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NAMM REPORT - Acoustic Guitars: Sell the Stocks and Buy a Hand-Made Guitar

  • Published May 08, 2000
NAMM REPORT - Acoustic Guitars: Sell the Stocks and Buy a Hand-Made Guitar
By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

Editor's Note: This year's NAMM millennium convention didn't really break a lot of new ground technologically speaking, but it did push forward the existing technologies and continued to make things more versatile and affordable for musicians. That point is respectable enough. This month's articles (part one) will cover acoustic guitars, studio/home recording systems and a high-tech overview of where things are going. Next month we'll feature bass guitars, keyboards, electric guitars and drums in part two of our special report.

Along with a strong economy comes the opportunity for the luthiers to actually make a living. Yes, I'm referring to those more exclusive high-end guitar makers who don't crank out guitar lithographs of the real thing, but that actually, painstakingly produce great instruments. They use premium woods, take an immense bit of time and detail and build a wonderful guitar. These are the boutique shops, the smaller builders or the custom shops of the larger ones. They cultivate a climate of craftsmanship, like a treasured skill embodied into every guitar. They can only produce so many of these high caliber pieces a month and because of this many have six month to two year waiting lists for their guitars. So much for spontaneous guitar purchases, here the name of the game is to select the one your really sure about and realize that it will be worth the wait.

We toured many of the high-end booths (somebody had to do it) and played several wonderfully unique instruments. In this arena, most guitars run the $2,500-4,000 price range, with some exceptional models running up to $10,000. What's that line in the new Sting song "Sell the stocks and spend all the money, it's gonna be a brand new day"? The Northern Ireland builder Lowden had a nice large booth with several models to play. All of them feature Lowden's 5-ply neck and the friendliness that only the Irish can give. CFox's booth had a great set up where among all of the NAMM Show noise level they sit you in a chair and plug you in to a p.a. with floor wedge monitors to help you hear better over the din. We played a really happening dreadnought there. Next it was on to James Goodall Guitars (made in Hawaii) to play his masterpieces. Why we're on the topic of Hawaii, there is talk that the Koa wood supply (grown in Hawaii) is starting to dwindle and the wholesale cost of the rather hard tonewood is escalating. If you've been dreaming of a koa wood guitar in your future, I wouldn't wait too long, it just may be selling at a premium. Breedlove, Froggy Bottom and Santa Cruz Guitars all showed beautiful handy work on their acoustic instruments as well.

Moving on from the smaller builders and covering the big boys, we were not disappointed. Keep in mind that most of the brand name big factory guitar makers not only offer the hi-end but have also over the last few years introduced practical entry-level guitars that considering the price tag, really are amazing. Most of the entry-level guitars run from $699-1,200. Taylor Guitars scored points by dramatically lowering that bar. Their new Big Baby entry-level guitar wins the "How Can You Sell It So Low?" award. It really is a Baby Taylor concept stretched into a fuller size (Grand Concert Model) dimension. It may be stripped down but it is also only $429.00 retail and that includes a gig bag. This will undoubtedly be the entry-level guitar of the year. Not to be over shadowed by the Big Baby is Taylor's Gallery Series. Run in limited editions of only 100, this year's is a stunningly beautiful blue finished guitar with Japanese koi fish inlayed onto the top of the guitar as well as the fretboard. Definitely hi-end here. Canadian builders Larrivee not only displayed their high-end guitars (they have made pearl inlay an art form themselves) but also rolling on with their own well-appointed lower line of guitars. Guild's 6 & 12 string models are always fun to play. Next was a good lengthy visit to the C.F. Martin booth. In the Martin booth it's always like a trip back in time. We played parlor guitars, dreadnoughts and of course the hi-end models with more beautiful inlays than you can imagine.

Rounding out the excursion, we landed in Tacoma Guitars' booth and spent some time with their new Lawrence Juber models. Not only are they made just 3 miles from {{Christian Musician}} headquarters, but they are well priced too. Next we played the gorgeous looking Takamine Limited Edition model with a laser inlay motif of space (quite cosmic in a good way). Next we hung out with the new Ovations (they pioneered the whole Collector's Series vibe back in 1982) and this year's 2000 model is a stunning lacewood top guitar. We wrapped things up with Yamaha and got into their Compass Series. They have an all white "Arctic" guitar that was cool. Then something hanging on the wall caught our eye, it was the first guitar we've ever seen made of bamboo. Yes, you read it right: bamboo! Surprisingly it had a groovy look to it. In a future review we'll have to spend more time investigating the "tone vs. retail price ratio" before we comment on what could most certainly be a thing for the future. Remember, mature bamboo can grow up to one foot a day. It is an interesting fact to consider as wood supplies diminish worldwide; there were 700,000 new guitars built in 1999. Regardless of bamboo's prospective tonal qualities, Christian Musician's hope is that we never get to the point when all of the major tonewoods of the earth are gone and we start treating bamboo guitars with the same reverence as we now have for Brazilian rosewood!