Arguably the biggest story in the acoustic guitar scene in 2019 was Sheeran By Lowden, the partnership between the pop star and the boutique Northern Irish brand. But it was far from the only one.
Check out our top acoustic guitars of the year below, then scroll to the bottom to pick your favourite. Cast your vote by 4 November to stand a chance to win a Music Man Valentine Tremolo worth £2,649!
1B&G Caletta Crossroads
Fabulous build and playability, great looks and gorgeous tone make the Crossroads – the more affordable sibling to the Private Build Caletta – hard to fault. It generates far more volume and bass that we would have anticipated. There’s nothing boomy or overblown about it and the response is nicely extended in the treble, but the overall frequency balance is very even and balanced. Having said that, the response is extremely quick and there’s a willing liveliness that gives the Crossroads a vibrancy and power that isn’t always present in similarly constructed vintage acoustics. The looks may be retro, but the tone isn’t.
2Dearnaley Guitars Natural
Combining a forward and articulate midrange with harp-like trebles, the Dearnaley Natural effortlessly spans rootsy Americana and ambient Celtic-tinged folk. It has an Alpine spruce top, fiddleback maple back and sides, and an X-brace pattern comprising mahogany and spruce braces.
The first thing that strikes us tone-wise is the extraordinary sustain. It’s almost like playing an upright piano with a weight leaning on the sustain pedal. Then there’s the clarity, treble sparkle and a feeling of effortless power. The Natural does not need to be played hard to generate a lot of sound and there’s considerable dynamic range to go with the lightning transient response.
3Taylor 562ce V-Class 12-string
At Summer NAMM 2019, Taylor announced it was adding V-Class bracing to its 12-string instruments for the first time – and the 562ce is among the first few models. The innovative bracing solution offers greater pitch accuracy and harmonic agreement between notes, which are factors even more significant on a 12-string.
Stay tuned for our full review of the 562ce V-Class 12-string!
4Sheeran By Lowden S04
Ed Sheeran partnering Lowden Guitars was by far the biggest story from NAMM 2019. These made-in-Northern Ireland acoustics promised to capture the crispness and refinement of Lowden’s higher-end instruments – at under £1,000. And they delivered. The S04 is, visually and sonically, every inch a Lowden for the short of pocket.
5Eastman Double Top Series DT30D
The DT30D’s soundboard is a three-layer construction, but it’s certainly not plywood. Instead, we have two very thin layers of Sitka spruce sandwiching a Nomex ‘honeycomb’ core. The idea is to achieve a far higher strength-to-weight ratio than is possible with a single spruce layer – Eastman claims that its double tops are 30 per cent lighter than conventional tops.
Tone-wise, we hear something smoother, far more balanced and, dare we say it, refined. Addressing the frequency extremes first, the bass is solid, but it doesn’t produce the chest-filling thump that most associate with dreadnought tone. At the treble end, there’s no trace of the metallic ping and brashness that so often accompanies fresh spruce and rosewood constructions.
6Martin D-28 Modern Deluxe
With this Modern Deluxe D-28, Martin has managed to bolster the mids and even out the string-to-string response – in a way that seems quite in vogue – without losing what we like about the company’s traditional dreadnought sonic signature. It’s not excessively bright, the bass is effectively de-boomed without sacrificing power and the sustain is remarkable. Overall, this is a top-drawer dreadnought that’s both contemporary and timeless.
The F models have been popular since their release in 1982 and tweaked in 2003 with a smaller soundhole for extra projection and focus, and this F32 sits at the top of the range. It combines a Sitka spruce top with rosewood back and sides and as usual, we see a five-piece neck of laminated mahogany and rosewood, with an ebony ’board and a top-loading rosewood bridge.
In terms of frequency range and definition, the F32 compares to certain classic acoustics in much the same way high-end hi-fi systems compare to computer monitors with an added subwoofer. The phrase ‘harp-like’ seems more apt than ‘piano-like’; the F32 has a mysterious and ambient quality. The tone is drenched in harmonics that linger on inside the body like a tuned natural reverb.
8Auden Artist Mahogany Julia
Billed by its UK makers as a “great songwriter’s guitar”, the Artist Mahogany Julia has an open-pore satin finish that lets it project far louder than its small body may suggest. It has an AAA spruce top, African Mahogany back and sides, an ebony fretboard, and maple/mahogany/abalone detailing.
Stay tuned for our full review of the Artist Mahogany Julia!
9Taylor Builder’s Edition 717e Grand Pacific
The Builder’s Edition 717e Grand Pacific sounds and plays like a very high-end, hand-built guitar – the type that’d cost substantially more if it had been made by an artisan luthier. There isn’t a harsh tone to be had, the sonic character is boldly clear and assertive and there are plenty of dynamics and tonal variations. It is, to our eyes and ears, the most refined and balanced V-Class guitar yet, with fabulous looks and a serious high-end vibe.
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