Acoustic Blues – An Acoustic Odyssey

When I first decided to stick it to The Man last June, (by accepting his generous offer of voluntary severance), one of the chief items on my wishlist was a decent acoustic guitar.  I’ve had my Epiphone jumbo (it’s a dreadnought but nobody called them that when I bought it) since 1973, so I didn’t think I was being particularly profligate.  Nor did I think it would be a process quite so fraught with indecision and frustration.

I had a notion that a Taylor would fit the bill and during a visit to the London Acoustic Show last September I passed a pleasant half-hour working my way along the examples on display at the manufacturer’s booth, from the spunky GS mini to the luxuriously appointed 814.  My friend Tim is of the opinion that Taylors are the ones to beat and they are undoubtedly fine guitars that offer an excellent playing experience.  I was hugely impressed.   I was likewise taken with the quality of the Auden models I tried, especially the Chester, and the feel and look of the Eastman L-00 made my heart give a little skip, but the real hit of the show for me was the Faith Mercury, a sweet little parlour-sized instrument that punches well above its weight and is approximately half the price of the others.  With much food for thought, the train journey home fled by in a blurred contemplation of tonewoods, scale lengths and body shapes.  But I was in no hurry;  this one was going to be a keeper, so I was prepared to take my time and choose the best instrument I could afford.

A month or so (and a few hundred mouse-clicks) later, I compiled a list of desirable characteristics.  It’s going to be used mainly for fingerstyle playing (the old Epi warhorse gives me all the sturm und drang I need in a group situation) so it would have to have a smallish body, either Parlour- or Orchestra-sized.  For clarity and note separation it needs a spruce or cedar top and rosewood back and sides and all woods must be solid, no laminates or layers.  I’d prefer it to have a gloss finish and a pickup, the latter for recording and just in case the band I occasionally play in is ever faced with an audience of more than a couple of dozen.   Finally I’d like it to be USA-made.  I’m aware that this is contentious; I know that many fine guitars come out of China and Indonesia and even the Eastern Bloc, but what can I tell you?  I grew up listening to James Taylor and CSNY and those roots go deep.

So my shortlist included the Taylor 412CE,  Martin 000-28 and OM-21 models, one of the Larrivee OMs, the Gibson L-00 and, because I’d been so impressed by them in London, the Eastman version of the above and the Faith Mercury.  Not all the guitars ticked all the boxes on my spec list, but they all came close.

Then I started hitting the web for prices and rapidly discovered that my notional budget was wholly inadequate for most of the objects of my desire.  The Martins were way out of my league, the US Taylors more than I really wanted to pay.  On a flying visit to Denmark Street I tried a Larrivee OM-03 in the cave of delights that is Wunjo Guitars.  It was all-solid, US-made and very tidily constructed.  It was a lovely guitar and I really wanted to like it, but sound-wise, on that day, it just didn’t speak to me.

Bewildered and a tad disheartened, I suspended  the search, resolving to re-focus after Christmas.  In fact it was more than three months later before a chance email set me off on the trail once again.

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