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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Acoustic Guitar Review!
Taylor 614ce Grand Auditorium
Acoustic-Electric Guitar

It's a dirty job, but someone has to review these nice guitars

Price: $4,198
Likes: rich sound, amazing playability
Dislikes: USA guitars are quite expensive
Wow Factor! maple never sounded so good
More info: Taylor 614CE

by Bob Kovacs
  It is hard to resist the Siren song of a new guitar. The look, smell, touch, feel, sound… all are intoxicating to a guitar fan. The new Taylor 614ce maple body acoustic/electric hits all the right marks with those sensations, making it a pleasure to hold, play and admire.  I played the Taylor 614ce for a month, and was able to use it at least one live performance. It plays like a dream. Made in El Cajon, Ca. Taylor 614ce has a list price of $4,198.

  The Taylor 614ce is a grand auditorium guitar with a cutaway that gives access to higher notes on the neck. Size-wise there are a couple of slight differences between the shape of the 614ce and a standard dreadnaught guitar: The 614ce is just a bit thinner (by about 1/2 inch) and slightly more pinched at the waist than a full-size dreadnaught guitar. These are not a big differences but you will see them if you look. Taylor refers to the size as “Grand Auditorium,” but it is nearly identical to a full-size guitar in sound and handling.
  Like many guitars today, the 614ce is electrified. In this case, it uses Taylor’s Expression System 2 electronics that has three pickups in the saddle, a pre-amp circuit board inside the guitar and a 9-Volt battery at the base of the guitar next to the strap button. There are three controls on the forward edge: volume, bass and treble, each with an identical knob and center detent. The pre-amp has a phase-reverse switch that can be reached through the sound hole.
  A big feature of the Expression 2 system in the 614ce is that it has three pickups, one each for the E/A, D/G and B/E strings. There are small adjustment screws for these pickups, but the two-page manual for the Expression system cautions against anything other than the most careful adjustment. It does say that you can change the timbre of the sound by adjustment, so really picky players do have some room for tweaking to tailor the sound.

New bracing and maple back/sides make this guitar sing

  The top of the Taylor 614ce is sitka spruce that has been processed with what the company calls “torrefaction,” which ages the wood by warming it to provide a seasoned sound and less tonal change over the life of the guitar. Taylor says that the finish on the top is unusually thin, which causes less dampening than usual guitar finishes.
  The sides and back of the 614ce are dark-stained maple – in the case of the guitar I received, the maple has a beautiful tiger-stripe quality. The fretboard is ebony with variegated plastic inlays on a hard rock maple neck. (Taylor calls the fret inlay material “Grained Ivoroid Wings.”) The neck has a truss rod that can be adjusted through a removable plate on the head.
  The 614ce has nickel-plated Taylor tuning machines that otherwise resemble Gotoh tuners. The nut is made from Tusq and the saddle is Micarta. The guitar comes stringed with Elixir Phosphor Bronze HD light-gauge strings.
  One of the more interesting construction features of the Taylor 614ce is the bracing on the inside of the guitar’s back. Instead of being perpendicular to the neck of the guitar, they angle at quite a noticeable slope. Taylor calls this bracing design “Advanced Performance with Relief Rout.”
  The Taylor 614ce comes with a snug-fitting hard case that has five latches to secure the lid. Inside, there is soft padding that cushions the guitar. The storage compartment is fairly spacious – you won’t run out of space to carry a couple of spare picks with this case.

The audition
  I may have worded things above in a way that makes it sound like I wasn’t impressed with the Taylor 614ce. However, this is a beautiful guitar that plays and feels like a premium instrument. Everything about it is well built, and it exudes an aura of fine construction and quality materials. The spruce top has no flaws, and the maple on the sides and back is perfectly matched. It works together as an attractive package.
  The bracing and internal construction are neat as a pin, with no excess glue anywhere. The three sound controls (volume, bass, treble) on the forward surface of the guitar turn with a pleasant tactile feel. The tuners – which I seldom had to touch because the 614ce held its tune so well – feel just right. They make it easy to find the sweet tuning spot.
  And “sweet” just may be the best one-word description of the Taylor 614ce. The action on the neck was low enough to minimize finger pressure, yet without a hint of buzzing. My hand wrapped around the neck as though it had been there for years – it’s a completely natural feel for me.
  Most guitar players will say that different guitar brands have their characteristic sound, and Taylor is no exception. To me, Taylor guitars always had a strong bass that took nothing away from the treble tones. If anything, this 614ce extends the richness of the brand’s bass, while somehow making the top end sweeter as well.
And “sweet” just may be the best one-word description of the Taylor 614ce. The action on the neck was low enough to minimize finger pressure, yet without a hint of buzzing. My hand wrapped around the neck as though it had been there for years – it’s a completely natural feel for me.
  I’ve also found that my favorite guitars transmit the instrument’s vibration to my body in a pleasing way. The Taylor 614ce has that sensation. It’s hard to describe, but it feels like the guitar is talking to my chest when I’m playing it. In the case of the 614ce, it was saying, “Yes, this is what you’re supposed to do.”
  The Taylor 614ce sounds great when noodling around the house, or even taking out on the front porch to share the tone with my neighbors. However, I wanted to get some experience playing it in front of a crowd, so I went to the local folk club’s weekly gathering to see what others thought of the sound. This was an all-acoustic night with no amplification, so the goal was to play and sing loudly – usually my forte. The room was packed with 80 or so people, most of them musicians who know the sound of a good instrument.

Beautiful striped maple embody this Taylor

  When it came time for my performance, the 614ce had no trouble filling the room. Granted, the rules are that no one can talk when someone performs. However, singing along is encouraged, and most of the room sang along to the familiar songs I played. It was a fine experience, helped in part by the Taylor 614ce’s good projection and balanced tone. The guitar’s sound got only positive comments when the night was over.
  Of course, that didn’t test the pickup quality, so I plugged the 614ce into a PA system at home. There is an amazing amount of volume, and the three knobs worked exactly as I expected. The plugged-in sound of the Taylor 614ce is more naturally “acoustic” sounding than either of my other two guitars with pickups. However, it still isn’t quite the same natural sound quality you get when you mic a guitar properly. It is quite usable though, and no one will mistake the sound of the Taylor 614ce with that of a Fender Telecaster. The 614ce’s plugged-in sound is clearly in the acoustic range, and about as close to a natural acoustic guitar as I have heard from a built-in pickup.

The verdict
  The Taylor 614ce is an expensive guitar, so we should expect that it will have quality construction, fine sound and excellent playability. The 614ce definitely met my expectations in this regard. Only you know if you have the disposable income for a really fine guitar – if you do and you are in the market, the Taylor 614ce will not disappoint.
  What I liked most about the 614ce was that great feedback it gave my body when I played. In my experience, the best guitars have that kind of feedback, and that puts the Taylor 614ce right up there with the best I have ever played. The Taylor 614ce most certainly gets our Everything Guitar Network Grade A Award.

  Bob Kovacs has been playing guitar for 40+years, and has several performance videos on YouTube. Be forewarned… he usually favors novelty songs. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Acoustic Guitar Review!
Eastman E20D Solid-Wood
Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar

Price: $1,500
Likes: traditional build, open dread sound
Dislikes: sunburst finish a little blotchy
Wow Factor! classic tone at 1/4th the price
More info: Eastman E20D

by John Gatski
  Let's face it. The world economy is bringing products to the US that we once thought would be impossible to make elsewhere. Twenty years ago, a high-end, Asian acoustic guitar was somebody’s dream. But today, the guitar market has changed. Low-end guitars from China and Indonesia are as common as USA-made Silvertones were in the 1960s, but also there are more and more top-class guitars being made in China.
  The Eastman Instrument Company has been making premium jazz guitars, mandolins, cellos, violins, and woodwind and brass instruments for decades, and began producing quality jazz guitars in the early 2000s. In fact, I wrote a review on Eastman’s first hollow body single pickup jazz guitar back in in 2003. It was bit rough by today’s company standards ,but it played nice and was a full, carved solid wood archtop.
  Today, Eastman Guitars has a full line of upper-end guitars, including acoustics. These guitars are designed to rival Martin, Gibsons and other USA-brand, top hand-produced acoustics. Based on my review of the E20D dreadnaught, these guitars are pretty darn good, especially when you can can buy them at 1/4th the price of a USA-brand equivalent.

  The E20D acoustic is a full-sized, solid-wood, dovetail neck, dreadnaught — similar to D28 Martin upper-end models. It features solid, Adirondack spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, 1940s traditional style, 5/8th-inch, scalloped X-bracing, ebony fretboard with snowflake inlays and herringbone/plastic body binding. The glued-in, dovetail neck is solid mahogany with a 25.5-inch scale length. Body width is 16-inches and body thickness is 4 and 23/.32-inches thick The rosewood veneered headstock gets Gotoh vintage style open back tuners.
 Because of the extra emphasis on the midrange/low treble, the E20D is an excellent fingerpicker for a dreadnaught. Some dreads are not great fingerpickers because of the extra mid-bass. The E20D, however, has a rich, percussive character.
  The E20D also sports bone nut and saddle with a carved ebony bridge. The guitar comes standard with Diaddario EXP light gauge strings (.012-.053) and is shipped in a nice case. In the case, is a stick on pick guard you can attach yourself — if you want to lessen the chance of scratching the top with a pick. I left it off. since the pick guard does have some sonic mute effect on the treble. The E20D is offered in a natural finish and the E20D-SB sunburst model, which I received for the review. There are also other dreadnaught, jumbo and parlor-sized Eastman models.

The audition
  The E20D reminds me of recent Martin reissues that pay homage to by-gone eras of the classic acoustic guitars. The E20D is closest to the Martin D28 Marquis or HD-28V Adirondack Edition — with their forward-shifted, scalloped bracing — which dates back to the late 1930s and solid Adirondack spruce tops, which is harder and relays a crisper, midrange and low treble with a tight, authoritative bass. In fact, the E20D looks a lot like the D28 Marquis in sunburst.
  Upon closer inspection, the E20D bracing is not quite like the Marquis standard “golden era” X-bracing that crosses once inch from the soundhole. The E20D braces cross about 1.25-inches behind the soundhole.
  The E20D’s top has that customary Adirondack wide-spaced grain and its apperance was accentuated by the thin, nitrocellulose lacquer finish. However, the E20D-SB test sample finish had some irregular blotching in the sunburst, which is not as attractive as blemish-free top-graded tops, but the aesthetic does not affect the sound.
  Inside, the perfing and braces looked professionally glued in and uniform, with just a smidgen here and there of excess glue. The saddle was little taller than I normally see from a top-grade Martin or Gibson acoustic, but the action was setup to compensate for it, and the action felt nice with the light strings.

  The Eastman E20D really showed its power. It is very close to the tone of a D28 Marquis — with a slightly brash midrange and low treble but plenty of volume.

  The E20D was a fresh guitar, and as such, needed time to season before I did any serious playing. Its initial tone was fairly loud, but a bit constrained as the wood was still quite “wet” The inside was very dark and damp looking. Thus, I left it out of its case for several months, playing it only occasionally.
  After four months, of “drying,” the Eastman E20D really showed its power. It is very close to the tone of a D28 Marquis — with a slightly brash midrange and low treble, but plenty of volume. Now I have played some D28 Marquis’ that were not as open as others. The broken-in, seasoned E20D was quite open under full strum, with perhaps a little less bass volume than the best Marquis, but enough volume to play with a Bluegrass band, and a bit of top-end sparkle. It reminded more of late 1950s D28 in sonic texture. Though not as midbass pronounced as an Adirondack-top Martin, the E20D bass performance, nonetheless, was quite good, a tight mid bass that was in balance with the mids and treble.

My Tester Eastman E20D

  In my sound SPL level test, using an AudioControl RTA, I measured the E30D sound level at full strum with a large triangle fender medium pick. With the light EXP strings, I got 96 dB at 1 meter. Plenty loud to keep up with a banjo or other acoustic instruments. The loudest acoustic I have ever played was a Martin D28VS at 99 dB.
  The Eastman neck/fretboard has the Martin feel with easy to fret and pick. My fingers never felt cramped. The guitar’s high saddle was compensated by a medium action, Thus, the string tension was m manageable. When I switched to Martin SP light/medium strings, the pinch to the fingers was more noticeable. If I played these strings, or true mediums on a daily basis, I would plane down the saddle a bit.
  Because of the extra emphasis on the midrange/low treble, the E20D is an excellent fingerpicker for a dreadnaught. Some dreads are not great fingerpickers because of the extra mid-bass. The E20D, however, has a rich, percussive character that gets more pronounced if you have a bit of extra fingernail.

The verdict 
  In this increasingly global world of commerce , the Eastman Instrument Company has learned how to compete in the musical instrument realm. Its jazz guitars and acoustic guitar line, such as the E20D tested here, is faithful variation of a USA-made dreadnaught with just a bit of extra mid/treble sparkle to give it is own character. After a few months of seasoning, I was impressed with its playability, quality setup and feel. Best of all for the customer, this guitar is only $1,500. A dovetail, lacquer-sprayed Martin D28 Marquis will cost you about $5,700. There are of course, less expensive Martin with different fretboard and bridge materials, and the mortise/tenon-attached neck, such as the HD-16 Adirondack ($3,199), but feature wise, the D28 Marquis and the HD-28V Adirondack, ordered through the custom shop, are the intended competitors.
  Don’t get me wrong. Heck, I love Martins, and I have saved up the extra cash many times to buy various top-end models, including a John Gatski-custom OO-28V and my beloved J-40 standard, as I love USA-made instruments. But if you can’t afford the American brand, there is nothing wrong with looking at an Eastman. They are excellent acoustic guitars, and there electrics ain’t too shabby either.

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