April 18, 2018
Martin’s dreadnought guitar, introduced under the Ditson brand just over 100 years ago and reaching its classic modern form in 1934, is probably the most iconic acoustic guitar design of the 20th Century. From Elvis to Johnny Cash, from the Louvin Brothers to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, from Johnny Marr to Kurt Cobain, the roll call of musicians who have played these fine instruments is unparalleled. It’s also the most copied acoustic guitar design, with dreadnought guitars offered by almost every major player in the acoustic guitar market. Martin themselves offer dozens of variants on the design including replicas of the classic 1930s D18 and D28.
In this blog we’re going to delve into Martin’s range of Dreadnoughts and take a look at ten that should be on any shopping list if you’re looking at these fine instruments.
The D-28 is the Martin design that you’ve heard on thousands of bluegrass and country records from the 50s to the present day and it’s a wonderful beast. They’re phenomenally loud, with a pumping bass that responds beautifully to flat picking and rich, sparkling harmonics that add a long, shimmering sustain. Martin changed the design of the D-28 many times over the model’s 80 years and there are now multiple versions in the range – it’s a little confusing to navigate but once you understand the subtleties of the models you’ll appreciate the chance to select the perfect D-28 for your tastes. We’ve gone with the D-28 Reimagined as our choice of D-28 - it’s still relatively affordable, and this newly redesigned guitar offers great value for money.
The Reimagined series began in 2016 with the D-18 and expanded to the D-28 last year, with the remaining models following suit in the course of 2018 – essentially Martin have upgraded their Standard series guitars to feature vintage style appointments previously reserved for the Vintage series such as the open gear tuners and an aging toner in the nitrocellulose lacquer. The bracing is now forward shifted, which gives the newer D-28 a bassier tone than the previous incarnation, and it’s very close to the character of a vintage D-28. There are more authentic recreations higher up in the Martin range but the D-28 Reimagined offers a great balance of relative affordability and outstanding sound.
One of the great thing about Martin guitars is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get your hands on one. The DX1 is made in Martin’s Mexican facility and uses a few clever design features to make this one of their most affordable Martin branded guitars ever.
The back and sides are made from a patented HPL (or High Pressure Laminate) material that reprocesses wood fibres into a strong, durable material and the neck is a multi laminate that makes for an extremely stable neck. Some X series Martins also have an HPL top but we find the DX1, where the top is a rather more traditional piece of spruce, to be a much better sounding guitar and it’s literally only a few pounds more. The top is also braced with a slightly simpler pattern than the US guitars designed to give them a lively, booming sound. We’re not going to pretend a DX1 is going to sound exactly like a D28 but there is a distinctive tonal signature particular to Martin dreadnoughts and we’re very impressed with how these entry level designs capture that quality – perhaps not with quite the nuance and detail of the American guitars but the DX1 is very much a Martin guitar.
The Centennial debuted in 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ditson dreadnought, and it’s one of the more unusual dreads in the Martin range but also one of our favourites. The aesthetic is very stripped back in comparison to the D18 and 28 variants. It utilises some of the features of the cheaper 16 series with a simple dovetail neck join (in place of the traditional dovetail of the D18) and catalysed lacquer in place of nitrocellulose, but the DR-Centennial’s secret weapon is its top, which is made from spruce taken from the Adirondack mountains and gives the guitar a unique flavour. Adirondack spruce was used as standard by most of the US guitar manufacturers up to the Second World War, when large quantities of the wood were used by the airplane industry and restrictions were put in place to preserve the remaining forests. A small amount of Adirondack spruce becomes available each year through naturally falling trees and companies such as Martin are always first in the queue – but the DR Centennial is the only way to hear it in a new Martin unless you’re prepared to spend several thousand on an Authentic series model so it’s great model to check out. The Centennial has an impressive tone, inevitably similar in signature to the D-28 but to our ears it’s a little smoother and more refined than the Reimagined D-28.
Now for something a little different! The Streetmaster is a variant of the long running 15 series guitars, which were stripped back instruments with very little in the way of cosmetic embellishments, so they lack the binding and gloss finishes of the Standard series guitars but still offer a solid wood, American-made Martin to those who are on a tighter budget and can live without the cosmetics. In addition, the original 15 series used Mahogany for the top wood as well as the back and sides which is a much tougher wood than Spruce and, with no binding to protect the edges of the guitar, was better able to withstand the inevitable knocks that a much used guitar will have to endure in its lifetime. However, Mahogany being a stiffer material than Spruce, it also has a very different sound and the 15 series has developed a devoted following over the years of those who prefer the more subdued bass and better balance of the mahogany guitars.
The Streetmaster version we’ve picked for the top ten is a cool looking addition to the 15 series that adds a randomly shaded finish to give the guitar a cool antique vibe without going fully down the relic route, and it comes with a heavy duty gig bag – so for a great guitar you won’t be afraid to travel with it’s hard to do better!
The DRS-1 and 2 – collectively known as the Road series are probably the best selling models of the Martin range here at Forsyths, and they represent the entry level point for a Martin with all solid woods. They are made in the same Mexican plant that produces the cheaper X series guitars and, like the X series, are slightly simplified in construction compared to the US made guitars, but retain that distinctive Martin character. We’ve chosen the DRS-1 for our top ten, which is essentially a Mexican made version of the 15 series with Mahogany top, back and sides, and like the D-15 it has a slightly subdued bass compared to its Spruce topped sister model, the DRS-2, but carries itself with a sweet, well balanced tone that makes for a very pleasant playing experience.
Unlike the X series you also get a proper Martin hard case with the Road models, which further justifies the step up from the X series version, and like the X series they have an undersaddle pickup fitted as standard.
Ok, we’ve been a bit naughty here – but one of our favourite Martins currently in the shop is a guitar that has never been anywhere near the Nazareth factory. Atkin guitars are hand made in a small workshop in Canterbury and are the product of years of studying vintage Martin and Gibson guitars with a view to building replicas that could pass for a real vintage guitar. His guitars are flawlessly executed and feature an aging process that recreates the look of an 80 year old guitar with a wonderful patina. Best of all they sound exceptional, very close to the sound one might expect from an old, well played in dreadnaught.
This guitar is a replica of a well worn and much modified D-28 owned first by Clarence White and Tony Rice - hence the White Rice nickname - and is made with input from Clarence White’s daughter, herself a successful musician. Aside from it’s unique appearance it’s chief practical difference over a standard D-28 of the era is the soundhole, which was enlarged prior to White acquiring the guitar. It’s hard to know exactly how this impacts the sound, but the White Rice seems to have a slightly janglier sound than Alister’s straight D-28 replicas.
There’s no question Martin make great guitars and any of the options in this list have their strengths but don’t be afraid to give this outlier a go too – it might just be your perfect dreadnought.
We’ve written about this guitar previously so if you’re interested in the full story on this guitar you can check it out here.
From a quick straw poll of the guitar department, we decided that our favourite of the Martin Dreads is not the flagship D-28 but it’s slightly cheaper cousin: the D-18. Whilst the rosewood D-28 is often spoken about as the ultimate Martin design, the D-18 has quietly found its way into the hearts of many thousands of players who prefer the model for its clarity and quick. The guitar on the iconic first Elvis album is Elvis’s much loved D-18, and if your musical tastes are a little more modern a D-18 called Grandpa was famously used by both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. To our ears the sound of the mahogany 18 is a little less busy than the 28 and it works very well as a recording guitar, and there’s certainly no lack of volume for acoustic sessions.
The Standard series D-18 was recently overhauled to include features from the Vintage series version, so the model now has a lovely amber colour to the lacquer and the open gear tuners of the more expensive versions.
The Custom Shop
One of the great things about Martin is how willing they are to deviate from the standard models, and their Custom Shop works overtime to create the most spectacular musical works of art you can possibly imagine. When we were over at the Martin factory last year - when we finally managed to tear ourselves away from the guy that was inlaying a precious stone condor into a diorama of the Grand Canyon, to make up the fingerboard of a phenomenally expensive customer order (true story!) - we were able to order a couple of Custom Shop pieces that weren’t significantly more expensive than the mid level Standard series guitars. The nature of custom ordering means we haven’t picked an individual guitar for this top ten but the Custom Shop is something Martin are rightfully very proud, and we feel the option to spec out your own dream guitar is well worth mentioning. So, if you have an idea for that once in a lifetime instrument, give us a call and we’ll see what Martin can do.
Our penultimate entry isn’t a dreadnought but bear with us… the Martin dreadnought sound is truly iconic and we fully understand wanting to chase that sound – but they’re big guitars and not everyone feels comfortable with them. So, what do you do if you want that sound but find them a little hard to wrap yourself around? The M-36 has its roots in an ill fated attempt by Martin in the early 20th Century to break into the market for archtop jazz guitars. Unlike the majority of archtop builders who used cello style construction for their instruments, Martin tried to stick to what they knew and only the tops were carved – the back and sides were made the same way as their flat tops. Although nice instruments, Martin were never very successful in this market and most of the guitars found themselves abandoned until the vintage market began to gather pace in the 70s and 80s, when luthiers began to notice that those unloved old archtops had high grade Brazilian Rosewood back and sides – so began a cottage industry of converting them into flat top guitars. The archtop models were dreadnought sized but tighter in the waist, a little like a 000 size on steroids, and Martin have now introduced this larger size as a model in its own right. So, why is it in our Dreadnought list? The great thing about the M-36 is that the overall volume of air inside it is very much like a dreadnought, so it gives you a very full sound with a powerful bass that is similar to a dreadnought in sound, but because the waist is much tighter the guitar sits a little lower on your lap and is therefore a bit less of a hurdle to get your arm over. We feel the M size sounds a little smoother overall than a dreadnought so there’s definitely a subtle difference, but we’re very fond of this model and it’s well worth considering if you like the idea of a dreadnought but are struggling to feel comfortable with one.
And the Forsyth Favourite: The DTSG
New for 2018, the DTSG was designed with the recent decision by CITES to require a permit to ship instruments with Rosewood components across international borders for commercial purposes. Although not all Martins have Rosewood back and sides, Martin has used a Rosewood headstock veneer on all of their more up market models for many years: on the DTSG the headstock veneer is made of faux-tortoise shell. It also avoids woods that are likely to come under scrutiny such as Ebony and Honduras Mahogany, so for the DTSG the usual Ebony parts (fingerboard and bridge) are Richlite and the back and sides Sepele.
Of course, if you’re buying this guitar locally and hopefully you’re not planning on selling it any time soon so, whilst it’s interesting to know why Martin made it, we probably need to give you a better reason why it’s on the list. The DTSG is essentially a D-18 in terms of spec. The Sepele is a common substitute for Mahogany as it looks very similar – it’s a harder wood than Mahogany but tonally the two species are in a similar ballpark. As with the DR Centennial the DTSG has a simple dovetail and a modern finish, and you can choose between this gloss version or the DST satin model depending on your finish preference. What the DTSG has that sets it apart from the standard D-18 is the bracing, which is both scalloped and forward shifted. The bottom end on this guitar really is lovely – it has the clarity and liveliness of a D-18 but also a very rich fullness to the low end that makes it an absolute power house of a guitar. It also has great dynamic range retaining clarity even at very low volumes and, unlike some of the other models on this list, it feels as though you can get the full range of the guitar without requiring a plectrum to drive the top. We’ve put this guitar through it’s paces playing everything from ragtime fingerstyle to heavy bluegrass picking and it never fails to impress.
As with the DR Centennial, the DTSG is a Martin design that looks and feels familiar yet throws in a twist that sets it apart. It’s a beautiful instrument that could hold it’s own in terms of sound quality against much more expensive guitars. Simply sublime!
March 11, 2017
A few weeks ago we shared news that Forsyths are once again stockists of these fabulous instruments, and with the arrival of new stock we thought it might be worth giving them a fuller introduction.
Eastman Strings was founded in 1992 by Qian Ni, a student at Boston College of Music who initially set up Eastman as an importer of Chinese made violins, violas and cellos into the US. Whilst China was well established as a source of cheap instruments, Ni believed that for China to have a long term future in musical instrument making it would have to demonstrate an ability to make high quality instruments that were comparable to those being produced in the US and Europe: from the start Ni looked for violin makers who were Western trained in making professional grade instruments.
By 1994 Ni’s business was doing well enough to provide full time employment to a team of experienced makers and to set up a workshop based in Beijing dedicated to making Eastman violins. Critical to the success of the brand was Ni’s determination to produce instruments using traditional violin making techniques rather than relying on modern technology, and Eastman violins were made on workbenches using knives, chisels, gouges and rasps rather than routers and machine tools: to this day band-saws are the only modern devices to be used extensively within the workshops. By the end of the decade Eastman had expanded to include a bow making shop and a case factory in addition to ever increasing violin production.
With Eastman making waves in the classical world, Ni turned his attention to his passion for classic jazz guitar designers such as John Monteleone, Bob Bennedetto, John D’Angelico, James D’Aquisto and Claudio Pagelli. Having a team of luthiers experienced in carved top instruments and considerable buying power with timber suppliers with access to the high quality Spruce and Maple required for high end string instruments, Ni realised his company was ideally placed to produce a range of high quality yet affordable carved top jazz instruments and in 2002 Eastman showed a pair of unlabelled prototype arch top guitars in amongst the violins at that year’s NAMM show. Encouraged by the feedback they began to work on the project in earnest, studying a series of vintage arch-tops and enlisting US guitar makers Mark Lacey and Otto D’Ambrosio (the latter of whom initially licensed the design of the El Rey series of Eastman guitars and currently bears the title of master luthier for the Eastman custom division) to collaborate on the designs In 2004 the first production runs of Eastman guitars were produced and were an instant success.
Following a first wave of traditional arch tops, Eastman also released a range of mandolins based on the early 20th Century Gibson oval and f hole designs and using the same high quality and hand carved tone woods as the arch-tops, and a range of flat top acoustics based on pre-WWII Martin and Gibson construction techniques and with exceptional quality Sitka and Adirondack tops. The arch top range was also expanded to include a series of laminated construction electric guitars based on the popular Gibson ES-175 and ES-335.
By the 10th anniversary of Eastman guitars in 2014 the company had expanded to include a workforce of 250 people split between two workshops producing guitars, mandolins and violin family instruments. Whilst this represents a huge increase on the original set up, Eastman continues to operate on a strictly traditional basis with mostly hand tools used in production of all instruments: Contrary to common beliefs about Chinese manufacture Eastman also operate with employment conditions in line with Europe and the US. Its workforce is split evenly between men and women and employees are able to choose the hours they work. Also in keeping with US practices, each employee is trained to be specifically skilled in a particular job within the production process, ensuring that at each stage of the process each guitar receives the highest attention to detail from the person best equipped for that specific job. The only elements of Eastman guitars not handled in-house are the Gotoh hardware and the pickups, which are either from Kent Armstrong or Seymour Duncan depending on the model.
Although most Eastman models are finished in a traditional nitrocellulose lacquer, in 2016 Eastman introduced a unique new finish option on four of their models based on the antique varnish process specially adapted for the guitars by varnish shop manager Li Hua Rong: this process involves a traditional technique of hand varnishing the instrument in first a golden ground colour, then a further coat with a red dye that gives a beautiful three dimensional depth to the varnish and finally a shellac top coat that can be rubbed to a soft gloss finish. In addition to this the top coat is gently distressed to these instruments to create an aged patina that should mature gracefully as the guitar ages – a very sophisticated and elegant take on the popular relic fashion.
Eastman’s current range of electric guitars consists of the AR series of traditional carved and laminated top jazz guitars, the T series based on the Gibson ES-335 family of centre-blocked arch-tops, a more esoteric range of designer arch-tops such as the El Rey and Pisano, a Gretsch style arch-top named the T58, and the SB series of solid body Les Paul style guitars.
September 16, 2016
If there’s one thing every guitarist should know how to do, it’s changing strings! It’s one of those jobs that is easy once you have the knack, but if you haven’t restrung a guitar before it can be an intimidating proposition. In our next few blogs we’re going to show you how to go about it. We’ll start with a steel string acoustic.
August 20, 2016
The acoustic pickup market is a crowded and rather confusing place to be dipping your toe into but for this blog we thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at our best selling pickup brand, LR Baggs. Baggs have really come into their own in the last few years, appearing on numerous high end brands of acoustic guitars as well as being a very popular after market option for amplifying a favourite acoustic guitar.
There are a number of models of Baggs pickups including microphones, transducers that fit under the saddle or to the bridge plate, magnetic pickups and systems that blend sounds from more than one source. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones.
The Lyric is a microphone that sits on the bridge plate (a hardwood reinforcement of the soundboard that sits directly under the bridge) of the guitar. Internal microphones have an advantage over simply miking up a guitar in the conventional sense in that the mic is sheltered from extraneous sounds by the body of the guitar so they are a lot less feedback prone. However the drawback of this is that they tend to pick up a lot of harmonic content that never makes it to the outside of the guitar, giving a cluttered and rather boomy sound that doesn’t really reflect the tonal characteristics of the guitar as you hear it when you play. The Lyric counters this problem with a very clever preamp design that clears up the output of the mic, giving a much more natural and pleasing tone.
The Lyric is probably the best choice for giving an honest representation of the actual guitar it is installed into. Although much less feedback prone than a condenser mic on a stand in front of the guitar, it still suffers from feedback problems in loud environments, so it works best in environments where the pickup is reinforcing the natural volume of the guitar rather than helping the guitarist compete with a loud rhythm section.
We really like the Lyric when paired with a good acoustic amp with a DI output, giving a fair amount of flexibility in terms of volume to the front of house without having too much level and therefore feedback issues on stage.
The I-Beam is a compromise option that falls between the Lyric and the more conventional under-saddle transducer pickups. Like the Lyric it mounts to the bridge plate inside the guitar but, whilst the Lyric is a microphone picking up sound waves inside the guitar, the I-Beam is a transducer picking up vibrations from the top. Like the Lyric, it has the benefit of reading a little more of the tone of the individual guitar than the more common under saddle transducers do, so it’s more natural and honest to the guitar than other pickup systems. Tonally it’s quite close to the Lyric and it is a little less feedback prone, although it’s still one of the more sensitive options when it comes to feedback.
The I-Beam works well if you want something that has most of the tonal benefits of the Lyric but want a little more feedback resistance without the expense of the Anthem.
We find the I-Beam very sensitive to location inside the guitar and have encountered problems with it on instruments where space is tight and we can’t get it located exactly where we want it. If you’re considering an I-Beam definitely run it past our tech first, who will be able to advise as to how well it will be likely to work in your guitar.
The Element is the classic under saddle transducer that sits inside the bridge of the guitar. It works by reading vibrations largely from the saddle, the advantages of which are that it gets lots of signal to work and is better insulated against sounds that can cause feedback, but because a large percentage of the vibrations are coming directly from the saddle rather than the guitar body it’s less true to the sound of the particular guitar.
The Element can be ordered with either a single volume or with a tone control that allows you to tame the high frequencies. We prefer the volume and tone version but we appreciate that not everyone likes an array of dials to contend with, so we carry both in stock!
The Element is great for people playing in a band context with lots of loud instruments to compete with and for open mic type scenarios where you never quite know what sort of a PA you might be faced with. It’s a little more generic sounding than the Lyric and I-Beam but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in some contexts.
The Anthem is a system that blends a Lyric Microphone with an Element under saddle transducer. It’s really the best of both worlds, with the Lyric providing realism and fidelity and the Element topping up the level and allowing the guitar to be used at far higher volumes without feedback than the Lyric would be capable of on its own. The Element also adds a little crispness to the tone so it sounds better as well as being more versatile than either pickup on its own.
The Anthem is not a cheap pickup but it is an exceptionally good one. It’s definitely our favourite system, and its popularity with makers such as Lowden, Patrick James Eggle and Furch is testament that we’re not the only ones who are fans.
The M-1 takes a different approach to the other systems. It’s main source of sound is a magnetic pickup that reads the strings themselves in the same way and electric guitar pickup works, then feeds the signal through an EQ that shapes it to give a pleasing acoustic sounding tone. It also has a small transducer that read vibrations from the soundboard, allowing a little bit of flavour from the guitar itself and making it a little less generic sounding than many magnetic acoustic pickups.
The M-1 shares similar benefits to the Element in that it’s very resistant to feedback and easy to work with where other loud instruments are involved. It has a significantly different sound to the Element with a smoother response and warmer bass, so although it doesn’t quite have the character of the Lyric it’s a great choice for those who find under saddle transducers a little on the harsh side.
It’s all very well reading my wittering and what you really need is to hear them! Fortunately we’re one step ahead of you there: we have a test guitar set up with the three most popular - the Lyric, the Element and the M-1 - so you can try them for yourself in the shop. We also usually have guitars fitted with Anthems should you want to try that one, and our tech is happy to discuss any technical questions. So come in and see us!
August 9, 2016
We do a lot of set ups on acoustic guitars, and a common task that we do as part of a set up is reducing the saddle height to lower the action of the guitar. The saddle might need lowering for a number of reasons: perhaps the soundboard has expanded slightly due to an increase in humidity in the ambient conditions the guitar has been stored in, or perhaps it was simply left too high at the factory to begin with. In addition to that however, as guitars age the components can start to move in relation to each other causing the neck pitch (ie the angle the neck sits in relation to the body) to be shallower than it originally was. Eventually this becomes so significant that there is no longer any room to lower the saddle further, so more drastic measures are necessary to lower the action.
In the old days, the obvious solution was to get out the plane and start shaving: either the bridge was thinned in height or the fingerboard was planed at the nut end to add an extra degree or two of angle. The problem with this is shaving the bridge can impact the tone and structural integrity of the guitar and shaving will also change the feel of the neck as well as the other two issues, so neither solution is very good. As the vintage market began to gather pace in the 1970s and the value of older Martin and Gibson acoustics started to creep up, more sophisticated repair techniques were developed and gradually the process of resetting the neck became established as the preferred approach. In this process the neck is removed from it’s mortice in the neck block and the angle can then be adjusted and the neck refitted at an appropriate angle. Unlike shaving and other solutions, it’s a process of restoring a guitar to its original state rather than modifying it to compensate for a problem, and it’s the only one we’re happy with on a high quality guitar.
In this blog we’re going to look at a neck reset on a 1976 Fylde Goodfellow. Later Fyldes are designed with a bolt on system but the early ones have a traditional dovetail joint as you might find on a vintage US guitar, so it’s a good example of the process.
May 3, 2016
Regular readers of our blog will no doubt be aware that we’re big fans of the modern Danelectro brand: what we haven’t touched on is that we also love the originals, and we thought it might be interesting to do a comparison. The most popular model in the current range is the DC59 based on Jimmy Page’s legendary 3021 model Danelectro, and I’ve been doing some restoration work this month on an original ’59 Danelectro – it seems like a good opportunity to get them up on the bench and see how they compare.
A bit of background
Danelectro was founded in 1955 by Nat Daniels in Neptune, New Jersey, and they were always something of an oddity in the guitar world. There was no shortage of companies producing high quality guitars in the US in the mid 50s: indeed, this was the start of the golden era of the solid body electric guitar. Likewise, many companies saw the commercial potential of producing cheap solid body guitars that could be marketed to amateurs who aspired to playing Gibsons and Fenders but were restricted to more modest budgets – but these instruments were typically designed with profit rather than playability in mind, and were not the most pleasant instruments to play.
Daniels had something rather noble in mind: understanding that sky high actions and clubby baseball bat necks were hardly the best way to encourage a beginner to persevere with their instrument, he set out to design an instrument that would be cheap to manufacture yet would offer the same playability and comfort expected of much more expensive instruments.
The first Danelectros were odd affairs, the necks being built around a thick aluminium tube and having a peculiar box like profile. By1956 however this had been refined into a rather better design with aluminium rods providing the reinforcement to a comfortable, Fender like neck profile and the first of the classic Dano designs, the U2 was born. The double cutaway model nicknamed the Short Horn and favoured by Jimmy Page followed in 1959 along with a series of other designs that are now represented in the current range of reissues. With impeccable timing, Daniels sold the company in the late 60s just before the onslaught of Japanese budget guitars began to demolish the popularity of US made budget instruments, and the company closed its doors in 1969.
In the 1990s the Danelectro brand resurfaced with a range of reissue U style guitars made in Korea, rapidly expanding to cover the majority of the most popular original designs. The original Korean line possibly expanded a little too quickly and the line briefly disappeared again to be replaced by cheaper Chinese made products – this move has recently been reversed and the guitars are again being sourced from Korea. This most recent version of the company has been bowling us over with some really great, affordable instruments.
Representing the current line is a DC-59 in a rather vivid Black Sparkle. This model is based on the 3021 with twin lipstick pickups and the stylish ‘seal’ shaped pick guard. In the vintage corner is a 6027 Deluxe that has been through the wars but which has recently been brought back to its original glory. The 60 series Danelectros were similar to the original Short Horns with surface mounted controls rather than the large guard, and they featured binding and a wonderfully cheesy kitchen cabinet style wood finish – we have another old Danelectro with a more conventional finish on hand for when we talk about lacquer.
Although original Danelectros were usually painted inside and out, due to the ‘prefinished’ nature of the Deluxe the internal wood is left unfinished, so we can easily see the construction. Danelectros are typically hollow bodied designs comprising a wooden frame a bit like a tennis racket sandwiched between Masonite sheets for the top and back. The frame on the original is made mainly from pieces of Pine glued and stapled together, with a block of Poplar being substituted in the neck pocket area to offer better support for the neck screws. The wood is pieced together pretty haphazardly and band-sawed into shape with little concern for aesthetics. There is a tongue that extends from the neck pocket to the bridge, contacting the back but not the top, and a Pine block underneath the bridge that contacts both.
The reissue is a little neater internally and the frame is made from plywood. The edges are still rough but they have been routed into shape and follow the outline somewhat more faithfully. The tongue and bridge block are also plywood and it looks as though it is all one piece. The tongue on the reissue contacts both the top and the back. It feels significantly heavier than the original and the plywood is probably the cause of this.
The top and back of the original are made of Masonite. This is a US trade name for a product similar to hardboard in the UK and is made from steam cooked, pressure moulded wood fibres. It’s a little less unpleasant to work with than MDF type materials in that there are no resin products used in the manufacture. The original has a slightly rough feel to the inside. The spec sheet for the reissue also specifies Masonite but it’s a smooth material and, looking at the pick guard which is made from the same material and unpainted on the inside, looks a little more like MDF. The back and top are a little thicker than the original as well.
In terms of finish, the original is a little unusual in using a Melamine type finish with a Walnut wood effect. The original 30 series Short Horns were finished in black or copper nitrocellulose and we have a 1961 Danelectro made Silvertone 1419 on hand to get a look at the finish. Compared to the nitro finishes used by Gibson and Fender in the same era the finish is a little rough looking – it’s hard to believe this was ever buffed to a high gloss to the level that a Gibson finish would have been. Still, the ’61 has aged extremely well and looks very good for its age. The reissue is finished in a thick coat of polyurethane and buffed to a high gloss. It doesn’t look as attractive as the thin coat on the ’61 but it is nicely applied and should be a good durable finish.
The original Danelectro bridge was a simple affair comprising a metal plate mounted onto three screws with a Rosewood saddle that was adjustable for overall intonation. These saddles tend to wear over the years and ours has recently been re-profiled remove grooves caused by years of strings dragging across it. However, the biggest problem with the Rosewood saddle is that it offers no individual control over intonation so originals don’t intonate properly, and many owners swapped the bridges for alternative devices.
Amongst those who swapped out their Rosewood bridges was Mr Page who had his guitar modified with a Badass bridge unit, and the reissue goes for a replica of the Badass as its bridge of choice. It’s a decent piece of hardware and certainly allows for correct intonation, but unfortunately it’s countersunk into the top which makes string changes a bit fiddly – this isn’t a guitar you’d want to change a string mid set. The other Danelectros in the range use a bridge modelled on the original but with Fender style saddles to allow them to be intonated properly.
Another big structural difference between the original and reissue Short Horns is that the original has a non adjustable reinforcement to keep it straight and the reissue has a conventional modern two way truss rod. The reinforcement on the original is easy to see at the heel and comprises two aluminium rods that run from under the nut to the heel. Although you don’t have the option of setting the relief on this type of system, the neck of this nearly 60 year old guitar is straight as a die – it’s as rare to find original Danelectros with neck problems as it is to find pretty much any other 50s budget brand guitar without them! The adjustable rod in the reissue works well and it’s an obvious practical advantage to be able to adjust the guitar to suit the string type and player: no minus points for not copying the original. There is a small, neat looking truss rod cover at the headstock end.
The neck profiles on both guitars are a slim, modern feeling C shape – there’s perhaps a little more shoulder to the original but the reissue is a surprisingly close copy. Both have a metal nut slotted onto the end of the fingerboard. And both have slightly cheap looking plastic dot inlays for the position markers. The tuners on the original are single line Klusons, as the guitar most likely left the factory with although these ones are modern relics. The reissue has unbranded copies of the same tuners and they work well.
The actual neck join is considerably different on the original to the reissue. On the original the heel is narrow so that the bottom of the neck is visible on either side. There are three inline screws holding it to the body. The reissue has a conventional Fender type pocket with four screws. My guess would be that the original was limited to an inline setup due to the two reinforcement rods that run into the area a neck screw want to go into. Although this set up would likely be frowned upon today the join feels perfectly nice and tight on the original with just the three screws.
The pickups in original Danelectros were famously built using tubes bought from a lipstick manufacturer and both guitars have the instantly recognisable lipstick tube pickups. The original pickups were slightly unusual affairs inside and out with the windings wrapped directly around an Alnico 6 magnet as opposed to around a bobbin and pole pieces. We can’t find accurate specs for the reissues although we believe they’re made using a bobbin to make winding easier. If anyone knows, give us a shout! The pickups on both guitars are adjustable via screws through the back of the guitar with a block of foam rubber pushing the pickup upwards against the pull of the screws.
Another distinctive feature of Danelectros was the dual concentric pots that allow volume and tone to be adjusted from the same pot, and the reissue also replicates this. Unfortunately our ’59 no longer has its original wiring loom and we’ve yet to source a set of original pots for it, so we’ll have to pass on examining the old one. Original Danos were very heavily screened to prevent electrical interference, and our original should heve had the electronics housed in an aluminium box – sadly that’s gone too. The pots in the reissue are a little limited, the tone control in particular essentially going from fully on to fully off very quickly with out much variation inbetween. Still, it’s all part of the character.
So, how does all this affect the sound of the guitars?
Unplugged the two guitars sound quite different to each other. The Reissue has a fairly familiar unplugged solid body tone with plenty of sustain and lots of zing on the wound strings. The ’59 is much darker and more acoustic like, still quite quiet but fuller and softer in attack. It’s a more pleasant guitar to play unplugged.
Plugged into a Fender valve amp set clean, the neck pickup on the ’59 has a very sweet, warm tone. The attack of the note is unusual and almost acoustic like, possibly as a result of the wooden saddle and a reflection of the unplugged sound. The neck pickup of the Reissue sounds more compressed and the sustain is better. It’s a little pokier than the ’59 and has a harder edge without as much warmth as the ’59.
Switching to the bridge pickup, the ’59 is very harsh and nasal, a real ice pick of a tone. It has its uses but I wouldn’t say it’s a versatile sound – possibly the very close location of the pickup to the bridge contributes to this. The Reissue’s bridge pickup pickup is significantly fuller in sound and has a pleasing Rickenbackerish quality to it.
In the middle position, the ’59 sounds lovely with a hollow, percussive edge that reminds us of a good vintage Strat in the neck / middle position. The warmth of the neck pickup really comes through and it’s a huge strength of the ’59, a great voice that really brings the guitar to life. The Reissue sounds quite big in the middle position with less hollowness – we tried comparing it to a Strat with Texas Specials and there was some similarity with the Strat on neck / middle. It’s a very usable sound but doesn’t have the magic of the ’59.
Cranking up the gain, the ’59 on the neck pickup has a very garage rock feel to it, very loose and indistinct. It’s quite sensitive to changes to the amp settings and with some careful tweaking we were able to get some nice indie guitar rhythm sounds out of it. Switch to the bridge pickup and it has real bite to it, again not a particularly versatile sound but it would really cut through a busy mix. It’s very raw and abrasive which is not necessarily a criticism, although if you’re looking for Claptonesque woman tone you might be best moving on. With both pickups the ’59 keeps much of the character of the neck pickup but the slightly percussive act the sound has a little more definition.
The reissue sounds much tighter than the ‘59 through the same gain settings and the extra sustain helps to give the guitar a more modern sound. The bridge pickup in particular has a lot more body than the ’59, and the middle position sounds huge on the Reissue.
In conclusion, we didn’t feel it was a straight win for either guitar. The ’59 has bags of character where the Reissue feels a little more generic, however the Reissue felt more versatile and would certainly lend itself to a wider range of applications, and for classic overdrive territory it came close to the sort of tones you might associate with a Rickenbacker 330 or a Telecaster whilst not completely losing the character of the original. The Reissue feels like a lot of guitar for the money, where as a good condition original double cut Danelectro with two pickups is – although cheap for a vintage guitar – still going to set you back a similar amount to a modern Rickenbacker or US Tele. We had a lot of pleasure playing both!
April 23, 2016
One of the problems we occasionally face when working on older guitars is that occasionally we encounter an instrument with too much relief in the neck and no adjustable truss rod with which to correct it. Today’s patient is a really special guitar: a beautiful Fylde Falstaff from the 1980s. These earlier Fyldes were built with an aluminium bar inside the neck and generally they don’t develop issues with the necks bowing - unfortunately for this owner, this one is a rare exception so we need to do something to correct the neck relief.
There are three common solutions to this problem. The fingerboard can be planed to straighten it but this means removing the frets and refretting so it’s a big job and it also has a disadvantage in that by removing material from either end of the fingerboard the board will no longer be of uniform thickness, the neck may feel different as it is fractionally thinner than it started out and it’s definately not something you would want to do more than once. A better solution is to do a compression refret, where frets of wider tangs than the original are used to very slightly expand the board and push out the bow: this method is popular with old Martins that were built with thick bar frets and it’s a great solution in that the relief can be to a large extent calculable. But there’s a third method that is our go-to approach for this sort of problem and that is to straighten the neck with heat.
The heat press is a large metal element that can be clamped so that it is suspended a few millimetres over the fingerboard and heated up. By heating up the wood fibres and the glue join between the fingerboard and neck we can gently alter the shape of the neck. We have an array of clamps and cauls that allow us to decrease or increase the neck relief by pushing or pulling the neck into the shape we want.
The heat press has a couple of disadvantages. Although we can roughly calculate the change in relief it will produce in advance, some necks respond better than others to the process so occasionally it takes more than one attempt to get enough relief taken out. It’s also hard to know whether the neck will retain its shape in the long term and occasionally the relief will creep back in. However, it’s a very non invasive process that often produces excellent results and we greatly prefer it as a first approach to correct a neck with too much relief.
In this case, the press worked perfectly and the Fylde now plays beautifully with a low action - and it sounds gorgeous!
If you have a guitar without an adjustable trussrod that needs relief taking out, best thing to do is call in and have a chat with James or Glen in the guitar department - we’ll be happy to have a look at the guitar and advise accordingly.
March 26, 2016
Exploring The White Rice guitar
This guitar, we’re sure you will agree, looks like a guitar with a story to tell.
That story starts with the legendary country picker Clarence White and a very worn, battered 1935 D-28 the young White found in a music store in desperate need of attention. The guitar was in a terrible state of repair, was missing a fret board and had undergone a series of modifications. The top had been sanded thin and the neck shaved. The owner previous to Clarence had played the guitar sufficiently hard to wear away patches of wood around the sound hole, and attempted to improve the appearance of the guitar by enlarging the sound hole so that the damaged wood was removed. Still, it was a D28 at a price Clarence could afford, and he purchased the guitar and entrusted it to a repairer who fitted a Gretsch fret board and attended to various cracks. White was advised not to fit heavy gauge strings to it due to the sanded top being too thin to support them, advice that was swiftly ignored and the guitar was soon back for more repairs to the soundboard. For the early part of the 60s Clarence played the D28, until frustrations with its declining playability led to it largely being replaced by a newer D18. The guitar certainly continued to live a colourful life in Clarence’s hands, including getting shot with a BB gun and narrowly surviving a run in with a truck, before eventually being used as collateral on a loan in 1965 and never reclaimed.
Tony Rice first encountered the legend’s D28 as a 9 year old backstage at a Clarence White concert, where White kindly allowed the child a chance to play his old guitar. As Rice began to build a reputation of his own, he began to take an interest in acquiring the instrument and in 1975 tracked down its current owner, who was happy for Rice to purchase it. Once again, the guitar required considerable work to make it playable, with several cracks to repair, a very worn bridge plate and a much needed neck reset, but the resultant guitar has remained Rice’s number one to the present day.
In 1993 Rice’s Florida home was destroyed by tropical storm and, when a rescue party was sent in to recover the guitar it was discovered floating in Tony’s ruined lounge the sodden instrument was lovingly nursed back into playing condition by master luthier Harry Sparks. It remains in playable if fragile condition today.
A number of recreations of the legendary guitar have been made, with Santa Cruz working closely with Rice to produce a signature model, and Martin also offering official and inspired by copies of the guitar. Most recently English luthier Alister Atkin has been involved on a quest to recreate the guitar, and Alister was kind enough to spend some time with us discussing the guitar
Alister, what appealed to you about the White Rice guitar particularly?
When I was working on the Buddy Holly series of guitars I had an accident with one of them and rather than waste the instrument decided it would be interesting to try relicing it. Then, once I’d done one I got interested in the idea and, having always been a fan of Clarence White and Tony Rice and knew the story of that guitar, thought it might be a good project so I made one that sold quickly and I made another that did likewise. At that point I received a letter from Michelle White who is Clarence White’s daughter, who was worried about someone using her father’s name and we had a chat and I suggested a collaboration with her. I also decided I wanted to get closer to the original ’30s spec Martins and spent time studying a series of wartime d28s, taking measurements and listening to how they sound.
How many have you made of the White Rice now?
About 10-15. It’s been a slow burner being a bit of a niche guitar, particularly in the UK where we don’t have the big bluegrass scene there is in the US but for people who are into it they’re very into the idea and there’s a lot of goodwill for the project.
What changes have you made from your Retro D28 design? Did you copy features such as the unusual scale length of the original or did you think that was a step too far?
Essentially the differences are it has the bigger sound hole and extra frets in a longer board but it’s otherwise similar in lots of ways to the Retro. I looked into scale length and have though about copying it but there are actually lots of different guesses as to what it actually is so without getting a measurement from the guitar itself I don’t have a definite scale length to reproduce.
How you you feel the large sound hole effects the tone?
There’s quite an argument that a larger sound hole works well on most guitars – it really throws the sound out. I’m a fan of that guitar and I like the combination of a dreadnought with a big sound hole. I like a lot of different guitar designs and I’m quite traditional in that I don’t like messing about too much with the originals but I’ve tried the big sound hole on other guitars such as OMs and liked it.
Tony Rice always said he didn’t think it made a difference!
Well, it’s all subjective!
How have you found working with Michelle White? What has her input brought to the project?
At the point she got in touch Martin had stopped production of their model and she was interested in continuing the legacy. She’s done a lot to helped publicice them and given me some great contacts. She’s working on an event to help Tony, who’s not currently able to play, and I’m building a guitar to auction auction to support that.
Do you think the original was a special instrument or was it more the fact that two extraordinary guitarists played it?
There are so many different opinions as to how the original sounds. I met with Herb Peterson who used to play with Clarence White and he passed on lots of information about the guitar including some comments about the original and the early replicas. On the one hand I’ve always believed the hands of the player are really what makes music special, but then if you put a great guitar in the right hands then the combination is certainly going to sound great!
Can you tell us a little about the relic process? What challenges are there to relicing an acoustic compared to an electric guitar? Presumably you’re a fan of relic guitars?
We use a specific lacquer where we’ve basically tried to take out all the things we’ve been adding to lacquer for years to to make it behave better and less likely to crack! The recipe we have works very well in that it cracks very easily. The process is similar - we can still use temperature to check the finish but we have to be a little more careful and give it time to settle.
You have to try to get your head around the concept of relics and understand why its done and see it as a bit of fun. There is a bit of a tonal benefit - the finish is thinner which is a good thing so there’s good reason to do it if you’re trying to make a great guitar and it also just feels right in the hands. There’s an illusion going on but they sound different and feel differ and if it makes you approach them differently in how you play them it’s all to the good.
Are there other historic guitars that you’d be interested in making a recreation of?
Not at the moment, no. I think there’s still places to go with the White Rice, particularly if we get to see the original which is something I’d like to do there will still be things to learn on it, so the White Rice project isn’t completed just yet.
You can try the White Rice for yourself in our Manchester show room. If you’re interested in reading more about the guitar there’s an excellent chapter in this E-book published by the Fretboard Journal.
You can hear Tony playing the original White Rice in this amazing clip on Youtube
February 18, 2016
Ok, so regular callers have probably spotted we’re a bit behind in our new arrivals updates! Truth be told, January is always geared towards the sale and new stock is a little thin on the ground - so we haven’t had much to report. Still, February is upon us now and the new arrivals are coming in thick and fast!
First up this month are Gretsch, who have a whole new range hot off the press. Made in Indonesia rather than Korea, these new Streamliner models are hollow and semi hollow designs that take their inspiration from classic Gretsch models whilst adding their own twist. The 2420 is a deep hollow bodied design inspired by the tradition Brian Setzer styled Gretsch models, with newly designed Gretsch humbuckers and small, Gibson-esque F holes. The 2622 pitches its tent somewhere between the popular Electromatic 5422 and a Gibson 335 with a centre block to reduce feedback and increase sustain. Unlike a 335 it’s made of Spruce so it’s not as heavy as you might imagine, and you get a choice of stop tailpiece or Bigsby B70. The 2655 is inspired by the Falcon Junior, a Japanese made model that scaled down a White Falcon to 3/4 size. It’s more or less the same size as Pro Jet but hollow with a centre block. We have a 2420T in Flagstaff Sunset with a Bigsby, a 2622 in Walnut with a stop bar, a 2622T in Torino Green with a Bigsby and a 2655T in Black with a Bigsby - all in stock now.
Fender’s run of 2015 limited editions must be lagging behind a bit because January brought us a rather cool US Mustang Shortboard with P90s and a lovely natural finish Ash body with a Walnut competition stripe. It’s really very pretty.
Blog readers will probably have read lots of posts on Gordon Smith recently but we do love them and the shop is full of them, so forgive us if we can’t shut up about them! In stock as of last week are a GS1.60 in Black, a left handed GS1 also in black, a Graf Deluxe in red, a GS2 Deluxe also in red, A Tele Graf and a set of gorgeous custom GS1s in official Morris Minor colours. We have a lot more on order so get in touch if you’re interested in a particular one.
On the acoustic front there’s a new Faith model in the Naked series, a very attractive Venus electro. The Venus range is doing particularly well at the moment and this seems like a very sensible addition.
We sold a lot of Auden guitars over the Christmas period so we have a few new arrivals to tell you about. In the Neo range we have a Marlow, a 14 fret guitar that recalls the Gibson L00 in proportions, Cheaper than the standard series, the Neo has a satin finish and comes with a gig bag rather than a case, but it is avery bit as good in sound to the Standard Marlow - in fact, as fans of the Mahogany sound we’s even go as far as saying it could be a little better… but we’ll let your ears be the judge. At the other end of the scale we have a Grace jumbo, a big bodied Spruce and Maple instrument will all the rumble and boom you might expect, a very Cute Emily Rose parlour in all-Mahogany, and the Chester and Julia are back in stock.
Lastly for this week, I always have to remind myself that we sell guitars at every price point and I shouldn’t just go on about the pricey stuff: and these next two little sparklers are anything but. A very cool new design by Aria, The FET-F1 is an electro acoustic with laminated flame Maple tops and F holes instead of the usual round hole. There’s a sunburst and a natural finish and they’re £225 each.
That’s all for now… more next week!
February 15, 2016We have a new, Forsyth exclusive Gordon Smith to tell you about!The first in a series of collaborative projects between ourselves and the luthiers at Gordon Smith these guitars are a great example of how these lovely designs can be customised.Our first edition is a play on the custom car colours used by Fender in the 50s and 60s but, since Gordon Smith are a very British brand of guitar, we felt it appropriate to look to Britain for our custom colours. In this series you will find six classic Morris Minor finishes, the lacquer supplied by official Morris sources: Clipper Blue, Racing Green, Burgundy, Highway Yellow, Sage Green and Trafalgar Blue. We’ve also added a custom pickguard (designed by Forsyth’s very own James) in a cream plastic that perfectly matches the finish, and the elegant Gotoh bridge and chromed control knobs both help to continue the car theme.The pickup has a great Manchester pedigree, made in Chorlton by Jaime at The Creamery and designed by Jaime and New Order / Joy Division guitarist Bernard Sumner.We have one of each of these guitars ready to go and once those sell out we can take orders with a 12 week lead time. As these instruments have been designed by us they can only be ordered through Forsyths so if you like the look of them drop us a line! To view the individual colours just click the colours above and it will take you to the product page.
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