I doubt that it would have been long into the initial conversation between George Lowden, one of the world’s most respected guitar makers, and Ed Sheeran, one of this decade’s most successful pop artists, before both realized how appealing a deep collaboration would be. Sheeran’s signature Martin guitars are already extremely successful, albeit aimed more at beginners than this new range, and the singer-songwriter does seem to have the Midas touch. And who better to partner up with than Lowden guitars? The reputation of the Irish company has always been exemplary, and Sheeran has already had the Wee Lowden model, designed for him as a gift from Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody.
The Sheeran guitars all have select solid tops of Sitka spruce or cedar and five-layer laminated sides of walnut or Santos rosewood; they’re built in Northern Ireland, just down the road from the main Lowden factory. The Wee Lowden, with its 24-inch scale fretboard, is the basis for the W half of this line, but here we have the slightly bigger S02, with a longer scale (24-4/5 inches) and Santos rosewood back and sides attached to a Sitka spruce top. The overall impression is one of solidity throughout and minimalist design focusing on function without superfluous detail.
Built to Last
Although using a laminated box significantly reduces the cost of building an instrument, it also provides a rigid structure that’s far less prone to humidity issues, helpful for guitars designed to be small and suited to travel.
Laminated woods also weigh more, and the 4.2-lb S02 feels solid, well balanced, and comfortable to play seated for long periods, especially with the bevelled top edge of the body—a nice touch that demonstrates some neat build flourishes. The build is clean, with barely a blemish on the inside and just a minor flaw in the unbound side-to-back seam, but this is splitting hairs. The fretboard and bridge (with the tidy Lowden pin-less design) are reassuringly thick slabs of black ebony, with clean frets all the way down and perfectly cut nut and saddle. The tuners, which are chrome closed gear, work fine.
Inside the box, the woodworking is neatly done, with A-frame bracing for the top and none at all for the one-piece layered rosewood back, further demonstrating the company’s faith in the rigidity of the five layers. The L.R. Baggs Element VTC pickup system is neatly attached to the neck block, with controls tucked just inside the soundhole and the wires clipped out of the way. The truss rod can be accessed beneath the small rosewood cover by the nut or through the soundhole, where it pokes out slightly from a thick laminated wooden strut in front of the neck block.
It all feels considered and built to last, yet quite spartan; as I said, there’s no body or fretboard binding, and the soundhole decoration is the simplest of wooden rings. But this guitar does feel right for the purpose. Though the rosewood on display has an attractive streaked pattern set off by the thin satin finish that shows off the grain, the Sheeran is built to be used and not hung up on the wall.
Brilliantly Playable and Stage-Ready
What struck me once I sat and played is the resonance that runs along the spruce top and down the neck. For a guitar costing a little over a thousand dollars, of course, you won’t find all of the features present on a Lowden, so the usual swanky and gorgeous laminated neck design is replaced by a simpler mahogany piece with attached heel. But the profile is slim and easy to use—ideal for beginner players or those with smaller hands—and the shorter scale also adds to the comfort.
There has also obviously been a lot of care taken in choosing the solid tops for this range. The spruce on this model has a straight, tight grain and is thin enough to sit on top of the rigid body and provide a clear, not overly complex but still pleasing, acoustic sound. The bass is fairly mellow, which is unsurprising considering the small dimensions, and the volume won’t quite stand up to a dreadnought, but this box really does stretch out in the midrange and gives a lovely country-like quack when picked moderately thickly. That short scale, coupled with Lowden’s typically slim, fast neck, makes chording down it a pleasure.
When plugged in to a 1970s Music Man HD-130 amp, the S02’s small body becomes less relevant—the L.R. Baggs system brings in ample bass on the bottom strings and a pleasing clarity across the board without intruding on the acoustic nature of the guitar. It also means this instrument is ready for the stage and would work for beginner musicians right up to professionals looking for a solid guitar to depend on.
In fact, there’s a whole host of people out there who will favor the Sheeran by Lowden S02 as a workhorse and touring guitar, as well as one for the couch. Pricewise, slipping into the market above the Taylor Academy and Little Martin models and below something like a Larrivée P-03, this versatile guitar is well worth checking out. With its pleasing acoustic tone, high-quality build and materials, and good onboard electronics, it’s an instrument that will satisfy on many levels.
BODY S (small) body (14-3/4″ lower bout, 4″ deep, 19″ long); solid Sitka spruce top with Lowden A-frame bracing; laminated five-layer Santos rosewood back and sides; ebony bridge; Tusq saddle with 11mm (.43″) string spacing; satin polyurethane finish
NECK 14 fret, 24-4/5″-scale mahogany neck; slim C-shape profile; adjustable truss rod; bolt-on neck joint; ebony fretboard; 1-3/4″ Tusq nut; chrome enclosed gear tuners; satin polyurethane finish
OTHER L.R. Baggs Element VTC electronics; Lowden light (.012–.053) phosphor bronze strings; gig bag
PRICE $1,225 street
MADE IN Ireland
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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