With many venues reopening after two years of hibernation and the return of playing opportunities, there’s been a feeling of exhilaration around live music. From gigs at cafes and places of worship to big tours, musicians are back out there, singing songs and playing guitar with fresh zeal. Excitement remains exceptionally high for acoustic guitars, and manufacturers are challenged to meet demand, even years after production shutdowns.
Whether at a large music retailer or a small boutique, the shorthand explanation for the occasional difficulty in finding a new guitar (and a bonkers used market) is “supply chain.” But rising material costs and shortages of components aren’t dampening the powerful desire to play. Through it all, makers continue to produce exciting instruments at every price. And players seem to be grabbing them. There have been many more new gear releases in the past 12 months than we can cover comprehensively, so we’ll focus on some of this year’s highlights, grouped into several noteworthy trends.
High-End Touches at All Price Points
For the last several years, C.F. Martin & Co. has been adding instruments to its Modern Deluxe series, updating classic designs by merging vintage-approved specs—like torrefied soundboards and dovetail neck joints secured with natural protein glue—with state-of-the-art details such as Liquidmetal bridge pins and carbon fiber bridge plates.
Last year saw the introduction of a handful of new models in this series, including the most opulent member yet, the Modern Deluxe D-45 ($10,499 street), with its European flamed maple binding and extensive inlay work, including an intricate classic torch design on the headstock. While we were taken as much with the guitar’s sound and feel as its appearance and build quality, we were similarly wowed by the Modern Deluxe 012-28, with a much less eye-popping price tag of $4,399.
At the same time, some relatively inexpensive guitars have been receiving the sort of primo specs and appointments that were not too long ago seen only on high-end instruments, and 2022 proved no exception to this encouraging trend. AG got its hands on two excellent, vintage-inspired examples with decidedly different voices but similarly good designs and execution.
A slope-shouldered dreadnought is a thing of beauty, and with a thermo-cured spruce top on a sapele body, onboard electronics, and a stylish slotted headstock, the 12-fret Takamine CRN-TS1 ($1,849) has a big sound to match its vintage look. On the other hand, an L-00-sized guitar is hard to beat for its balance of comfort and tone, and we thought that the Eastman E20OOSS/v ($1,869), with its varnish finish—a tone-enhancing option seldom seen these days on production guitars—and Adirondack spruce top delivered the sweetness and vintage warmth that fingerstylists and flatpickers crave from these 14-fretters.
Even more affordable, Luna’s Vineyard Koa Bevel Folk ($699) boasts a comfortable, compact body, somewhere between a grand auditorium and parlor in size, with an ergonomic bevel on the lower bass bout. This distinctive-looking guitar boasts elaborate vine inlays on its rosewood fretboard, starting at the first fret and extending into the rosette—not the sort of high-end detailing that you would expect on a guitar at this price point. More important, it boasts a versatile voice and smooth playability.
The guitar industry has for years been facing dwindling supplies of precious tonewoods; rosewood, mahogany, and ebony are becoming more difficult to source at high quality and in abundant quantities. Guitar makers like Taylor—which has gone as far as to purchase a legal ebony mill in Cameroon, and participate in initiatives to reforest koa in Hawaii, among many other positive endeavors—have been putting much thought and energy into using sustainable tonewoods while also working with good alternatives.
Maple grows abundantly and sustainably in North America. It’s not exactly a rarity on an acoustic guitar, but when was the last time you saw an acoustic with a maple top, back, and sides? With the American Dream AD27e Flametop ($2,199), a member of Taylor’s affordable new series made at its California shop, the maker did just that, and we were impressed by the guitar’s midrange and high-end response and inspiring amplified sounds.
A couple of years ago, Taylor made a splash by beginning to use urban ash—wood salvaged from municipalities in Southern California—in select models. (See “Taylor Guitars Discovers a New Sustainable Tonewood in Its Own Backyard” at AcousticGuitar.com.) Now the company is featuring urban ironbark—a hardwood from the eucalyptus family described as being somewhat like rosewood and ebony—in its formerly all-mahogany 500 series. At the same time, Taylor began using its well-sourced koa for the 700 series, including the new 724ce, which we found to have a warm and balanced sound, with a lacy high-end sweetness.
Bamboo is a fast-growing and renewable evergreen plant known for its incredible diversity, used for everything from construction to food to fuel. You might have items like bamboo cutting boards and drawer organizers in your home, but it’s not the sort of material you’d expect to find in a guitar. Luna, however, introduced the Bamboo Parlor ($299), a neat acoustic-electric with a 25-inch scale length and a laser-etched leaf pattern around its soundhole.
Other builders rolled out guitars made from more traditional, reclaimed tonewoods. Collings Guitars, for instance, has been making the occasional flattop using a small stash of Sitka spruce from an Alaskan logging camp. Having spent decades under water, the wood has taken on a striking blueish-gray tint, and some of the boards have dramatic bear-claw figuring, making for a showstopper of a guitar. Around press time, Collings unveiled a beautifully matched pair of a 003 14-Fret and I-35 LC Deluxe (thinline electric), both made with similarly distinctive-looking spruce salvaged from a bridge in Canada.
A couple of new offerings show that the nylon-string acoustic is anything but a staid—and expensive—instrument exclusively for classical players. At $699, the Córdoba Stage is the company’s first nylon-string electric, and its thin body helps deliver plugged-in nylon-string tone without high-volume feedback. Similarly, the Ibanez Tim Henson TOD10N Signature ($699) is a thinline acoustic-electric with a fan-braced solid Sitka spruce top and a Fishman Sonicore pickup. Both guitars grant guitarists access to warm nylon-string tones at affordable price points, with necks that will feel more familiar to steel-string and electric players than those on traditional classical guitars.
Like all PRS acoustics, one of the latest editions to the Angelus series, the SE A20E ($699), incorporates a bracing pattern that is a hybrid of the traditional fan bracing seen on classical guitars and the classic X pattern common to steel-strings. This all-mahogany cutaway acoustic-electric impressed us with its sleek playability, adaptable voice, and excellent amplified sound, thanks in part to its PRS-voiced Fishman Sonitone electronics.
In an altogether different direction, Fender introduced its evolutionary Acoustasonic series of hybrid acoustic-electrics in 2019, beginning with a Telecaster version. In 2022, the company added production of the line at a new plant in Ensenada, Mexico, and is now able to offer a lower entry price for the Acoustasonic Player Jazzmaster ($1,199) and the Acoustasonic Player Telecaster ($1,049).
For its part, Martin flipped the script with a new U.S.-made version of its hotly received, stage-ready SC series of guitars, with their sleek cutaways and fast necks. (See a review of the SC-13E in the July/August 2020 issue.) The CS-SC-2022 ($7,999) is a high-end version of the offset cutaway SC, made at Martin’s Nazareth, Pennsylvania, factory, and features an East Indian rosewood back and sides, a VTS (torrefied) Sitka spruce top, and elaborate fingerboard and headstock inlays.
With a smaller, more accessible cutaway GT (Grand Theater) shape, the Taylor GT 611e LTD ($3,499) pairs a Sitka spruce soundboard with big-leaf maple back and sides and a hard-rock maple neck. Built with the company’s recent C-Class bracing, the GT 611e LTD has clarity and projection to spare, and the guitar’s Expression System 2 electronics give it an excellent amplified sound.
Distressed, Faded, and Broken-In
There are only so many vibe-filled old guitars to go around, and many players are drawn to the old and broken-in look, so some makers have been offering faded or distressed finishes. For instance, Pre-War Guitars offers four different levels of aging on its tradition-inspired flattops, the highest of which simulates decades of heavy play wear and looks just like the real deal.
Though you would have been lucky to get your hands on a new Waterloo in 2022, due to extremely limited production, the guitars had a lightly distressed option for their satin nitrocellulose lacquer finishes. Martin has also applied a similar treatment to some examples in its Authentic line of reissues based on golden-era designs.
Martin debuted its StreetMaster look on the all-mahogany 15 Series in 2017 and last year applied the well-loved-looking finish to the 000-16 StreetMaster ($1,999), boasting an Adirondack spruce top (normally found on more expensive Martins) and East Indian rosewood back and sides, with Golden Age Relic nickel tuners completing the aged effect.
At the same time, Gibson reintroduced its Faded Finish series with a trio of acoustics having satin nitrocellulose finishes meant to mimic age—and coming complete with L.R. Baggs VTC electronics, for modern plug-in-and-play convenience. The lineup includes the Hummingbird Faded Natural ($3,499), J-45 ’50s Faded Sunburst ($2,499), and a J-35 ’30s Faded Natural ($2,199), all looking subtly and tastefully aged.
Cool Signature Guitars
Ever since Gibson introduced its first Nick Lucas model in the late 1920s, guitar makers have tempted buyers with artist-signature models. The legacy company introduced a whole bunch of signature models in 2022, including the Cat Stevens J-180 ($7,499); the Everly Brothers SJ-200 ($7,999); and not one but two Elvis Presley models, the Elvis SJ-200 ($5,299) and the Elvis Dove ($4,699).
While Dave Mustaine, the leader and rhythm guitarist of the thrash metal band Megadeth, isn’t exactly known for his sensitive fingerpicking, Gibson celebrated him with the all-black Dave Mustaine Songwriter ($4,499/$4,999 signed). Similarly, Jerry Cantrell, the lead guitarist of the heavy metal outfit Alice in Chains, received a pair of signature models, the “Fire Devil” Songwriter ($3,999) and “Atone” Songwriter ($3,799), naturally both black as well.
Taking a subtler approach, Martin unveiled several interesting signature models. The Rich Robinson Custom Signature Edition D-28 ($6,999) is a careful replica, nicks and all, of the Black Crowes guitarist’s personal 1954 D-28, handed down from his musician father, who had played it on the Grand Ole Opry. The younger Robinson used the original guitar in writing many of the songs for the Black Crowes’ studio albums, so the signature model will obviously hold special appeal for fans.
The Custom Major Kealakai ($7,999) extra-large jumbo brings attention to a dreadnought precursor Martin made specially in 1916 for the conductor and musician in the Royal Hawaiian Band. Featuring a 12-fret body that is larger, deeper, and wider than a 000, the Major Kealakai has a unique oversized bridge on its VTS Adirondack spruce top. The back and sides are made from sinker mahogany, a good example of the use of salvaged woods these days.
Martin’s small-bodied 000JR-10E Shawn Mendes Custom Artist Edition ($799) has a 24-inch scale fretboard and is made entirely with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) sustainable tonewoods, Sitka spruce and sapele. This handsome guitar includes other unique touches, such as a laser-engraved swallow on the bridge and hidden song lyrics engraved inside the box.
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When it comes to flatpickers, there is hardly a player more revered than Norman Blake. Pre-War Guitars has celebrated the living legend with a limited run of 12 guitars patterned after his personal 1934 converted Hawaiian dreadnought and 1933 shade-top herringbone dread—and built with his input. The Norman Blake Collection of six mahogany and six Brazilian rosewood 12-fret dreadnoughts, priced at $19,995 and $24,995, respectively, feature hot hide glue construction and an ebony reinforcement bar instead of a truss rod and bar frets. These guitars come with the disclaimer that because the neck relief is not adjustable, it would behoove the owner to have saddles of different heights, to compensate for the wood moving around in different climates.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum, the Guild A-20 Marley ($399) is inspired by the Madeira dreadnought that the late reggae superstar Bob Marley used in writing songs at home. The A-20 Marley pairs a solid spruce top with a laminated mahogany body and comes complete with neat accessories like a booklet detailing the guitar’s making and a poster of Marley with his original Madeira—yet another reminder of just how much of a fun guitar you can get for the money these days.
Smart New Amps and Accessories
While 2022 saw a great abundance of new guitars at all price points, we also saw some smart new amps and accessories. At $449, the VHT True Acoustic 60 is a portable powerhouse that we praised for its volume and tone while being a tremendous dual-purpose amp for guitar and voice at an affordable price. Likewise, the 70-watt Schertler Giulia X ($1,188) gives dual mic and instrument inputs, high-end components, chic styling, and stained wood cabinetry. With 80 watts on tap, looping, Bluetooth, and a battery capable of four hours of playtime, the Nux Stageman II AC-80 ($449) is compact and ready for playing anywhere.
The handsome stainless steel Paige PaigePro PP-6-ETI capo ($230) is a marvel of craft, with six individually adjustable inserts of a nut-like material for a precision fit. Slide fans should check out the new trio of colored glass Dunlop Rev Willie’s Sangria Slides ($19.99 each), available in several colors and shapes, while the Dunlop Trigger Fly capos ($19.99) streamline their bestselling Fly capos. Clip-on tuners are ubiquitous, and the new D’Addario Nexxus 360 rechargeable clip-on tuner ($29.99) combines a bright display with a rechargeable onboard battery. —GO
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.