by Greg Cahill

Acoustic guitars with high-tech-treated torrefied tops and spot-on Fishman electronics for $499! You know something’s going on in the guitar trade when these coveted appointments, until recently reserved mostly for expensive axes, are becoming commonplace (a prime example above is the Michael Kelly‘s 3-D Grand Auditorium with a torrefied solid-spruce top, Java mahogany blend back and sides, and Discrete Fishman Sonitone Active System).

And that’s just one development glimpsed at Winter NAMM 2017.

Indeed, affordability and technology were two overarching themes at the influential musical-instrument trade show, held January 19-22 at the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center, right across the street from Disneyland.

The annual expo, sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants, is the leading exhibitor of new gear and it offered lots of surprises. This year, NAMM hosted its first Boutique Guitar Showcase, which spotlighted handmade, acoustic guitars by such acclaimed custom builders as Jason Kostal, Isaac Jang, Michihiro Marsuda, and Steve Klein, among others.

And while there were stunning new high-end models from Martin, Bedell, Breedlove, Collings, Waterloo, Huss & Dalton, and Santa Cruz, to name a few (more on those in the days to come), the wave of affordable production guitars, including many under $500 and loaded with solid tonewoods and top electronics, made a big impression.

Taylor Guitars, known for its impeccably constructed high-end instruments, introduced the Academy series. “We wanted to give the first-time buyer a quality, affordable instrument,” said Taylor Guitar master luthier Andy Powers, “one that enriches their experience, that has the playable neck for which Taylor is known, and makes them want to stick with guitar as they are learning.”

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The Academy series includes the Dreadnought Academy 10e ($798 MSRP), shown below, with solid Sitka top and layered sapele back and sides; the Grand Concert Academy 12e ($798 MSRP) with solid Sitka top and layered sapele back and sides; and the nylon-stringed Grand Concert Academy 12e-N ($858 MSRP) with solid Lutz spruce top and layered sapele back and sides. Each has the company’s acclaimed Expression 2 pickup system and a beveled arm rest for ergonomic comfort.

Recording King, which has led the market in such budget-priced guitars, returned with a new EZ Tone Grand-Auditorium model ($449), featuring solid-spruce top and solid-mahogany back and sides, and Fishman electronics. The company also introduced its Dirty 30s Series 7 line, including three single-O models that feature cross-lap bracing and spruce tops. The bound soundhole and Harmonella stencil fretboard markers are both functional and stylistic. Prices range from $149.99 to $199.99 (with optional Fishman pickup).

Gretsch has added several models to its popular Roots Collection, including a style 1, single-0, parlor-style guitar with solid-spruce top and laminated-mahogany back and sides ($499 MSRP). The others are grand-concert- and auditorium-sized models ($589 MSRP).

Michael Kelly debuted the dramatic Forte Exotic built from Java ebony ($299.99 MAP) and the striking 3-D Grand Auditorium, shown in the above video, with both a soundport and a soundhole ($499.99). The 3D is a grand auditorium cutaway with a slightly deeper design than usual, and features an attractive solid-spruce top that has been torrefied, Java mahogany blend back and sides, with an arched back, and Fishman Sonitone electronics. The torrefaction treatment to the top accelerates the wood’s natural aging process through a combination of heat and special environmental controls.

The Dean DE QMAH ($449 street) is made from quilted mahogany and other interesting tonewoods. With a street price of $499, the new Dean St. Augustine Mini Jumbo SAMJE SN offers an excellent value in an all-solid-wood guitar. Luna had some nice-looking torrefied guitars, including the Art V Folk ($249 street). The Ibanez AEWC13BCOPN ($599.99 MSRP) has an interesting look with its open-pore finish and is a good budget option.

Fender Guitar introduced a slew of new acoustic-guitar models and a revamped line of acoustic amps, with something for any budget. Those include:

The Fender PM-3 All-Mahogany NE Triple-0, Natural ($599) An expansion of the Paramount Series acoustic guitars, the PM-3 All-Mahogany NE Triple-0, Natural, shown below, combines simple styling with an organic finish to create a highly responsive instrument. Features include an open-pore mahogany top, scalloped X-bracing, and all-solid mahogany back and sides. Also included is a fast-playing “C”-shaped mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, and compensated bone saddle. The model includes a deluxe hardshell case and humidifier and is available in natural finish.

Fender PM-3 All-Mahogany NE Triple-0The Fender PM-2 All-Mahogany NE Parlor, Natural ($599) The PM-2 All-Mahogany Parlor NE, Natural, is carefully crafted for superior tone, high performance and earthy visual appeal. Features include an open-pore mahogany top, scalloped X-bracing, and rich all-solid mahogany back and sides. The fast-playing “C”-shaped mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard are crafted to accommodate any playing style and the durable rosewood bridge and compensated bone saddle add a rich note to the warm voice of the guitar. The model includes a deluxe hardshell case and humidifier, and is available in natural finish.

The two-channel Acoustic 100 ($399.99 MAP) designed for instrument or microphone use, Bluetooth wireless streaming, an integrated handle and universal voltage for international use. Other features include an 8-inch, full-range whizzer-cone speaker, finished plywood shell, XLR line output, headphone output, auxiliary input and a USB jack for audio streaming/recording. The new amplifier also includes a footswitch jack for an optional four-button pedal that adds functions like tap tempo, tuner and more.

The Acoustic 200 ($549.99), a two-channel amplifier that delivers full, natural tone for acoustic-electric guitar and microphone. The new amplifier is designed for instrument or microphone use, each with studio-quality stereo effects. Other features include Bluetooth wireless streaming, an integrated handle, universal voltage for international use, XLR line output, headphone output, and auxiliary input for use with external audio devices. The new amplifier also includes a USB jack for audio streaming/recording and footswitch jack for an optional four-button pedal that adds functions like Tap Tempo, Tuner and more.

The ultra-compact Acoustasonic 40 ($199.99) offers portable amplification for acoustic-electric guitar and microphone and is a simple, flexible “grab-and-go” solution for a variety of musical performance and basic public-address applications. Features in the new amplifier include two 6.5-inch Special Design full-range speakers with whizzer cones, two channels with combination XLR-1/4-inch inputs, three-band equalizer controls for each channel and digital hall reverb with level control for each channel. Other offerings include a headphone output, auxiliary input, XLR line output for use with a PA system or recording gear and a vintage-style brown textured vinyl covering.

Acoustisonic40Roland Electronics introduced a pair of new acoustic amps: The BOSS Acoustic Singer Live is a 60-watt stage amp designed for acoustic guitars that features a built-in looper, vocal-harmony functions, Acoustic Resonance, and more ($499 MSRP). The BOSS Acoustic Singer Pro is a 120-watt stage amp that has the same features as the Singer Live, but more juice ($699).

The G7th Ultralight Capo is a lightweight, pocket-ready capo constructed of composites that sells for just $12.99.

Stay tuned for individual blog posts and print reviews on some of these exciting new products, and check out more Winter NAMM 2017 coverage here.

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