention to what that first student guitar had to offer me. Maybe I’d have kept it, too

A Zillion Strings!? How To Talk to a Luthier About a Custom Build

You’ve visited countless websites, played as many guitars as you could lay your hands on, and zeroed in on the luthier that resonates most with you. You’re ready to take the plunge and your next step is to have a conversation with the builder. You’ll both have lots of questions. Be sure to listen and let them guide you through the process. This is when the fun begins.


From my end, I try to find out why a client has come to me for a guitar. Was it one of my instruments they heard in a recording, at a concert, or one they had the chance to play? I need to learn what they’re looking for. Are they firm on a size, the materials to be used, a particular feel and tone? Can they reference qualities of other recognizable instruments? What guitar do they currently play and what do they like about it, and what don’t they like? Inlays? A zillion strings? Or do they just like the idea of letting the luthier do their own thing? The list grows….

Of the over 500 guitars I have built, pretty much every customer has had a slightly different vision. My job has been to bring that to life, which is why it’s important for clients to communicate their wishes as clearly as possible. Describing how something sounds or feels can get tricky. I once had two clients in the same week use the word “syrupy” to describe sound. What does that word mean to you? For one it was good, for the other it was bad. A word meant completely different things to each of us, so in each case, we had to establish a common language.

“When Pat Metheny asked me to make him a guitar with ‘as many strings as possible’ I had no idea what that might be, but I immediately said ‘yes!’ because I knew he trusted me, so I ran with it.”

By going through my questions, I’ll get an idea about a player and form a profile in my mind. I’m gathering details—preferred body materials, neck, fingerboard, nut widths, string spacing—which will end up in a file with a client’s name on top. For those who don’t know the exact measurements, don’t fear, we can guide you. Luthiers have tried-and-true models we build as a reference, and a custom guitar is often a simple variation of these standards.

Most luthiers give clients the option to select woods from their stock, and I strongly advise letting your builder make the final selection because they know their materials and their history. Each builder has a unique alchemy around which wood combinations work best, so listen—and learn, too. Should you insist on a wood species that the builder has not combined before, he or she may have reservations and need to explore before moving forward. If I’m the builder, and if no immediate alarm bells ring, I try to keep an open mind and will do the research to either proceed or hit the brakes.

After the structural and material details are locked in, decorative options like pearl inlays, marquetry, painting, and finish colors come next. You will have to trust your maker in this department, because artwork takes on a life of its own. If you’ve seen examples of the builder’s work, you know what to expect, and you may have some ideas of your own which the luthier can flesh out later.

Luthiers are generally a polite bunch, and our goal is to make our clients happy, but sometimes we are asked to do things that are outside of our wheelhouse. One example is a client asking a luthier renowned for their archtops to build a harp guitar. One luthier might totally embrace this, while another might not. When I started making guitars, I had to be a “jill of all trades”—see what I did there?—and would build whatever I was asked to, just to keep a roof over my head. This often meant stepping far outside my comfort zone. When Pat Metheny asked me to make him a guitar with “as many strings as possible,” I had no idea what that might be, but I immediately said “yes!” because I knew he trusted me, so I ran with it. The result was the Pikasso guitar, and I am forever grateful for his faith in me and that I grabbed the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

Many folks ordering a handmade instrument are like expectant parents, wanting updates and photos at every stage. We understand your enthusiasm, but please remember that most of us work solo and we literally and figuratively have our hands full, so we can try, but please be patient. And don’t be concerned by our silence, it just means the dust is flying and magic is at work.

The way I look at it, this is your guitar and not mine. My hands are building it, but you will be the one playing it. My job is to deliver you a guitar that will inspire you to create for years to come. We instrument makers are honored that you have entrusted us with the task of making you a guitar. There is nothing we’d rather be doing and we’re deeply grateful for that trust. Enjoy the journey!