By Greg Olwell
People were playing lots of music during the Great Depression and circumstances were such that guitar makers like Gibson, Stella, Regal, and others responded to this demand by creating bargain brands that were often cost-cutting versions of their brand-name instruments. Many of these guitars were built quickly and on the cheap to help make them affordable and were sold through department stores. The original Recording King line was available at Montgomery Ward and was built by either Gibson or Regal. In many instances, the surviving guitars from this era have fantastic vibes, with great looks and sounds that range from good to unbeatable.
Today’s revived Recording King brand celebrates the spirit of some of these Dust Bowl-era beauties with its Dirty 30s line. Since launching several years ago, the series has sold over 30,000 guitars and to celebrate this milestone, Recording King has released a limited-edition Deluxe series, available in dreadnought, 000, and single-0 sizes.
I received the Deluxe Single 0 for review. It shares the same woods and electronics as its Dirty 30s Series 11 counterparts, but with a few key differences. Each guitar in the limited-edition Deluxe series features slightly different bracing and tuners, and a finish whose shading gives it a more vintage-correct look.
Small But Mighty
As a single-0-sized guitar, the Recording King is small—measuring just 14 inches across the lower bout, making it close to a true parlor-sized guitar—and is fitted with a slender long-scale neck. Thanks in part to the 12-fret body and 25.4-inch scale-length neck, it has a nicely full sound for such a small guitar, and its size makes it very comfortable to play sitting or standing. I could see this body style really working well for people with smaller bodies and hands. The neck is quite svelte, and because I’m a six-foot-tall meatball, it took my fretting hand a little while to adjust.
The Deluxe has a solid Sitka spruce top and solid African mahogany back and sides. African mahogany, or khaya, is not a true mahogany, but it’s close enough to have been a popular substitution for many years, much like its botanical cousin, sapele. Ivory-colored accents on the tuner buttons, neck heel, bridge pins, and binding contrast nicely with the dark sunburst top and brown-stained neck, back, and sides, which help give this guitar a prewar look.
While the Single 0 veers off from the prewar budget-brand scheme in its clean construction and modern ergonomics, the only sticking point I had was a literal one: The nut slot for the third string was a little too tight and gave off a tell-tale ping when tuning. Given this guitar’s bluesy vibe, I found myself jumping from standard to open tunings, and if I were to keep it, I’d have a repair tech gently sand the nut for smoother tuning.
As the San Francisco Bay area was sheltering in place during my test time, I was only able to try the guitar out at home, but after a few weeks together, I would have no hesitations about gigging with this guitar. To check out the pickup, I played through a Henriksen The Bud amp and a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro. Plugging straight in, with the amps set flat, I got a tone that was better than usable—it was desirable. The amplified Deluxe sounded clear and more faithful to its acoustic sound than I’m used to hearing from other pickup-equipped guitars. The onboard tone control was good for taking some of the top end off when I wanted a slightly darker sound for picking.
Acoustically, the Recording King has an appealing, balanced tone, with shades of boxiness—in a cool, vintage-y way—and the tone improved noticeably during my testing, growing a little richer and deeper after the initial break-in period. The acoustic output was pretty substantial, though that’s not this guitar’s forte. Instead, it’s more of a parlor that delivers a respectable return of tone and volume.
Few other guitars offer all solid wood and electronics for this price, and I’d be quick to recommend the Recording King Dirty 30s Deluxe Single 0 to anyone wanting a guitar that’s well-built and sounds worthy for under $500. It has a vintage, bargain-priced look with modern playability and I can really see this guitar appealing strongly to people on the smaller end of the spectrum who are into old timey music. But no matter what size you are, if you’re a player looking for a comfortable companion for the couch or the stage that returns a lot on your dollar, the Single 0 is definitely worthy of your consideration.
Recording King Dirty 30s Deluxe Single 0
BODY 12-fret; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped Sitka spruce X-bracing; African mahogany back and sides; ivory-black-ivory binding top and back; small ring rosette, matte sunburst finish
NECK 25.4″ scale mahogany neck with C profile; 1-11/16″ bone nut; two-way truss rod; 20-fret padauk fingerboard with ivory plastic dot position-markers; black peghead overlay, open-back tuners with ivory buttons
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OTHER Fishman Sonitone onboard preamp and undersaddle pickup; padauk straight-shaped bridge with compensated bone saddle; ivory plastic bridge pins and endpin
MADE IN China
PRICE $449.99 street
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