I was prodded back into my quest for an acoustic guitar to treasure when the weekly email from GuitarGuitar offered special deals on a range of all-mahogany Taylors. I wasn’t particularly interested in those but a sidebar on the store’s excellent website put me a click away from the 412e Limited Edition Rosewood. This appeared to tick all my boxes, including being if not within then only slightly over my budget. Even better, the website’s real-time stock checker showed that my local store had one on the wall.
I beetled over first thing the next morning to be there when the doors opened and within a few minutes I was in a soundproof booth cradling the instrument in my arms. It had a fine looking spruce top, although I wasn’t struck by the satin finish of the back, whose rosewood looked very light against the mahogany neck. The action on Taylors is legendary, however, and this example was no exception; just like the ones at the London Acoustic Show it was a joy to play. After about fifteen minutes, I began the familiar internal debate. Was I going to buy it? How would I feel if this afternoon I was playing it in the comfort of my own home? How would I feel if this afternoon I wasn’t? Did I like it enough to part with the cash? At this point the glass door to the booth slid open and the attentive assistant Dave slipped in to ask how I was getting on. Did I mind if he tried it too? Not at all; it would give me a chance hear it in action. So he set about it in earnest and immediately its chief characteristic punched to the fore: it has a very, very bright tone. Strummed heavily, it seemed overly toppy and it just wasn’t the sound I was looking for. After a few more minutes he left me to my own devices but I already knew I wouldn’t be taking it home that day.
By now I had the scent of tonewood in my nostrils and so set off in pursuit once again. A few YouTube videos and some cross-referencing later, the allure of the Auden Chester had re-insinuated itself. It is a beautiful guitar. It is available with a choice of spruce or cedar top, full-body or cutaway, it has a pickup and it’s hand-finished in Northampton after initial construction in China. Online demos showed it equally at home being strummed or picked and its sweetness rang out in both. Audens are, unfortunately, not widely stocked and the nearest store to me to have one was in Leicester. So the following Monday morning, off I went.
The attention I received at Sheehan’s was excellent and of all the shops I visited (and there are three more to come!) they had hands down the best audition room. It not only has several hangers, so that you can easily have three or four guitars at hand, but also a convex wall that bounces the sound of an instrument back at you so you can hear it the way your audience will. Somehow, though, (and I’m still not sure how it happened) I never got to try either of the Audens they had in stock but after a chat about my requirements with the very helpful Callum I did spend a brilliant hour in the soundproof room with a Faith Saturn, a Furch, two Eastmans, a medium-sized acoustic amp and a cup of coffee. Of these accoutrements, the Eastman E20-OM came very close to perfection. It’s a Martin clone with a seductive combination of an Adirondack spruce top (this example had a beautifully wide, straight grain) and rosewood back and sides, a mahogany neck and ebony fretboard, a fantastic look and tone and a very attractive price-tag. But at the point of committing, something pulled me back. I couldn’t pin down exactly why, but I shied away and, gratefully stuffing the assistant’s contact details into my pocket, I ducked into the car and pointed it home.
What made me hesitate? I had some serious thinking to do.