At first blush, Recording King’s RP1-16C sounds astonishingly good for a $500 guitar. Inspired by 1930s Gibson flattops, this sweet-sounding, responsive instrument plays a whole lot better than the average vintage guitar, at a fraction of the cost, and its clear and articulate voice might surprise skeptics.
Echoes of a Golden Era
Part of the Music Link family, the Recording King line revives the brand of Depression-era fretted instruments originally made for Montgomery Ward. The 12-fret RP1-16C, designed in conjunction with the historian, luthier, and shop owner Eric Schoenberg, appears to be a straightforward parlor guitar, but it boasts some distinctive features.
For one, the instrument pairs a 0-size body with a cutaway design and the longer scale length (25.4 inches) of a dreadnought, which lends punch and projection. But the real draw is a torrefied Adirondack spruce soundboard—the tonewood of choice for most golden-era guitars, but usually reserved these days for more expensive instruments.
Torrefied guitar woods are organically aged through a strictly controlled heating process, in the interest of greater resonance and stability. A byproduct of this process is an aged appearance; the review model featured a lovely amber-colored top. The rest of the guitar is pretty snappy, too, with its appealingly narrow waist, stained mahogany back and sides, and vintage-style banner headstock logo.
Fine Fingerpicking Choice
The RP1-16C is soundly constructed, with a cleanly cut bone nut and saddle, tip-top fretwork, and a gloss finish free from imperfections. However, the stain used on the mahogany reveals a hint of sloppiness at the neck-to-body junction, and the guitar’s interior could have received a little more attention during the sanding. Not perfect, but no big deal.
The RP1-16C has a sort of streamlined V-shaped neck that feels at once modern and vintage. It’s easy to get around on the neck, and all of its notes, from the highest to the lowest, ring true, with accurate intonation.
Given its small body and 1.75-inch nut width, the RP1-16C is intended for fingerpicking, and it really shines for this application. The guitar has excellent detail and clarity, whether played in standard or alternate tunings, and it takes little force from the picking fingers to extract a beautiful tone from the instrument.
Plectrum players won’t be disappointed either. Strummed or flatpicked, there’s an impressive amount of headroom for a guitar of such modest size.
Recording King has produced a honey of a guitar with this latest offering, at a bargain-basement price.
BODY: 0-size body with Venetian cutaway; solid torrefied adirondack spruce top with sitka spruce scalloped X-bracing; mahogany back and sides; gloss natural finish.
NECK: Mahogany neck; rosewood fingerboard; ebony bridge; 25.4-inch scale length; 1.75-inch nut width
Grover butterbean tuners; gloss finish.
OTHER: D’Addario EJ17 Phosphor Bronze strings (.013–.056)
PRICE: $668 list; $499 street
MADE IN: China