Mudcat Café message #987172 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #59336   Message #987172
Posted By: Grab
20-Jul-03 - 06:48 PM
Thread Name: New guitar recommendations
Subject: RE: New guitar recommendations
Update time!

I had a trip into London in May to check stuff out, together with a couple of guitarist friends from the local folk clubs (disposing of amateur-acting wives to look at the art galleries and the Globe Theatre ;-). Myself and one guy were actively looking, the other was at the "planning" stage and wondering how much he needed to save. The two of us actively looking were both after fingerstyle folk guitars, the "planner" was after something for fingerstyle blues. None of us could afford real vintage instruments. Sometime after that, I also had a business trip over to Michigan during which time I went through the racks at Elderly Instruments.

The big news was that none of us got on nearly as well as we'd expected with new Martins or Gibsons - they all seemed somehow lifeless. Sorry to hardcore fans of either. Maybe they're great for pick-work, but we were distinctly unimpressed for fingerstyle. Some of the more expensive Gibsons started getting better for blues work, but 3-5k to get any sound quality is just silly, and I don't pay for fancy inlays. When I went round Elderly (which have a much bigger range of American instruments than the UK shops) I found much same thing - the only guitars of that type that were interesting were the Collings ones. (Oh, there was also a little archtop Tacoma jazz box which was sweet but not what I was after; maybe later if I take up jazz. :-)

At World of Guitars we hit the jackpot with Lowdens and Avalons (basically the same make with a different name), which we all three loved. They had Collings as well, which were nice but not nearly as nice (and twice the price to boot). The mahogany-back ones (as recommended by Allan Dennehy above) were good but not great, and they had koa and walnut ones which were beautiful to look at but nothing to write home about in the sound department. Rosewood backs were the clear winner on tone for all of us. In the end, it came down to between a spruce-top Avalon and a cedar-top Lowden. The Lowden was winning, bcos the Avalon seemed a bit harsh and not as sweet. But while I was deciding, the other guy who was actively-looking sneakily bought the Lowden without telling us! Bugger. But I was not jealous, no, not at all... I was bloody livid! I wanted that guitar! ;-) Comparison of that Lowden against two others of the same type owned by members of a local folk club found that they were basically identical though, so I didn't need to worry too much about variability in production when I went looking for one of my own.

Not to be put off, I checked websites and phoned round places, and this weekend went over to Coda Music in Stevenage who had the cedar-top rosewood-back Lowden (O25) and spruce-top ditto (O32). The spruce one was second-hand, a year old, and the shrillness I'd felt with the Avalon had apparently mellowed a lot over that time, to the extent that the spruce and cedar sounded almost the same with just a slight difference. The cedar one was easier to play (it seemed impossible to get a bum note out of it); the spruce one was a bit more temperamental, but generally it had a livelier tone which felt like it would sing better once we'd got to know each other. So I am now the (VERY) proud owner of an O32 Lowden! And now I'm not at all jealous of my mate, bcos in the end I think I got the better deal (not least in terms of money, since a new Lowden is 1300 and this second-hand one only cost me 1000 :-).

After a day-and-a-half of playing it, I just love it to bits. Guest Spot is dead right, and I wouldn't trade mine to anyone either! ;-) One thing I will say is that the tone is so complex, it doesn't seem to respond to strumming very well; like an overdriven electric, the sounds from each string "clash" a bit. I think I need to work on that and see how it responds best there. Fingerstyle though, it's almost an alternative to a human voice singing, it's got that rich and sweet a tone. And the harder you push it fingerstyle, the better the tone gets - it *loves* being loud (and it's a loud guitar anyway, unbelievable projection).

Guest Spot (if you're still around), what strings do you run on your O32? Mine came with a set of Elixirs, and I've got some D'Addarios to replace them as good neutral strings (both are 13s). I was wondering if you'd found any which you think are best, before I start experimenting myself?

Anyway, another member of the Lovers of Lowdens Club, along with Willie-O, Allan, Guest Spot, and a whole bunch of others (not least three other guitarists at our local folk clubs). Thanks for the advice everyone - greatly appreciated. Sorry if I've wittered on a bit here, but I thought the process might be useful to anyone else after a similar guitar.



PS. Clinton, I was in the area over July 4th weekend, but unfortunately you were elsewhere then. Went out to a couple of places with DDW which was good fun. As always I can't predict future trips - I was out on this one at less than 2 weeks notice - but I may out again sometime this year/start of next year.