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James Goodall Guitars

  • Published Aug 31, 1998
James Goodall Guitars
by Bruce Adolph, courtesy of %%Christian Musician%%

We first played a James Goodall guitar over five years ago. I could not believe the way that guitar rang - it seemed to fill the room with a resonance that was both rich and musical. I remember almost laughing to myself in amazement at the length of time a chord would reverberate after you struck it. We had a few phone conversations with James Goodall and his wife Jean. They were fellow believers and were in the process of moving their guitar making facility from northern California to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. We have stayed in touch with them over the years and thought it was high time to get the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of their extraordinary guitars again.

James Goodall builds a very high quality acoustic guitar and because he puts so much personal attention into every detail of the guitars' construction, he builds very few a year compared to major name brands. His wife and partner in the guitar making business, Jean, tells us they build around 20 guitars a month. James Goodall approaches guitar making in the way he approaches most things in his life: with perfectionism and intensity. He has also built and plays Baroque oboes, recorders, English horns, dulcimers, mandolas, as well as other instruments of his own invention. "When I have a desire to do something," he says, "I'll go down to the library and read everything I can about it, and then teach myself how to do it. I think sometimes my drive for perfectionism is a curse, though, because I tend to notice too much detail, and yet, I have to be that way to produce the product I make. It's just so exacting." After you play a Goodall guitar, you're thankful that he has chosen acoustic guitar making to focus on.

We realized that the typical Christian musician might not even of ever heard of a James Goodall guitar, so we asked Jean to send us a Rosewood Standard model for review (yes, another perk of the publishing business). There are praise and worship leaders using Goodalls ({{Bob Fitts}} and {{Lenny LeBlanc}} with Integrity Music, and {{Tommy Coomes}} with the {{Maranatha Praise Band}}) and several pop musicians (Seal walked into a store and purchased two, also Dave Mathews of the Dave Mathews Band plays a Goodall). But because of the low numbers being built you probably will have to search a little to find a dealer in your city or area. The first thing you'll notice when you hold a Goodall is that the finest of woods have been selected for it's construction, in fact no plastic or celluloid is used on any Goodall guitar. Even the binding is made of select woods, in this case it was curly Koa.

The fingerboard is ebony and feels as solid as they come. The fretwork is excellent (I set a new personal best with a scale-run exercise I do). The notes rang true and were evenly responsive from string to string. The neck was not too thick nor too thin (1&3/4" width with satin finish), it felt very comfortable, both at the nut and all the way down to the heel. The Sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides were just gorgeous pieces of wood, matched perfectly. What I noticed immediately was the expressiveness of dynamic levels. You find yourself not having to strum nearly as hard to get the volume out of the guitar, so you can play with a more relaxed right hand technique. In fact "A Horse With No Name" never sounded so good. When you jump on it and strum hard you may have to consider the neighbors, the guitar has volume!

Chordal clarity is another bonus, however it is a two edged sword. You might have to execute your playing a little more accurately, because those sloppy chord changes ring clearer too. The tone is great. "Tone is really the signature of the maker," James Goodall comments. "You can almost pick out what kind of guitar your hearing just by its tone. I'm looking for something that I would describe as lyrical - a word used in classical music meaning 'very musical.' When someone records our guitars in a studio with high quality mics, I like what I'm hearing. I hear music. I don't hear bass, mids and treble. This is what I strive to build into each of our guitars."

The Abalone shell inlay logo is gracefully elegant and the shape of the bridge accents this as well. You put it all together: design, tone and decoration, and you have one wonderful acoustic instrument. I don't want this review to sound like a rah-rah session, but once you've spent some time with the guitar, you sense the hand crafted value. There are some things in life that you see and you think that the price tag is way to high for what your really getting in value; and there are some things that you pick up and when faced with true craftsmanship, you say to yourself, "this is really worth it!" The James Goodall guitar is really worth it. The Rosewood Standard model guitar with hard shell case retails for $2,765.00. James Goodall offers several options in both type of tonewoods used and models. You can contact James Goodall at or at his website.