Lava ME 3 review: The acoustic guitar reimagined as a giant smartphone
With its unique moulded construction and onboard technology, Lava’s ‘smart guitar’ wants to shake up the whole six-string industry. Will it succeed?
Here at Guitar.com, we pride ourselves on addressing the issues of the moment. And in the case of the Lava ME 3 acoustic guitar, the question on everyone’s lips is: “What the blinking flip is that?”
If you live away from the bright lights of social media, you may not have felt the impact that this unlikely carbon-fibre beast has had – blowing the minds of just about every Instagram six-string slinger with its in-built touchscreen, loopers, effects and backing tracks. It’s the guitar of the future! But is it really, though? Let’s find out.
Much has been made of Lava’s aesthetics, comparisons inevitably being made with Apple products. Several aspects of the instrument and its presentation do sail perilously close to the Cupertino corporation’s style, and opening the lightweight fitted ‘Space Bag’ certainly reveals a silhouette that’s more Jony Ive than Andy Powers.
But the first thing we really notice is how comfortable the guitar is – those rounded edges make it a real pleasure to hold. And the comfort extends to the neck and fretboard: it’s no exaggeration to say this is the best setup we have encountered in a guitar of this price range by some distance. The fact that each Lava ME 3 comes from the factory fully Plek’d accounts for this, but the impeccable C shape of the neck and shorter scale (just under 24 inches) also play a role.
The Lava ME 3 is made from AirSonic 2.0 carbon fibre – no, we’re not really sure what they mean by that either, but what we can tell you is that the entire guitar is moulded from a single piece. Slipping a mirror through the offset soundhole reveals a honeycomb-style lattice under the soundboard. Also visible is the underside of the preamp, with a speaker box and a driver mounted to the inside of the back.
Lava’s use of a shoulder-mounted touchscreen control system is certainly pioneering, but so is the eyebrow-raising use of haptics – the initial startup sound and resulting vibration from the back of the instrument come as a surprise, but a welcome one. Setting up the ME 3 is an abrupt welcome to the ‘Internet of Things’, as it demands the same sort of approach as a smartphone or other connected device. Make sure you have a robust internet connection when you do this, otherwise it will play hold music at you. You’ll find yourself handing over your email address and signing up to the Lava+ app – a nascent social media platform allowing users to upload and share their recordings.
You may be wondering where all the power for this comes from. Well, the guitar is available with an optional wireless charging dock that doubles as a stand. Or you can just charge it up via USB-C.
The main event for many players might be the onboard effects, but we would be remiss not to mention the actually really very nice acoustic sound of the Lava ME 3. No, it’s not a ‘tonewood’ voice, but it is warm and round on the bottom end and sparkly on the top. Dynamic and timbral ranges are limited, but no more so than in an instrument with a redwood top. It’s a surprisingly workable voice for all applications.
The ME 3 is not the only game in town for effects within an acoustic instrument, but it’s fair to say that nobody else has done it to such extremes: reverse delays, pitch-shifters, throbbing wobblers and sly choruses can all be accessed via the touchscreen. Some are good, a couple are great. If you can find a use for the Mushroom preset then you may just be Lava’s target market personified. Each setting features a little looped screen animation when engaged, and the guitar’s volume control allows you to blend the effects into your acoustic sound.
Also very welcome are the educational aspects of the Lava experience, with an internal recorder, a looper and chord movement analysis to help you get your playing grooving smoothly.
What we have here could very well be the first truly original Chinese acoustic guitar design – Lava has gone in hard with a cohesive stylistic language that’s bold and unafraid of ridicule. You have to admire that… and most importantly, it feels and sounds great.
- PRICE from £1079 (inc padded case)
- DESCRIPTION Six-string acoustic guitar with touchscreen and onboard effects, made in China
- BUILD One-piece AirSonic 2.0 injection-moulded carbon fibre construction, 14-fret neck
- HARDWARE Proprietary aluminium tuners, proprietary clip-on strap buttons
- ELECTRONICS Multi-touch display with HiLava OS, integrated amp and speaker
- SCALE LENGTH 23.97”/609mm
- NECK WIDTH 43.7mm at nut, 52.4mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 22mm at 9th fret
- STRING SPACING 37.3mm at nut, 53.4mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 2.25kg
- FINISH OPTIONS Soft Gold, White, Pink, Blue, Red, Space Grey
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT lavamusic.com