At first glance, the Michael Kelly Forte Port might seem like nothing special. After all, it has laminated sapele back and sides, a two-piece mahogany neck, a nylon nut, black ply binding, and a sticker price of just $299.
Yet, it is special.
This plain-looking cutaway flattop has been hanging out in my office for about six weeks. Every time I pick it up, I’m pleasantly surprised by the warm tone emanating from the soundholes, one of which is placed on the top side, about a foot from my ear. The other is offset on the solid spruce top. That second soundhole is part of what Michael Kelly calls its Port Technology, a combination of soundhole placement and special bracing designed, in the company’s words, to make the guitar “dynamic” and “responsive” with a “big, bold sound.”
And it lives up to the marketing.
Truth be told, I’m not a hard strummer, but the Forte Port stands up to the well-worn Dunlop heavy pick that floats in my pocket. I slash through an aggressive reading of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” a favorite of late.
The Beatles “I’m Only Sleeping” benefits from the guitar’s chiming treble.
And though some might find the 1 11/16-inch nut too narrow for finger picking, the warmth of this guitar is so inviting that I had to play the Elizabeth Cotton warhorse “Freight Train” (with a few adjustments) and Greg Brown’s version of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” That latter song, in the palm-muted key of G, gets a lot of thump (Brown is notorious for that technique) and the Forte Port’s punchy bass is as ideal for that treatment as it is for a booming rendition of a Jimmy Reed blues shuffle.
Tuned to a drop G6 (DGDGBE), the Fort Porte maintains its integrity on an improvised slack-key tune.
Plugged into a Henriksen Bud combo, the Forte Port is even more impressive. Thanks to the on-board Fishman Sonotone active preamp, the guitar’s clarity and responsiveness accommodates strummed cowboy chords and single-line runs alike.
At this price, the well-designed, well-constructed Michael Kelly Forte Port, loaded with top-rate Fishman electronics, is a bargain that cost-conscious guitarists should seriously consider.
At a Glance: Michael Kelly Forte Port
Solid spruce top
Laminated sapele back and sides
Zero-End Pin bridge
Black ply binding
Rosewood fretboard (12-inch radius)
MK die-cast tuners
Standard C profile
Fast black nylon nut
Dual-action truss rod
D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze, Light, 12-53 gauge
Ultra thin satin natural finish
Made in China
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.