What steel string guitars to consider?

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aviator
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What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:01 pm

I currently own a steel 6-string made in China. It cost me a hundred euros and has a laminated top and sides (an Encore, imported by John Hornby Skewes). It's a beginners guitar I picked-up in Galway whilst working in Eire. My main electric was built in Warwickshire and it is simply a fantastic guitar.

The Encore is actually pretty good, so good I paid an extra thirty quid and flew it back to England on RyanAir. After sanding the saddle (I never touch the nut or the truss rod) I managed to get the action down quite a bit, though it is a bit higher than more expensive guitars. Barre chords though even at the 12th fret are reasonably easy. It stays in tune and best of all is good with alternate tunings; I can drop the low E four steps to C and it doesn't buzz.

I am though finding it is challenged in the tone department, and on a damp day it can sound awful. I think I'd like a solid top at least.

So, with a big birthday coming up at the end of the year, and a budget of around £2k, I've been playing all sorts of 'real' guitars in an effort to find a 'keeper'. I've only really owned one quality acoustic in the past; a 12-string Ovation I no longer have.

There's a good guitar retailer near to me (Sounds Great) who sell Taylor, Martin, BSG (Battlestar Galactica?) Takemine, Yamaha, Simon & Patrick, Collings, Patrick James Eggle and a few other makes. I've tried out guitars all the way to £3.5k (beyond my budget) and...I can't find one I would be certain of purchasing.

I play fingerstyle. I can't do the pick-and-fingers thing, though I am trying to get to grips with it. My repertoire at present includes Anji, some of Gordon's stuff, Howe's Meadow Rag and Classical Gas, plus some stuff that sounds like Anthony Phillips (though not on a 12-string) and some Celtic. Being mostly an electric player I don't get nervous playing beyond the 12-fret (hence wanting a cutaway).

The only one to-date I have really enjoyed is a Taylor GA7 - but it wasn't an electro and doesn't have a cutaway - two key requirements. The other requirements are that it sounds reasonable unplugged and I would prefer to buy from an English or American firm, and prefererably have the guitar built in their respective countries, though that bumps up the cost.

The Martin's I've played tend to be a little too bluegrassy, too American. Of the other Taylor's I thought I'd be a dead certainty for a 614CE - it looks great and sound pretty good, but the fingerboard was like sludge. I've played from 414 all the way to a 914 and just didn't find any of them quite right from 'Brit' sounds and the slow fingerboard seemed to be universal. I'm starting to run out-of-options now, and I'm left with just a few unplayed;

* A Jimmy Moon 0003CE

* The Vintage Gordon Giltrap 6-string, but it isn't a cutaway and isn't made in the UK. This though would be a sensible choice and the price is such it would leave enough to buy another guitar - perhaps the 12-string or a...

* Faith Venus II - though once again not made in the UK

...and still have change left.

But there must be loads of guitars out there, preferably made in the UK, cutaway, electro, sound ok unplugged, and good for fingerstyle.

Any suggestions please?

HawkofMay
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Re: What stell string guitars to consider?

Postby HawkofMay » Mon Apr 02, 2012 7:15 pm

A Fylde Alchemist might be a good bet but maybe a little above budget unless you can pick one up second hand.

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GORDON
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby GORDON » Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:03 pm

Please don't consider this a sales pitch,but have you tried my Vintage GG?

Rob Armstrong is making some astonishing guitars right now so that's worth a look 02476 442502 will reach him.Fylde are also equally good in a different way.

Good hunting sir.

Be Well.

G.

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:15 pm

GORDON wrote:Please don't consider this a sales pitch,but have you tried my Vintage GG?

Rob Armstrong is making some astonishing guitars right now so that's worth a look 02476 442502 will reach him.Fylde are also equally good in a different way.

Good hunting sir.

Be Well.

G.


Thanks for the welcome and useful advice Gordon.

That is an idea I had considered in the past. Commission a new build.

I have a hand-built JJ Retro and it came out perfect.

Too perfect though; having had a near miss it doesn't leave the house and so a second-hand and rather battered Godin Exit 22 performs travelling duties.

This is another consideration; get a mid-range pricey guitar and it probably won't go outside the house much, if at all. I long ago noticed that a lot of pub guitarists have Yamaha's and Tanglewoods and have left their 'adored' guitars safe at home for fear of it being pinched. You can insure of course, but that means a new guitar rather than a well bedded-in guitar. The Vintage GG looks like it closes off that disparity very well - a top quality guitar at a ridiculously low price, so you do get to take the adored guitar beyond the living room.

The Fylde brand is one that new is a little out of my range, but Forsythes in Manchester stock them and sell them new and second-hand - so a visit to Deansgate in the near future.

I still have months to go before I select and buy, though if I put a deposit down on a new build I'll have to do that sooner.

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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby Trevor Raggatt » Thu Apr 05, 2012 9:08 pm

I'd second Gordon on the Fylde - stunning guitars (might be worth saving up a little more for!).

Another couple of options I'd advise looking at are...

Brook Guitars - built in Devon and some models are in your price range. I've got a Tamar I bought about 10 years ago and it's a lovely guitar. They're great guys to order from and we went down to the workshop and chatted options with them and chose our woods etc. It's an amazing feeling! Check them out on http://www.brookguitars.co.uk/

Also you might check out another builder called Dave Deighton. He's the dad of a songwriter friend, Rosalie Deighton, and he builds some lovely acoustics to order - also right in your price range. http://www.davedeightonguitars.purplecloud.net/

Finally, the Links page of my website has links to a lot of UK builders so might be a useful resource - not sure how many are currently up to date but it might give some good pointers... http://www.trevorandthea.eclipse.co.uk/links_page.htm

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:26 pm

Trevor Raggatt wrote:I'd second Gordon on the Fylde - stunning guitars (might be worth saving up a little more for!).

Another couple of options I'd advise looking at are...

Brook Guitars - built in Devon and some models are in your price range. I've got a Tamar I bought about 10 years ago and it's a lovely guitar. They're great guys to order from and we went down to the workshop and chatted options with them and chose our woods etc. It's an amazing feeling! Check them out on http://www.brookguitars.co.uk/

Also you might check out another builder called Dave Deighton. He's the dad of a songwriter friend, Rosalie Deighton, and he builds some lovely acoustics to order - also right in your price range. http://www.davedeightonguitars.purplecloud.net/

Finally, the Links page of my website has links to a lot of UK builders so might be a useful resource - not sure how many are currently up to date but it might give some good pointers... http://www.trevorandthea.eclipse.co.uk/links_page.htm


That's a briulliant reply Trevor.

I've been working through the web page links and compiling a shortlist of candidates. I certainly will have to play an Atkins.

I still have an awful lot of guitars to try, including a new Terry Pack (based in Blackpool) and the Moon 0003CE. I have though determined that any candiates have to have a nut width greater than 42mm - and the Vintage Gordon Giltrap 6-string certainly exceeds that.

I've still another five months to choose and have time to commission a custom build, and another month after that to buy 'off-the-shelf'.

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Bob Wilson
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby Bob Wilson » Thu Apr 12, 2012 5:48 pm

Hi Aviator,
Brilliant advice from Gordon and our forum members. So here are my thoughts. You say you have had Ovation before, so why not get the low end Ovation Applause for around £200 (try Reidy's) and then have one built by Rob Armstrong or Fylde, as Gordon suggests, to your specs. The extra time will give you the chance to save a bit more. The Ovation is a great guitar for electric players and the action can be lowered easily to play like an electric. It has the cut-away you desire, is electro-acoustic and is good for Gordon's pieces and alternate tunings, with or without capo. As an electric guitarist myself, I prefer the mid bowl Ovation and have lowered my action with no buzzing. And in the past a certain Mr Giltrap played Ovation. These days the guitar is usually in C or G tuning, but Gordon has been giving me some weird and wonderful tunings that he is writing in at present so I'll be trying them soon.
Good hunting! :D
Bob
Lives touch and paths cross for a reason - be grateful for these meetings and grow as a person

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Thu May 10, 2012 3:38 pm

Hi Bob,

yes I've considered goign back to Ovation.

I got one (though a 12-string) after seeing Al Stewart and Peter White in Leeds, way back in the 1990s. Best theatre-size acoustic gig I've ever seen, and both were playing Ovations.

I've recently added the recently-released Yamaha AC3R to my list - it has excellent reviews and the onboard mic simulation looks interesting and the neck is appealing to electric players (I still use my right little finger as a steady below the strings - a bad habit and sure giveaway of an electric player).

Frailers in Runcord have some Ovations, and they are on my list of retailers to visit.

Aviator

Bob Wilson wrote:Hi Aviator,
Brilliant advice from Gordon and our forum members. So here are my thoughts. You say you have had Ovation before, so why not get the low end Ovation Applause for around £200 (try Reidy's) and then have one built by Rob Armstrong or Fylde, as Gordon suggests, to your specs. The extra time will give you the chance to save a bit more. The Ovation is a great guitar for electric players and the action can be lowered easily to play like an electric. It has the cut-away you desire, is electro-acoustic and is good for Gordon's pieces and alternate tunings, with or without capo. As an electric guitarist myself, I prefer the mid bowl Ovation and have lowered my action with no buzzing. And in the past a certain Mr Giltrap played Ovation. These days the guitar is usually in C or G tuning, but Gordon has been giving me some weird and wonderful tunings that he is writing in at present so I'll be trying them soon.
Good hunting! :D
Bob

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:27 pm

Thought I'd provide an update.

I have three months to go before I have to make a decision. Mid-September is the key cut-off, beyond which I couldn't be sure of having a hand-built guitar made in time, or a rarity from abroad delivered.

Having played an awful lot of guitars, I've been able to hone my specification;

* A nut width of 45mm or more. Having played guitars with wide nut widths I've decided this is a key requirement.

* Scale length no less than 24.85", and 25.5" is preferable. This is because I play in alterate tunings, a distinct influence from Gordon, and I don't necessarily want to have to go up to heavy string guages to maintain tension.

* Not bothered if cutaway or not. Not bothered whether a spruce or cedar top, and not bothered if it has on-board electronics or not.

* Still willing to commission a hand-build, but more inclined to buy an already-established model.

So, what of the recent trials?

Well a few manufacturers are out-of-contension;

Ovation 'cos I couldn't sit down with a bowlback without a strap.

No Yamaha's - which was a surprise. The build quality is superb but no 'zing'.

No Atkins. Lovely build but rather characterless.

No Brooks - really need to get to their workshop and that's unlikely.

No Martins - couldn't find one at any price I liked.

The ones currently on my shortlist are;

* Taylor GA7 - played this last year and the price has dropped in the UK as offshoring in the US dries-up the pool of available customers. I can still remember just how good this was when played at PMT in Manchester. It's the only Taylor I like; all the cutaways have the ES on-board which I find just awful, and pre-amp-equipped Taylors don't sound good unamplified. Very top-end of my budget.

* Moon 0003 . Played this in Forsythes and it makes an absolutely fantastic tone. The shop reckons Jimmy Moon would perhaps special-build one with a wider nut to-order. Scottish-built.

There are still a few guitars to try or retry.

* Vintage GG - tried one in Forsythes but the strings were dreadfully old, so no real accurate impression gained. If a purchase is made it will be as a 'travel' guitar. Looks like I will miss the 2013 release of the deluxe version.

* Larrivee LV-03RE - The difficulty is that there are no Larrivee dealers in the north-of-england, though I can play/purchase plenty of 2nd-hand examples at Frailers in Runcorn. However this model fits the bill and this Canadian firm is a well-thought-of alternative to the usual builders.

* Seagull Artist QII - I have a Godin Exit 22 electric and the build quality is superb. Still to play a top-end Seagull at Forsythes, but if they get one in, this might be the one - has a particularly wide neck. Has a similar on-board mic setup to the Vintage GG. Canadian again.

* Stonebridge CR23 - once again another vendor to consider (Czech) I've played the cheap Chinese-made models and didn't like any. Yet to play a top-end one from a dealer in the Midlands or Forsythes.

* Fylde Orsino - haven't played one but if Forsythes get one in, this has to be in contention. Near the top end of my budget but still cheaper than the Taylor. Made in the UK!

John F
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby John F » Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:16 pm

If you are still interested in the possibility of a Fylde instrument, it might be worth your while giving Roger Bucknall a call on 01768 891515 and arranging to visit his workshop in Penrith, if you can get there. A visit to Penrith was the start of my buying one of Roger's 'Personal Selection' instruments (a Falstaff custom, as it happens) and led, indirectly, to my asking him to build me a 12-string. The price may be a little beyond the budget you have mentioned, but definitely worth considering. Roger usually has a number of instruments available for playing at the workshop ...

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Wed Aug 22, 2012 12:32 pm

John F wrote:If you are still interested in the possibility of a Fylde instrument, it might be worth your while giving Roger Bucknall a call on 01768 891515 and arranging to visit his workshop in Penrith, if you can get there. A visit to Penrith was the start of my buying one of Roger's 'Personal Selection' instruments (a Falstaff custom, as it happens) and led, indirectly, to my asking him to build me a 12-string. The price may be a little beyond the budget you have mentioned, but definitely worth considering. Roger usually has a number of instruments available for playing at the workshop ...


Well, I've tried out near enough everything and anything.

The only guitars I've not managed to play are a high-end Stonebridge (Czech) and a few brands beyond my price range - notably Lowden and Avalon, plus a few British-made guitars that are sold only from the luthiers own workshop.

I decided against commissioning a new hand-built guitar, just simply because I don't rightly know enough to be able to specify accurately, and wouldn't fancy waiting months for delivery only to decide I didn't like the end result!

To date the best guitar that suits the sound in my head and which I've actually played is a cedar-topped Taylor GA7, tried in PMT in Manchester last year.

Next to that was a Moon 0003 played in Forsythes just a few months ago. That was great but has a narrow nut.

I have put down a deposit to get first refusal on a brand-new Fylde Orsino that (might) be delivered to a vendor in the next few months. There's no chance of me getting to Penrith but the tone in my head exactly matches that I hear in a video of Gordon playing 'Fiona's Smile' on what I think is an Orsino (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeopxZ_P6HA).

Being a nylon player (+ electric) I recognise that I'm attracted to cedar-topped acoustics rather than spruce. There seems to be a generic spruce sound that most guitars, even the expensive high-end, invariably have, with the exception of a few like the Moon. With the rarer cedar-tops I am finding that the guitars have a unique voice, determined it seems by the wood they use on the back-and-side and the bracing.

The Vintage GG (also cedar-topped) remains in contention, but principally to replace my cheap 'Encore' guitar as a somewhat better travel guitar. I didn't get the best impression from playing one in Forsythes, but that was because of the elderly and rusty strings. On reflection I should have demanded new strings be fitted, even if I ended-up doing it myself. The deluxe GG Vintage would certainly be a contender, but won't be out until next year.

I certainly didn't find any 'bad' guitars in my travels, though I found price to be no indicator of tone.

Quite a few £2000+ guitars (out of my budget but hey I can dream) sounded no better than my slightly-modified 99 euro Chinese-made dreadnaught. Others sounded fine or good/great but had a treacle-like fingerboard (most of the Taylors). Some were obviously built for looks rather than tone (like a PRS electric) particularly the US-sourced 'boutigue' brands. Some were surprisingly insipid, like all of the Korean-built Breedloves I tried, whilst the US ones sounded ok but were excessively priced. Most were simply not fingerstyle-focused (like the entire Takemine range I tried).

Plenty were a 'cut above'. I found a somewhat cheap but very well built Yamaha with a great ART pre-amp that had a great dark tone. Likewise a BSG, which although having a spruce top sounded dark and cedar-like. I couldn't find a single Martin I liked. I found a Patrick James Eggle I did like (though not as good as the Moon/GA7) but it was well out of my budget. I played some McIlroys and Collings but wasn't struck - mostly because they are voiced for the American players - i.e. flatpickers and Blue ridge Mountain players (I have no canoe, and don't like banjos). I found Larivees to be very good, but I could only play 2nd-hand examples, with no Larivee dealert anywhere close. A Seagull Artist example was very good but had a short scale not suited to severe tunings. Guilds were loud but not notable tone-wise. Ovations needed a strap on to sit with and only sounded good plugged-in.

In most cases evaluating a guitar in a shop was a compromise. Some places naturally baulked at me down-tuning the high E to A so I didn't do it after a few glares. Drop D and DADGAD were mostly fine though I found a lot of high-end guitars already left in DADGAD. One fellow shopper couldn't get his head around the idea that you could actually play in an alternate tuning! I think the concern is that strings are more prone to breakages with severe tuning changes.

In addition I sometimes use a capo, particularly for DADGAD. After over a month-and-a-half of torturous cursing I can finally do a reasonable rendition of Ed Gerhards arrangement of 'The Water is Wide', which is drop-D with a capo at the 2nd fret. I'd have liked to play that on some guitars being evaluated because I know precisely how it sounds on my cheap Chinese knock-off (having practised the blessed thing for weeks and weeks!) But no way would I put a capo on a shop display guitar. It would be nice if you could pay a deposit and like high-end hi-fi systems, actually take the guitar home and try it out for a few days. The fear of the guitar coming back with a capo mark/dent or different gauge strings though precludes this from ever happening.

So I have stopped looking any further as it simply muddies the water. I have high hopes for the Orsino, but won't buy on spec' alone. I have every suspicion it will be the 'one' but if not, the GA7 will be next-in-line.

stevegreeny2
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby stevegreeny2 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 12:26 am

I really can sympathise about trying out and buying guitars..... :(

Personally, for what it's worth, I like the Grand Auditorium/Baby Jumbo size for fingerstyle as well having as a cutaway.

I have a Taylor 214CE which I can highly recommend.

Also I have tried these (smaller bodies/cutaways):

Crafter GA15 (cedar top) - great sound for the money
Crafter GA18 (cedar top, solid rosewood back sides) - if you can find one!

Faith Neptune HiGloss

Best of Luck!

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Tue Aug 28, 2012 10:05 am

stevegreeny2 wrote:I really can sympathise about trying out and buying guitars..... :(

Personally, for what it's worth, I like the Grand Auditorium/Baby Jumbo size for fingerstyle as well having as a cutaway.

I have a Taylor 214CE which I can highly recommend.

Also I have tried these (smaller bodies/cutaways):

Crafter GA15 (cedar top) - great sound for the money
Crafter GA18 (cedar top, solid rosewood back sides) - if you can find one!

Faith Neptune HiGloss

Best of Luck!



Hi Steve,

I tried a GAE 15 some time ago (though second-hand) and found it was very good.

But the narrow 43mm nut didn't quite suit me as I've found a wider nut is quite beneficial. I remember it being an exceptionally solid guitar

I was in Sounds Great in Heald Green on Saturday and there was a young man there playing a Crafter after a repair/setup, through an AER, and it sounded superb - though he was a rather fine player.

If the nut had been wider I would've probably purchased the Crafter I played there-and-then.

stevegreeny2
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby stevegreeny2 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 2:03 pm

Ah yes .. I prefer a narrower neck (Small hands!)

My friend prefers a wider neck (big hands!) and he had one custom made by a relative from the North West (now resident in Wales), Ken Powell. Ken is an up-and-coming luthier -
http://powellguitars.com/ - worth having a chat with him.

It was Ken's SFG model (Smiley Face Guitar). Ken has also now produced a cutaway design for Chris While (SFGc ?).
I'm hoping to try the SFGc sometime.

Meanwhile, from these dizzy heights, for the money the Crafter has a great feel and sound - took me by surprise when I played one at Sheehans in Leicester. Still looking for a GAE18 to try, so if you see one ......

Good luck.

aviator
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Re: What steel string guitars to consider?

Postby aviator » Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:04 pm

And the winner is;

A brand-new 2012 Fylde Orsino!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/qlbkxbfacakpz6c/2012-12-11%2010.52.29.jpg


https://www.dropbox.com/s/dst45kwa3leq9ua/2012-12-11%2010.51.09.jpg

It was purchased through Hobgoblin, with the assistance of Chris Rudd in the Hobgoblin head office, who had pre-ordered some Fylde models mid-year. Even so it was getting a bit close-for-comfort as 2-to-3 months became 4, 5 and finally a six month wait. Better than the 14 months I'd been quoted for an Orsino from Forsythes.

Nonetheless having never played an Orsino before, my 20% deposit entitled me just to have 'first refusal' when it was built.

So on Saturday, the guitar having arrived, I turned-up as the Manchester shop opened-up. Until playing it I was intent on purchasing a Taylor GA7, the location of one I knew of in Manchester.

I sat down with the Orsino and within 5 minutes knew for sure it trumped the GA7. Come ten minutes I knew it was the one for me. But I continued playing in the shop, seeing how it coped with alternate tunings. Even in CGCGCE it wouldn't burr or twang.

The wide 45mm (zero) nut is a delight. At the neck it doesn't make so much difference but by the 7th fret I have lots of space for my not-so-thin fingers to negotiate around tricky sections. Down at the 12th and 14th fret and the fingerboard is way wider and that makes tricky sections of say Doug Smith's 'Order of Magnitude' far easier. The neck isn't chunky and so consequently the heel isn't so bulky, meaning I can get to the 14th+ frets without adopting a weird wrist position that doesn't have support. Being thinner encourages me to hold the neck properly, and reduces any finger-induced buzzes again.

But the tone. The tone! It projects with even the lightest tough and even though I've only really played it a length just today, I can see how it responds to a precise picking-hand.

The tone is just exquisite - with none of the sometimes too-bright twang that spruce has, even in expensive forms. The key finding already is how the entire body of the Orsino resonates as it is played. The finish - the frets, the internal bracing and lacquer are perfect and the cedar top hasn't a blemish, and not a trace of glue anywhere. The front room is already smelling of cedar and wll do I suspect for a few weeks. The long-life Elixir strings are just wearing-in now, though they'll be replaced with Newtone's before they are due up.

Just terrific. A work of art from Roger Bucknell's workshop and a definite 'keeper' for life.

And to cap it all, tomorrow evening I get to see someone who can demonstrate how to get the best out of a Fylde, at Bramall Hall.


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