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NAMM 2018, part one

Hello Troubadourians! Every year, on the third week of January, the NAMM Show comes to the Anaheim Convention Center. It’s my job to attend and check out as many of the instruments and equipment on display as is humanly possible. Of course, I’m looking for things that I like but I’m also looking for things that would be interesting to the readers of this column. As I’ve said before, this column is directed mostly at amateur performing musicians in San Diego. I do try to include things that professionals would find interesting too, and there will be some things for them in this column (and next month as well), but primarily the focus is on you Troubadourians who rely for the most part on just your guitar and voice to entertain you audience. So, let’s get to it…

Martin Guitars new Standard Series. Martin Guitars has long been the standard by which every other guitar manufacturer and brand is judged. They have also been the object of derision by many of us, myself included—and for quite a while—with the old saw of “they don’t make them like they used to” and “the new ones sure don’t sound like the old ones.” Well, that’s about to change. I played a D-28 from Martin’s new Standard Series and I have to say that it was the best Martin guitar that I have played that wasn’t a super expensive custom shop “vintage reissue” model. In fact, this D-28 was just as good as most of those as well. Let me explain a little better: the Standard series is exactly that, standard—as in the regular line of guitars is not a custom offering. What Martin has done is redesigned all of the guitar sizes in their standard offering (D, OM, 000, etc.) to match the design and build specifications of the most sought-after years of issue for each body size. Short of having 80-year-old wood, the D-28 that I played and sounded as good as any Martin I’ve played. If it was an accurate indication of what you can expect from an off-the-rack Martin, I’d say they nailed it. I won’t bore you with a recounting of all of the design changes—or should I say design “regressions,” as they are essentially a return to Golden Age specifications—but if you want to geek out over them, check out the Martin website: www.martinguitar.com/. If you ever wanted a real Martin but had hesitated for any reason, now you can have the real deal that sounds “like they use to” and for under $4000, too.

Taylor V-Class Guitars. Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Taylor guitars. They are excellent instruments but they just have never appealed to me. Until now. On Friday evening after the show closed for the day I was reviewing all of the email I receive as a part of having media credentials for the show. I happened to see one from Taylor Guitars (www.taylorguitars.com/) introducing the new V-Class guitars. I was intrigued. I watched the video where Taylor’s head of design, Andy Powers, demonstrated the concept, construction, execution, and results of the V-Class design. I was stunned that a guitar could do what that guitar he was playing could do without effects or “tricks” from studio recording gear. Completely in tune in every position on the neck, even volume in every position on the neck, and sustain for days. The V-Class refers to the bracing pattern of the guitar’s top. Traditionally, acoustic guitars have been based on the X-brace pattern that was invented by Martin guitars in the 1840s and is the platform upon which pre-war Martin guitars are based, considered by many to be the Holy Grail of flattop guitars. What I saw in the video threatened to change all that and I resolved to check it out for myself to see if it was true. I finally made it to Taylor’s booth on Sunday and immediately sought out the V-Class guitars on display. I started with the one that looked the most like the one from the video and I played it like I would normally play. I also played chords and lines in the upper register (accessible via the cutaway) and found that the guitar indeed played and sounded just like the video. No amplification, no studio tricks, just the guitar itself. I also played two other guitars in the series that had different body sizes and shapes as well as different woods used in the construction on the body and top. All of them exhibited the same responsive characteristics with the appropriate color provided by the different sizes and woods. I think I was most impressed with how loud the guitars were and how in-tune they were. Acoustic guitars based on the X-bracing pattern have inherent phase cancelling and phase enhancing characteristics that give them the sound we have become accustomed to hearing. That traditional sound includes some tradeoffs such as perceived intonation differences in the higher registers and the tendency to “wash-out” when played aggressively. The V-Class Taylors seem to have solved those tradeoffs. So, the question remains: does that make the V-Class better than other more traditional guitars, even non-V-braced Taylors? That is, of course, completely up to the individual player. Personally, If I were a Taylor player I’d buy a V-Class in a heartbeat. Or, if I weren’t devoted to a traditional-sounding guitar and I wanted something that was progressive, awesome looking and sounding, and actually played in tune, I’d buy a V-Class guitar. They’re that good. The catch, if there is one, is that they sound like Taylors, only more so. If you like your Taylor, you’ll love the V-Class guitars. If you don’t like Taylors, you probably won’t like the V-Class either. Still, if you are a serious player, I suggest you at least give one of these guitars a try. The gorgeous dreadnaught version I played at the show nearly made a convert out of me. I’m going to have to go play one at my local dealer where I can really hear it. Just don’t tell my friends at Collings…

Next month I’ll have more on NAMM with cool stuff from Tech21, Bourgeois guitars, L.R. Baggs pickups, and, of course Collings guitars. Until then, go check out the guitars above and keep practicing. P.S. Collings and Taylor guitars can be found locally at Guitars San Diego, 6255 Ferris Square, Suite E, San Diego, CA 92121 (858) 500-7998 www.guitarssandiego.com/.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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