Saturday November 17, New York City, I will be playing solo acoustic fingerstyle guitar for my friend Dick Boak at the opening of “Illustrations and Guitars by Dick Boak and Paintings by Tullio Desantis.”
Acoustic guitars of note among the booths and pavilions of Nashville NAMM
Something for every budget and taste
The summer installment of the biannual trade show of the National Association of Music Merchants took place on July 28-30, at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee. While never having quite the impact and inventory of Winter NAMM, the 2018 summer show provided some interesting additions to this year’s lineup of new guitars. Most of those being electric guitars, the acoustics required some sleuthing to track down. But they still cover most price ranges and a great deal of the familiar brand names.
Here are some of the most interesting acoustic guitars seen at Summer NAMM
Alvarez Artist Series was attracting attention with the updated AGW77AR showing up on Twitter videos throughout the weekend.
This long-scale Grand Auditorium model has walnut top with forward-shifted scalloped bracing and walnut back and sides, and their new, sleeker body bevel. Priced to sell at $499.
Luthier Dana Bourgeois clearly enjoys his trips to NAMM, and always comes up with some some seriously amazing one-of-a-kind guitars, like this OMS wood deluxe, with a redwood top and figured English walnut for the back and sides!
“The AJ-220S has a unique bell-like shape, a larger lower bout, and a small round upperbout which gives this new addition to our Advanced Jumbo family of guitars a unique voice.” These guitars feature a glued-in dovetail neck joint, mahogany back and sides, and solid Sitka Spruce tops, or an optional solid mahogany top that has its own mahogany burst toner option.
Typical price $269. And there is also the cutaway acoustic-electric AJ-220SCE for $369.
Offered in a variety of colored and burst finishes, these cutaway Super Jumbos feature the Shadow eSonic-II™ Stereo Pickup System and Grover machine heads, pricing starts at $459.
“The EJ-200SCE reimagines the historic ‘J-200 Jumbo’ acoustic guitar now featuring a Solid Spruce top, Grover Rotomatic™ machine heads, and the revolutionary new Shadow eSonic-II™ Stereo Pickup System that maintains your true acoustic tone when plugged in to an amp or PA system.”
The new Jumbo Junior is a smaller jumbo model made with a solid Sitka top and Guild’s arched back of either mahogany or maple. These should prove comfortable couch or travel guitars for a MSRP of $555
C. F. Martin & Co. had a smallish offering compared to the January show, but it is spread across board. These include, but are not limited to a new affordable Road Series model, the 000RSG, with solid Siris back and sides and a solid Sitka spruce top (MAP $1,499,) two limited edition models made from black walnut, GPCE Black Walnut Ambertone, and the DE Black Walnut Ambertone which come with Fishman electronics(MAP $2,649 each,) a black, slope shoulder Jimmy Buffet Custom edition to go along with the Broadway musical Margaritaville (MAP $5,999,) the had-to-happen D-16EPD with soundboard featuring the iconic poker playing dogs painting (MAP $2,799,) and the stunning OM Arts and Crafts 2018 featuring ornate pearl inlay evoking the aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts movement in design, as well as German white oak back and sides, a torrefied Adirondack spruce top, Guatemalan rosewood trim with a MAP of $13,999.00.
This debut was accompanied by the announcement that Taylor expects to convert all their series to the new bracing. It is intended to deliver a “more dynamic voice.” And from my experience with their Winter NAMM offering it does do exactly that, at least when compared to similar Taylors made the previous year.
The Builder’s Edition 14ce has solid figured Big Leaf maple back and sides with a torrefied solid Sitka spruce top, beveled armrest, new Silent Satin finish with a Wild Honey burst on the back and sides (optional for the top,) and Scepter faceplate and fretboard inlays are among the impressive features.
The 300 and 400 Series instruments will begin shipping in July and include the 314, 314ce, 324, 324e, 324ce, 414e-R,414ce, 414ce-R
NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), established in 1901, is the not-for-profit association that strengthens the $17 billion global music, sound and event technology products industry. Our association and our trade shows serve as the crossroads for professionals wanting to seek out the newest innovations in music, recording technology, sound, stage and lighting products. Membership also includes access to the latest industry news and education, opportunities for music advocacy and cost-saving programs that will help your business thrive. All of these activities and programs are designed to promote music making for people of all ages and to help create a more musical world.
Dana Bourgeois will continue to build guitars in Lewiston, Maine, at a new location
Forced to move, a fortuitous reunion led to a unique solution, and a new President of Bourgeois Guitars
As described at the official Bourgeois website, Dana ran into an old friend at a college reunion, who has considerable experience with upper-level management. That friend, Bob Smallwood, has been retired for some time, from business, but was keeping busy as a volunteer fireman, instructor, and musician. But now he has joined forces with Dana Bourgeois and along with his wife, has relocated to Maine to take over as President, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Financial Officer. He has already been responsible for locating the site of the new guitar factory and oversaw its creation.
“The Smallwood home is located in the glorious rocky mountains outside of Estes Park, Colorado. Bob was the Assistant Fire Chief and Medical Training Director of the Glen Haven Volunteer Fire Department. Sonjia, a 100lb firefighter and emergency medical responder, was decorated with Bob for heroism during the floods of 2013. Bob and Sonjia volunteered at the same food bank in Estes Park when they met and fell in love 6 years ago. Together they were part of the music entertainment scene in Colorado’s northern mountain communities. Now, they have stepped from one adventure to another by relocating to Maine to join Dana at Bourgeois Guitars. They are excited to help write the next chapter for this venerable brand.”
We very much wish the Smallwoods and Dana very good luck as this new chapter unfolds!
I attended the final show of the Transatlantic Sessions Tour, which featured Jerry Douglas and a host of UK, Irish, and American musicians, including several A List special guests.
There were acoustic guitars there by multiple Martins, as well as single representatives from Beard (Jerry’s Dobro style resonator guitar,) Collings, Gibson, Greven, Huss & Dalton, Lowden, Martin as well as John Doyle’s hybrid bouzouki-guitar by Kevin Muiderman, and Sarah Jaroz’s archtop octave mandolin by Fletcher Brock.
Martinfest is the annual gathering of the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum
Taking place in and around Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of Martin Guitars, the 15th Martinfest was a successful mixture of tradition and new directions.
Here is a video of just some of the amazing instruments I and others got to play at Martinfest 15, over the first weekend of August, 2016, all of them made by C. F. Martin & Co, est. 1833.
Those guitars referred to as “converted” typically started as Martins from the 1950s or 1960s. which had aged gracefully, or been through some hard times, before they were re-topped and braced to be much more like the Martin guitars of the 1930s than most modern guitars. The conversions in this video were all accomplished by master craftsman who honed their skills at the Martin factory for decades, before going into “private practice.”
A Wonderful Annual Party
As described in greater detail elsewhere, Martinfest consists of a friendly gathering of guitarists from all levels of skill and varied musical tastes, along with their friends and family members. This year there were some 180 people registered, although they didn’t all stay at the main hotel.
During the days, we congregated at Nazareth’s Boro Park (Friday and Sunday) and the town center for the Martin on Main street fair (Saturday.) The evenings consisted of all-night reveling and music making at the hotel. This year, we were joined by the one and only Laurence Juber, one of the world’s best guitarists. LJ was our special guest at Maritnfest 5 and Martinfest 10.
It was a new hotel this year, for the very first time. And while it may be too far from Nazareth to become our new home, it was a very good stop-gap place to stay and play.
Here is a video showing some of the goings on, but only representing a fraction of the people who actually attended the overall event.
Details of the 2016 Martinfest events, and in depth descriptions of some of the guitars can be read at the UMGF in my personal Martinfest Journal of Adventure.
Below is a picture by famed photog Robert Corwin, showing your humble Spoon playing a 1930 OM-45 De Luxe.
photo: R. Corwin
One of 11 made, it among the most valuable guitars ever built. Since I was asked to demonstrate the one at the Martin Museum on that Friday night, I may be the only person in history to play two of these less than two days apart since they were shipped from Nazareth in 1930.
The Martin Experience took place last night at Rudy’s Music in Soho, New York City.
A series of traveling presentations at various musical instrument retailers across the nation, this particular Martin Experience gave the general public an opportunity to get up close and personal with showcase guitars built in Martin’s Custom Shop, along with a couple of the people who design them.
Adhering to Martin’s current policy of keeping things on a first name basis, they were introduced as Randy and Emily, and I shall leave it at that.
Emily is normally housed within the Custom Shop where she designs one-of-a-kind or sometimes three-of-a-kind Martins, and helps build others that were ordered by various Martin dealers or their private customers.
Randy is District Sales Manager for the New England area and each of them personally designed some of the guitars on display.
Every instrument was for sale with “aggressive pricing” just for that particular evening, and future evenings. Check out the link to the Martin Experience schedule below, if interested.
They did a quick overview of the difference between typical Martin models with names like D-18 or OM-42, and the guitars they were exhibiting like a private fashion show of Tiffany jewelry, which Randy kept referring to as “Custom Shops.”
Each instrument was shown front and back to the crowd of some two dozen oglers, and briefly strummed, while Randy and Emily revealed some of the specs and details that went into it. After some discussion of various tonewoods, bracing, and neck joints, torrefied wood, and fielding related questions, the wide-eyed onlookers were set free to play the many guitars set before them, like a pack of puppies who had obediently stayed in place far too long before permission was granted to pounce on a trough full of Alpo.
I certainly couldn’t blame them, as the bevy of Martins were extremely inviting to behold, and later to be heard. I did not get to play many of them, as I didn’t want to get in the way of potential sales. There ended up being more than one Martin that left that night in the hands of a new and very lucky owner.
Here is a quick overview of the line up.
As I said, some of these were made in batches of three, while others were one-of-a-kind. But when it came to the guitars designed by Randy, each was made in a batch of five.
If any of these instruments sound appealing enough to seek out, he said that you should contact your local dealer so that proper channels may ultimately supply the appropriate build sheet and list price.
The most expensive was arguably the most impressive. A 14-fret dreadnought made in Style 45, with back and sides of wood Emily referred to only as “Asian ebony.” I assumed it must be Macassar ebony, which grows only on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes.) But it turns out it is Mun ebony, which grows on the Asian mainland, in Viet Nam. She said they acquired but three sets, which have now been used, and in this case very well used indeed.
I have been a big fan of guitars made from Macassar ebony and Adirondack spruce since I played my first one, built by Bruce Petros some 12 years ago. But a Martin made with this ebony is one exotic bird.
The top has forward-shifted, Golden Era bracing, and insanely tight grain. As such, it seemed a bit subdued when flatpicking, kind of down inside itself. But when strummed, and especially when fingierpicked, it was glorious. Alive with splendid colors in the harmonics that reflected off the dense ebony undertone, I could have played it for hours. Just an infant with a tremendous future ahead of it, it is going to let loose soon enough and flatpick like a champ.
Another serious favorite was the slope shoulder 00L that Randy had designed. In his words, it was the CEO-7 with some upgrades that included a high-color abalone rosette, Indian rosewood back and sides, and a center wedge of koa. It also has the High Performance neck, while retaining the short scale.
What a versatile tone machine! Jimmy Rodgers, George Barnes, George Jones, George Harrison, George George George of the Jungle, it looked and sounded magnificent regardless of who was playing what. And when I heard it was for sale for just over $2,700 I was sorely tempted, as that is an outrageously great price for that kind of tone and playability.
For a lot more money, there was also a 00L in Madagascar rosewood with old fashion looks to its very straight grain, with an Adirondack spruce top that had the M1 torrefaction used on the Authentic Series. In Emily’s estimation, all the Madagascar rosewood remotely like it is “all gone.” And it had that way down deep openness that the new torrefaction wakes up in a brand new guitar.
On the much more affordable side there were some guitars built along the lines of the 15 Series and new 17 Series, including a 12-fret 00, made with domestic Cherry and Adirondack spruce, and an all-mahogany OM with a slender rosette and back strip made in the multi-color herringbone first used on the Martin EMP models of the 1990s, which Emily said she “just found in a drawer.”
And then there was the slope shoulder 14-fret dreadnought with the same body shape used on the CEO-6 models, but with the build, looks, and thin finish of the new Black Smoke models from the 17 Series, only without a pickguard and and the addition of a wisp of abalone around the soundhole. I have speculated that we will see a slope shoulder dread added to the 17 Series sooner than later and this guitar only made me that much more eager to see that come true.
Others from Randy’s batches of five custom Martins included a flamed mahogany 000-18 and an OM-21 with high altitude Swiss spruce for the top, Foden-style fingerboard Markers (aka Style 25 markers) made in high color abalone, to go with an abalone rosette.
There was also a luscious Cocobolo OM-28V, and a modern OM-28 with Adirondack spruce for the top and one of seventy-five sets of Honduran rosewood they got in recently, which also has a beautifully figured headstock.
There was a D-18 with rear-shifted bracing under its Adirondack spruce top, and a regular forward-shifted D-18 with Ambertone shading on the Sitka spruce, and a single ring abalone rosette.
I also loved the East Indian rosewood flatsawn back on a cutaway acoustic-electric dreadnought. It looks like some fluted passageway worn out of the sandstone at the Grand Canyon, or perhaps the Georgia O’Keefe painting of it. But as full-bodied as it sounded, it was bested by the Cocobolo dreadnought with the torrefied Sitka spruce top and forward-shifted bracing.
Unfortunately my photos of these guitars did not come out, since I was using a smartphone in low light. Emily was kind enough to text this one along this afternoon. But no photo can capture the 3D illusion it has in person.
How about an M size guitar, with Swiss spruce for the top and a maple back that was both flamed and had birds eye? A rare and very handsome set indeed. And it had a most beautiful little sister in a birds eye maple 00-41 with a top grade Sitka spruce soundboard that sang as glittering and magical as Cinderella’s ball gown must have looked. It also had Madagascar rosewood for the binding and the center strip running up the two-piece maple neck.
The Martin Experience offers a variety of events, some with live musical performances, historical presentations, and a chance to play some amazing one-of-a-kind Martin guitars. There are also free t-shirts, and in this case anyone who bought a set of strings at Rudy’s got a free set of Martin Lifespan strings to go with it.
Martin Experience events are currently scheduled throughout the USA from now until December. Find one in your area HERE
The Taylor Road Show was off to its first week of 2015 dates, with a stop at Matt Umanov’s guitar shop in New York City’s famous Greenwich Village.
One Man’s Guitar dropped in to see what was new and interesting in the world of Taylor Guitars.
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
The MC for this road show was Nate Shivers, Taylor’s District Sales Manager for the northeast region. And joining him was Grammy winner Wayne Johnson, in his tenth year as a Taylor Product Specialist. Together they put together the kind of enjoyable and educational evening that I happily recommend to anyone remotely interested in the music made on acoustic guitars.
After some welcoming remarks by the affable Mr. Shivers, Wayne Johnson launched into a demonstration of his “go to guitar,” a 13-year-old Taylor 74NS, the precursor of today’s 714CE-N. He explained how this particular Taylor model was nylon string guitar ideal for steel string players who didn’t want to have to tackle the 2 inch neck on a classical guitar, and that it was designed with amplified performance in mind. He then proceeded to play some impressive upbeat Latin-tinged Jazz, through a Fender amp, aided by an array of effects pedals, including a looping box that allowed him to lay down bass and chord progressions before soloing over top of them.
As he switched seamlessly from fingerstyle to flatpicking, and from ingrained composition to off the cuff improvisation, it was immediately apparent why Wayne Johnson has spent decades as a studio and touring guitarist for acts like Manhattan Transfer and Rickie Lee Jones. But he displayed a different sort of professionalism in the role of product demonstrator, as the rest of his performance was less about displaying his mad skills and more about showing off the potential and personality of the various Taylor guitars put through their paces over the next 75 minutes. All other guitars had steel strings, and with one exception they were all heard acoustically, with the aid of a Rode M5 microphone.
Nate Shivers was likewise entertaining in his own respect, with a winning demeanor, wry sense of humor, and the easy going enthusiasm of someone who loves his job and has sincere appreciation for the guitars he markets, and a respect for the company who makes them, from their farsighted commitment to wood management and ecology, to their innovations in modern luthiery and a product line that has evolved through what Taylor has learned from practical experience and the feedback from their customer base among amateur and professional musicians.
They certainly have the road show concept down to a smooth and entertaining operation. Shivers first took the audience through the current array of instrument sizes, and Johnson played basically the same progression of chords and melody examples on each. From the Grand Concert, with its short-scale neck and relatively small top area and body depth, on up to the prodigious Grand Orchestra that has replaced the Taylor Jumbo design, each size was heard in an example of the 800 Series, made with Indian rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top.
The second part of the presentation focused on the tone woods employed across the various series, including mahogany, maple, rosewood, ovangkol and koa. Each was heard via Taylor’s Grand Auditorium body size, which has become one of the most popular guitar designs in modern times, inspiring other brands to produce similarly progressive shapes and sizes in much the same the way the Martin dreadnought and the Gibson jumbo designs did in the twentieth century. The GA was said to provide a Swiss army knife kind of versatility, and Wayne Johnson took advantage of this to stretch out and play various pieces he felt worked well with certain wood combinations.
When it came to top wood, most of the guitars had Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest, but the example made from Hawaiian koa wood had a koa top. There were some other guitars available for playing before and after the presentation made from other wood like Engelmann spruce.
A high end Presentation Series guitar made from Cocobolo was used to demonstrate the latest generation of on-board amplification systems, the Expression System 2. This patented pickup consists of three small piezo crystals that sit behind the saddle, rather than under it. They are held in place by three screws set into the bridge. Instead of some 60 pounds of pressure squashing the crystals, as on traditional undersaddle pickups, the ES-2 only brings a few pounds of pressure to bear, resulting in a less-strident piezo sound when plugged-in, and a pickup that is sensitive to nuanced changes in finger pressure, string tension, and any percussive or damping techniques a guitarist might use on the instrument’s body.
A major highlight for me was getting to know the newly reworked 600 Series, designed to make the most of American maple, a sustainable native hardwood. Like the new 800 Series that underwent a similar refresh last year, the 600 series also gets Taylor’s new thinner finish and animal protein glues. But it also gets a torrefied Stika spruce top, and unique bracing designed expressly to wring out as much warmth, resonance, and complexity as possible. And over all that maple is a hand-rubbed dark Brown Sugar stain, meant to evoke the look of classical violins.
I thought they did a great job with these new 600s. They definitely have more going on in terms of presence and color down inside the voice, while there is also a hint of old dry box sound to them that is likely due to the torrefied spruce, which provides some “vintage tone.”
At the end of the presentation, Wayne Johnson took us through a special maple version of the T5 hybrid, a true acoustic-electric guitar that offers five-way switching of three pickup sources. When combined with adjustments in tone controls, effects pedals, etc. offered an astonishing spectrum of guitar sounds. From Tele to ES-35 to Santa PRS, to a perfectly pleasant and more than acceptable acoustic guitar tone, and all of it weighing much closer to a typical acoustic guitar than most any electric guitar. I was totally sold on the T5 and am seriously considering test driving one for possible purchase sometime soon – even if I cannot fit it into the budget for a few months yet.
In the words of Nate Shivers, there is nothing like bringing a bunch of really cool guitars and putting them into people’s hands and letting them decide for themselves. And for those of us in attendance on this particular evening, we had the opportunity to play the same guitars that Wayne Johnson had just used in such impressive ways, as well as some ultra-cool instruments from the Taylor Custom Shop.
And it was a very nice touch that Matt Umanov provided cheese plates, crackers and cold cuts, as well as beer, wine and soft drinks, which I heard does not normally happen at such Taylor Road Show presentations. So any dealers reading this may want to make note of it.
I cannot recommend taking the time to attend one of these evenings. And if you are fortunately enough to have one passing through your neck of the woods, don’t forget your wallet. The guitars brought for display, and at least in this case the other Taylors available at the dealership, were all offered for sale at abnormally low prices!
Learn more about the upcoming Taylor Road Show schedule HERE
And stay tuned for One Man Guitar’s first Taylor review, coming soon!