Posted by Doug Young
For nearly 40 years, Takamine acoustic-electrics have been the go-to steel-string guitars for players both anonymous and celebrated, including Bruce Springsteen and Jerry Garcia, for recording and live situations. But the Japanese company also has a long history of producing nylon-string instruments, from the strictly acoustic “folk” guitars it first crafted in a small shop in the 1950s to the acoustic-electric classical instruments it pioneered in the ’70s that are virtually the industry standard. We checked out a fine example of the latter: from the Pro Series 3, the P3FCN is smart nylon-string with a decidedly modern feel, complete with onboard electronics—essentially an affordable version of a long-time favorite Takamine style that’s used by many jazz and crossover players.
Cedar was used for the soundboards of classical guitars long before the wood became a popular option on steel-strings, and Takamine chose it for the P3FCN. Another traditional timber, mahogany, was used for the guitar’s neck, and the fingerboard, bridge, and headplate are crafted from rosewood. The back and sides are made of a less conventional choice, sapele, a sustainably harvested West African species whose density and appearance are akin to mahogany. It is evident that care was taken in the selection of these tonewoods for the P3FCN. The top has a rich reddish-brown hue and a fine and even grain pattern, the back and sides are a warm (albeit stained) brown with a bit of subtle figuring, and the rosewood is a deep chocolate.
The guitar’s appearance is streamlined and organic. A modern-looking, dark, wood rosette complements the fingerboard, bridge, and headplate, while a lighter wood purfling around the soundboard echoes the sapele on the back and sides of the guitar. Tastefully small wooden circle inlays on the fingerboard (part of the hybrid nature of this guitar because traditional classical guitars have no inlays) are about the same shade as the cedar soundboard. The simple ivoroid in the body binding, neck heel, back strip, and end strip contrasts nicely with all the woods, and the gold tuners with amber buttons contribute to the guitar’s overall glow.
Like many other major manufacturer these days,Takamine is known for using high-tech equipment such as CNC machinery in concert with traditional lutherie approaches to create finely crafted instruments for the mass market, so it’s no surprise that the workmanship on our P3FCN is excellent. Free of jagged edges, the 21 frets have been carefully seated and polished, and the nut and saddle have been meticulously notched. The guitar’s satin finish feels luxurious, and a peek inside reveals clean construction and no evidence of shortcuts taken when the braces were scalloped and affixed.
Comfortable Feel and Sweet Tones
Back when I was an undergraduate music major accustomed to the slim neck of an electric guitar, I struggled to play a standard nylon-string instrument, with its ample neck and wide nut, when taking the requisite classical guitar courses. When I removed the P3FCN from its included deluxe hardshell case (as a nice bonus, the case includes a detachable padded shoulder strap), I was expecting the same sort of feel but was pleased by the slimness and narrowness of the neck. The strings are spaced at about 1.67 inches at the nut, and the nut itself is about 1 7/8 inches wide, compared to the standard width of two inches. Also, unlike the neck on a traditional classical guitar, the P3FCN’s is adjustable via a truss rod.
The guitar shipped from the factory with an agreeably low action. In conjunction with the neck width and profile I found it easy to grip chords of all types, even those that involve fretting with the thumb, and to move about speedily in all registers and from string to string. A strap button mounted at the heel digs into the palm at the highest frets, but it is handy for playing while standing, and the guitar is as nicely balanced in this position as it is in a standard seated position with a footstool.
To test the P3FCN’s acoustic sound I dusted off some old sheet music: études by the composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer and guitar arrangements of lute pieces by John Dowland. In these traditional settings, the guitar didn’t have the volume and projection of a fine concert classical instrument, but it did have a rich and complex voice and felt very responsive to the nuances of fingertips. Being accustomed to guitars with 1 11/16-inch nuts, I found the string spacing refreshing for playing these classical pieces, but some players accustomed to wider necks might feel cramped.
The nylon-string guitar occupies a central place in bossa nova and other Brazilian idioms, so I next played the accompaniment patterns to a couple of Antonio Carlos Jobim favorites: “Dreamer” and “One Note Samba.” The P3FCN worked especially well in this setting, with a nicely balanced sound between the bass notes on beats one and three and the syncopated treble chords, and it also lent itself nicely to some chord-melody improvisations in the mold of jazz guitarist Gene Bertoncini as well as some rock-oriented soloing and arpeggio work, both fingerstyle and with a pick.
The P3FCN is equipped with Takamine’s trademark Palathetic pickup, the nylon-string version of which has six individual piezo elements installed in an undersaddle transducer. The guitar’s CT4B II preamp is mounted—as on many acoustic-electrics—on the upper left bout and includes a built-in chromatic tuner and four sliding controls, for volume and low, mid, and high frequencies, with a range of +/-5 dB. Power comes from a nine-volt battery.
I plugged the P3FCN into a Fender Acoustasonic amp, and the guitar’s electronics, like those on the Takamine steel-strings I have played, were superb, providing a warm, lifelike sound with great clarity. The chromatic tuner allows for easy access to both standard and altered tunings, with the handy capability of muting the sound coming through the amplifier or PA system while tuning.
Takamine’s P3FCN would make an excellent choice for a nylon-string player into more adventurous fare in amplified settings or for a steel-string acoustic or electric guitarist looking to broaden his or her tonal palette. It sounds as handsome as it looks and plays virtually effortlessly—the markings of a great guitar of any style.
SPECS:14-fret Takamine FXC body. Solid cedar top. Solid sapele back. Laminated sapele sides. Fan bracing. Mahogany neck. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. 25.35-inch scale. 1 7/8-inch nut width. 2 1/4-inch string spacing at the saddle. Natural satin finish. Gold tuners with amber buttons. Takamine Palathetic pickup. CT4B II preamp with chromatic tuner and three-band EQ. D’Addario EXP extended play silver-plated copper strings. Made in Japan.
PRICE: $1,594.99 list/$1,149.99 street.
MAKER: KMC Music: (860) 509-8888; takamine.com.
TEJA GERKEN: Takamine has built several 14-fret, cutaway, hybrid nylon-string models in the past, but the P3FCN may offer its best value for this style of guitar ever. I’m primarily a steel-string picker, but when I play classical guitars, I prefer full-width necks, but I found the P3FCN to be incredibly comfortable to play, with a perfect compromise between the feel of a steel-string and classical. With its fan-braced cedar top, the guitar offered enough of the growl I admire in Spanish classical guitars to inspire a few bars of Isaac Albéniz’s “Rumores de la Caleta” before enjoying the narrow neck’s ability to allow thumb-fretting of bass notes on a more contemporary fingerstyle tune.