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Sunday, February 27, 2011

For All You Other Guitar Geeks... So Everyone On T

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OK, so the last few weeks I've been looking at acoustic guitars, and looking in more depth into Taylor's as I've been after one for a veeeery long time! At first I looked at the 310CE, which I have to say looks very nice, but then looked slightly lower in the range and found the 214CE, which is just as nice but a few hundred cheaper :) The question that comes to mind, as with any electric or acoustic guitar, is whether the name is worth the money?

With electric guitars, I've noticed that the majority of the time, the name isn't actually worth what you pay for it. Fender's a genuinely perfect example. At one point I was looking at a particular model of Stratocaster, a 60s classic sunburst. Very nice looking guitar, and it was £600 worth of Fender so it MUST be great!! I went into a shop and played it... I'm not gonna say it was rubbish, cause it was far from it. But it just didn't feel or sound like £600. The big companies have started doing something which is perfect for them, but awful for the customers like me. They know that their name has a good reputation from years of great quality guitars, so they know that people will pay a lot of money to have that name on their guitar. Knowing that, they seem to have decided to start slacking on the actual quality of their guitars. I guarantee, if you take an old Stratocaster from the 60s or 70s, or a 50s Les Paul, that kind of thing, they'll feel and sound a thousand times better than any that you can buy in a shop today.

This is where I get overly analytical and nerdy...sorry. There has always been a massive argument between guitar players, between whether yo should waste your money on a Fender or a Gibson. The honest answer? Neither :) Once you get past the shapes and the styles of the guitars, there is ONE fundamental different which basically means that neither are really worth the money you pay for them. Gibsons make absolutely FANTASTIC guitars, if you buy a top of the range Gibson Les Paul today then you'll be very hard pushed to try and find something as well made as that guitar that wasn't made 30 years ago or in Japan...different story. But, their pickups just don't quite have that £1000+ sound. To an extent, the quality of the wood and the way the guitar itself is made does affect the sound, but obviously the pickups have more of an affect once you plug it in. Fenders on the other hand are the exact opposite. They make their guitars poorly, quickly, from cheap wood which resonates quite poorly, and they just aren't that great. They look good, but that's just the shape that you're looking at. The pickups on a Fender, are amazing. Not quite Seymour Duncan's, but they're pretty damn close! If the two companies pulled together, and they put a Fender Wide Range Humbucker (love those things) in a Studio Les Paul, then you'd have a dam near perfect guitar, but that will never happen...

The argument just gets more and more complicated from there. Squiers, Epiphones, LTDs, you name it, almost every big name guitar company has a "budget" range. Although these tend to cap at around £700, that's pretty cheap in comparison to some of the top of the range stuff. Some of these, are actually a lot better than the price might tell you! I've played a lot of Squiers, and most of them are pretty average, but if you look around then you can probably find yourself a good one. It's generally safer to go by the feel of it to be honest, rather than the sound. If you get both, then JACKPOT!! I have an Epiphone SG (G400) which is RRP of about £200. It's not too bad, but I haven't played it live in about...a year? Maybe longer now.

My LTD, is beautiful. There isn't much else to describe it really, it's just a beautiful guitar. When you get past the colour and look at it closely, you begin to see why. This is basically me telling you what makes the perfect guitar.. I have an ESP LTD H-250 (blue) if you want to google it or something. The first time I ever played it, I played a solo that I'd learnt the night before which hits the 21st fret on the high E string. On any normal guitar, even on a set neck, you have to accommodate for a block of wood just behind the 15th or 17th fret where the neck joins the body. This thing is beautifully shaped so that it all curves together and your hand only notices the neck ending when your little finger hits the last fret. PERFECT. The neck itself is a nice compromise between a C and D profile, and the jumbo frets make it so light and easy to play. Nothing is wrong with it at all. The pickups are Duncan Designed, so they also make it sound great. RRP £500. That's pretty good!

Around Christmas 2 years ago I bought all the parts off eBay that I needed to build my own Strat. OK so now you're thinking "eBay? Ha I bet that thing sucks!". Wrong! I was after a custom guitar which looked cool. Almost by accident I had a Strat which genuinely beats most Fenders. I mentioned the 60s classic sunburst that I tried out? This thing feels and sounds so much nicer, honestly. The body is agathis, which is quite heavy but resonates beautifully, as well as a C profile satin finish neck that your hand glides over effortlessly, combined with genuine Fender Strat pickups that I picked up from someone who had no idea what they had!

I guess what I'm saying is, that electric guitars are very complicated. You can almost always compromise guitar quality and make up for it with pickups, while still saving your money and not having to empty your life savings on a 2 inch transfer on the headstock...

Then acoustics!! On an electric, you can buy a good body with bad pickups and just pay a little bit to replace the pickups which is very simple to do if you know what you're doing. With acoustics it's a lot more simple. You have the guitar, and the strings. If the guitar is poorly made, then you'll know because it sounds bad. Whereas with an electric you'd just put new pickups on it, that just isn't an option with an acoustic. You physically cannot do ANYTHING to improve them. If it doesn't sound good when it leaves the factory then you have a problem. So then, how much do you pay for a good one?

This brings me back to Taylors. They are the king of the acoustic world. You ask anyone who knows guitars what acoustic to buy and most will say Taylor without even thinking. A few will occasionally say Martin, but Taylor wins. They are VERY nice guitars, there's no sugar coating it. Most of them have a satin finish which feels great to play as your hand moves easily down the neck and your arm doesn't stick to the sides, they are all set up with a perfectly low action so you barely even notice any pressure on the strings, and they just look great too.

But is it worth anything between £800 and £3000? To be honest, I think it is. So I've just wasted a lot of time and probably quite a bit of web space. Sorry ;)
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