Find me an acoustic guitar

January 29, 2013 7:46 AM

We've done it before (more than once), but maybe we can talk acoustic guitars again.

It's time to replace the terrible Washburn that I hate--which was cheap enough and is a big enough pain that I'd rather dump it than spend money and time on a good setup and some love for it.

There will likely be a little cash flowing into the music account this year (but probably more flowing out), but I don't think I can sleep at night spending more than $1400 or so on this instrument (even that will likely keep me up a night or two).

Can I get a better-than-average acoustic-electric (will sometimes be used for performance; I like to record the DI sometimes) in that price range? Everybody makes one--Taylor, Martin, and Breedlove will give me solid wood for $1200-$1400, Takamine more like $1000 (which will get me laminated sides/back from the rest)--but are they any good in this range, or do I need to make the choice between a $700 workhorse and a $3000 studio queen?

I'll likely spend the next week or two playing everything I can find locally, but I'm trying to set expectations appropriately. Have you folks played any great/terrible guitars lately?
posted by uncleozzy (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I don't have a solid suggestion for you but I'd definitely suggest not getting hung up on the electric-acoustic thing. The Baggs M1 that I have (and I think Chococat has) is absolutely fantastic and sounds better to me than any electro-acoustic I've tried. There's no trace of that piezo twang that I seem to hear on even expensive electros. Every time I play out people say how nice it sounds, and it's only a cheapo Simon & Patrick songsmith that it's stuck on.

For that reason I wouldn't actually buy an electro-acoustic now.

The advantage of this is that you can choose a guitar without getting stuck with whatever pickup they decided to put under the saddle.

If you do go the electro-acoustic route, the Yamaha APX series seem to be pretty much standard issue among players round here. I used to have one and it was nice.

One final observation, which is shared by quite a few people I know: there really isn't a very coherent relationship between quality and price in acoustic guitars these days, and a lot of time you're paying premium just for the name on the sticker. Some of the cheaper guitars are absoutely excellent. I'm a particular fan of Godin and its sub-brands (Simon & Patrick, Art & Lutherie, Norman etc). Even the Epiphones. So the best thing is to find the store with the biggest acoustic room you can and play everything, and close your eyes to the price. You may well be surprised.

Another thing to watch out for is what you play the electro-acoustic through. They can sound very different through a DI box or (say) a Fender Acoustasonic amp. Mine always goes through an amp these days, either an Acoustastonic or an old Roland Jazz Chorus. That way you get some spatial separation from your voice and more control over your stage mix. You can either DI out from the amp or split the signal before it hits the amp.
posted by unSane at 9:43 AM on January 29, 2013

Hm, you don't get too much feedback with the soundhole pickup? I perform rarely enough that it's not a huge concern, but it'd be a pain to count on it live and have trouble. It does seem like a much more natural sound, though.

And I'm not sure that Godins are available (or at least not widely) in the States... I don't think my local not-quite-mega store carries them, in any case.

Which leads to the real problem, which is that the options around here are Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and a couple of smaller places who stay alive by renting orchestra instruments to schoolkids. I'm not sure I trust any of them to have properly set-up and maintained instruments.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:20 AM on January 29, 2013

Once you decide on a brand, I would look for a guitar second hand on one of the guitar forum communities. You will be able to score a hell of a nice Martin or Taylor second hand for $1400.
posted by Silvertree at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2013

No, the M1 is famously feedback-proof. I mean I can make it feedback if I put it on a stand in front of the amp, and there was that time I plugged it into the Fender Twin (DON'T DO THIS), but I've never had an ounce of feedback onstage, even when playing loud with a fully electric band. It's not something I even think about any more.
posted by unSane at 11:35 AM on January 29, 2013

Yeah, I suppose I could get a lot more guitar used, but I'm really bad at surveying the condition of a used guitar, short of catastrophic abuse. Plus, no warranty. I will take a look at the market, though, once I've got an idea of what works for me.

I'm thinking probably something smaller-bodied, especially since it'll spend most of its time in front of a mic.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2013

I'm curious about what model Washburn you have and why you hate it so much. (D10... big, loud and stiff as hell?) Do you pretty much want the opposite of a big and loud dreadnought?
posted by snsranch at 5:26 PM on January 29, 2013

Yep, it's actually a D100CE, which I think was just the Guitar Center acoustic/electric version of the D10. You pretty much described it, and you can add "boxy" to that, as well. I feel like I'm wrestling with it every time I play it. It actually sounds "okay" when the strings are less than a few playing-hours old, but beyond that it's pretty dead.

Obviously acoustics and electrics are different animals, but when I pick up my SG, it's like we're making music together. The Washburn doesn't cooperate; every note is a fight.

I wouldn't say I want the "opposite" of it, but not far from it. My mother-in-law's got what I am remembering as a smaller Gibson that looks like a toy next to the Washburn, but is much more playable and balanced. I'm not crazy about it, though (just as well, with the price of Gibsons).
posted by uncleozzy at 6:27 PM on January 29, 2013

I'm not a huge fan of the Gibsons, but the dinky little parlour guitars are a joy to play and record. I keep having to talk myself out of buying one. They are much better balanced than the dreadnoughts in general.

It also makes quite a lot of difference whether you play fingerstyle or with a pick, and how big your hands are.

I second the idea of buying used. It's easy to get sucked into the vortex of more and more expensive guitars but really if you concentrate on the non-decorative 'player' end of good brands you can find some great deals.
posted by unSane at 7:42 PM on January 29, 2013

Oh yeah, the ideal for me is a guitar that "plays great, looks bad" (or at least "looks plain"). I don't know what model Gibson my mother-in-law's got, but it's very plain: dot inlays, no pickguard, a little binding around the body, but that's it. That's pretty much what I'm looking for (well, I'd like one that I enjoy playing more, too).
posted by uncleozzy at 5:33 AM on January 30, 2013

I eventually resolved the problem with my D10 by installing DR "pure blues" electric strings on it. It was like a miracle. That little change took it from being a stiff piece of wood to being a very malleable and expressive instrument. *Almost* as smooth and easy as any electric.

That said, I've still been looking for the right tool for the right job (finger pickin') and am pretty set on this little puppy (just under $2k) or something similar.

What's cool about it is that it's a "hybrid". It's a nylon stringed classical guitar but with a thinner, non-classical neck. I played it and loved it. I didn't try out how it sounds through its electronics, but it was incredibly smooth and warm acoustically. Totally dig it.

Going NYLON all of a sudden may seem weird, but, man, as a finger picker playing that little piggy was just fucking awesome!
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on January 30, 2013

I've never liked the sound of electric strings on an acoustic guitar. They always seem too floppy, and the tone just doesn't sound right to me (especially for recording). I might give it a shot on the Washburn one day, but it's still not a great instrument to record.

The Taylor 300 series actually caught my eye--I'm looking to find a 314CE (the steel-stringed one) to play someplace. It "retails" somewhere around $1700, but I suspect I can find a used model for a whole lot less. There's actually a 414CE on Craigslist near me for $1100 that I might go play if it's still around. Sounds like a steal if it's in good condition.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:03 AM on January 31, 2013

and there was that time I plugged it into the Fender Twin (DON'T DO THIS)

Sorry, unSane, I'm gonna have to disagree with you here - EVERYBODY SHOULD DO THIS. At least once in your life.

Just don't do it around unsuspecting spouses or small children.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:20 AM on January 31, 2013

EVERYBODY SHOULD DO THIS. At least once in your life.

Certainly, the feeling of having a guitar in your hands which is about to EXPLODE is not one you forget in a hurry.
posted by unSane at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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