Review: Vintage Guitar Authority George Gruhn Rewrites the Rulebook with His Bold New Versitar Design

Based on the Tacoma models that Gruhn designed back in the 1990s, the Versitar series deconstructs and reconstructs many of the touchpoints of traditional flattop design, like the neck joint, fret count, bracing, soundhole position, and more

Is there any guitar tradition more hidebound than that of the flattop acoustic? It’s a form factor in which an unconventional tonewood or an invisible change to the bracing can make an instrument if not revolutionary then at least noteworthy. 

So I find it interesting that George Gruhn, one of the people responsible for preserving so many of the finest examples of iconic guitar design, has under his own brand created an instrument that offers a rethink and a refresh of the steel-string acoustic’s core elements. “You can compete on price, on quality, or on innovation,” Gruhn, owner of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, told me over the phone. “We chose to compete on innovation.”

Based on the Tacoma models that Gruhn designed back in the 1990s, the Versitar series deconstructs and reconstructs many of the touchpoints of traditional flattop design, like the neck joint, fret count, bracing, soundhole position, and more. Gruhn offers a wide array of tonewood options, from traditional—rosewood, mahogany, spruce, and cedar—to sustainable variations like black locust, walnut, ash, and others. Our test guitar had a Western red cedar soundboard and East Indian rosewood back and sides. I’m sure these woods influence the instrument’s individual character, but the core concept is in the global architecture, not the specific tonewoods, and that’s what we’ll explore in this review. 

The Architecture

Usually, there’s one signature feature or quality—access to the highest frets, timbral foundation, or even price—that stands as the main talking point for a new instrument. Here, however, you have a disappearing neck joint, which provides access to a 22-fret fingerboard supported by a truss rod that extends the entire length of the neck. You have an offset soundhole and a top that has no break between the bridge and the fretboard—in effect between the fretboard and nut. That alone gives the Versitar a different resonant platform than a standard flattop.

Visually, the most obvious place to begin is the body shape, with its single cutaway and teardrop-shaped offset soundhole in the upper bout. The shape has an inviting and organic flow. It’s both simple and striking, and the cutaway’s soft angle makes it look less extreme, while also allowing upper-fret access. 

Gruhn Versitar guitar
Gruhn Versitar. Photo: Eric C. Newell/Gruhn Guitars

The 25.5-inch–scale neck joins the body at the 15th fret via two furniture bolts that couple with metal inserts, allowing the neck to be easily removed and repaired or replaced without stripping. On paper, a 15th-fret joint doesn’t seem so different from the typical 14th-fret neck junction, but because the Versitar neck has no heel, the net effect is electric-guitar-like access to the upper reaches, comparable to that of, say, a Fender Telecaster. 


The heelless neck joint doesn’t simply make it easier to get your fingers above the 12th fret; it also lets you place your hand in positions where you have more leverage to execute bends and vibrato. The only other acoustic instruments I’ve played with similar access have been thinlines that are clearly designed to be more electric than acoustic. But the Versitar is a really resonant box that can fill a room. The neck access opens up a lot of creative possibilities for those of us who like to play single-note lead lines without plugging in—more on that later.

The build quality on our test model was outstanding yet utilitarian, with a focus on tone and performance over decoration. The nitrocellulose lacquer finish was extremely thin, and that came across tactilely while also leaving the instrument free to vibrate. The dark matte sunburst finish was perfectly executed, highlighting the design’s flowing quality, accentuated nicely by herringbone purfling. 

The instrument had outstanding intonation and low, buzz-free action. The lack of a heel really made a difference when playing, but it did take me a little time to get used to not having one as a positional aid.

Dynamic and Timbral Range

The Versitar was designed to deliver consistent tone across a wide dynamic range and provide the kind of timbral variation based on attack and picking-hand positioning that one might expect from a good classical guitar. Our test guitar delivered on those goals. You can really lay into the guitar without getting it out of sorts, and unlike many instruments, it doesn’t just have one loud voice; you can still sculpt it with your attack.

Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the heelless neck joint and long truss rod, but the Versitar had very consistent tone and sustain from low to high, as well. Where many guitars seem to lose overtones once you hit the heel, the Versitar kept delivering. All up and down the fretboard, the note decays were complex and long, with some lovely overtones emerging at the end.

Strumming with plectrums from light to heavy brought out a very wide range of tonal colors. Even with a super light pick, open chords got drown-out-the-singer loud when I put some muscle behind them, but the guitar never sounded clangy or out of control. Hit an open G hard and it will sustain until you get tired of hearing it decay. Interestingly, play the same chord with less force and you don’t completely transform the timbral balance; the guitar stays very consistent from quiet to loud.

The Versitar is particularly sensitive to changes in pick position and right-hand placement relative to the bridge or fretboard—all of which access a different shade of the instrument’s timbral palette. Variations in pick angle are especially fertile. At one point, I placed the pick close to—but not quite—a pinch-harmonic position on the A string; this brought out a woody, percussive overtone that I don’t think I’d ever heard on a steel-string acoustic. 

As mentioned above, the neck is fast and comfortable and offers easy upper-fret access. But just as important is the fast attack and distinct decay of each note. A quick flurry doesn’t sound smeary or stringy. Switching from blues to country to jazz, I was able to find the right voice for each style. The fast neck makes the Versitar a good choice for lead playing, whether it’s fast runs, where the articulation really punches through, or in sustained melodic passages, where the overtones really blossom.


Fingerpicking really showcases the Versitar’s harmonic complexity. The nail of the index finger and the pad of the thumb, a gentle bass note with a hard snapped treble, a rolling trill—they all bring out something different. And across all techniques, the notes are very rich in harmonics and overtones.

Dropping Down

In our conversation, Gruhn made a point of telling me that the Versitar performs well with alternate tunings, even when dropped down as low as C. A test in double dropped D (D A D G B D) bore this out, both in terms of sound and feel. The 25.5-inch scale helps keep the string tension strong, and the clarity of the low D was startling. It had plenty of body but also an unexpectedly articulate punch; not bassy, just strong, like a baritone singer’s upper range where chest and head resonate together. The high D (first string) was also clear and solid and sounded in tune without making me adjust my attack. 

But the thing that grabbed my attention the most was the cohesiveness of the sound. Maybe it’s just my perception, but most of my guitars seem to have one ideal tuning where they come alive. The Versitar might, too, but I didn’t bother looking for it. What impressed me about the switch from standard to double dropped D is how consistent the guitar sounded between the two—strong, clear, and consonant.

Gruhn Versitar guitar back

Plugging In

The Versitar’s L.R. Baggs HiFi electronics are simple but work well and do a fine job of capturing the guitar’s tone, including many of the subtle variations described above. Its two controls—volume and tone—are hidden but easily accessed inside the soundhole. Tested with a Phil Jones Bass X4 Nanobass combo and direct into a Universal Apollo interface, the Baggs offered plenty of control without overwhelming me with knobs and sliders. The electronics are very low noise and offer ample headroom to keep up with the Versitar’s dynamic range.

Gruhn says the instrument is intended for working pros—“for play, not display,” as he puts it—and, with its looks and level of comfort, it could find a home on many a stage. The fact that the electronics do such a good job of capturing its studio-quality unplugged sound only adds to its appeal.

The Bottom Line

The Gruhn Versitar is an easy guitar to like and a tricky one to review. Usually, we focus on the tonewoods—the sweetness of mahogany, the power of rosewood, the attack of maple, etc. Those factors do play a role here as well, and I’m sure different woods will bring out different aspects of the Versitar platform. 


But it’s that platform that tells the story. The neck joint and design of the top, uninterrupted between the bridge and fretboard, set the foundation for everything else. The truss rod supports the entire neck, enhancing its consistency from low to high notes and thereby maximizing the sonic potential provided by the top and bracing scheme. All of this makes for a very exciting range of possibilities.

Gruhn Versitar Specs

BODY Versitar acoustic with cutaway; 15th-fret neck junction; Western red cedar top with modified A bracing and offset soundhole; East Indian rosewood back and sides; herringbone purfling; rosewood bridge with ebony bridge pins; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish with dark sunburst top 

NECK Bolt-on mahogany; long truss rod; 25.5″ scale length; 1-3/4″ bone nut; East Indian rosewood fretboard; 22 medium Jescar frets; nickel open-gear tuners; satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish

OTHER L.R. Baggs HiFi electronics; D’Addario XS phosphor bronze light strings (.012–.053); Gator softshell case; available left-handed



PRICE $3,100 street

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 347

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Emile Menasché
Emile Menasché

Guitarist, composer, writer.

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