By Greg Olwell
The Michael Kelly Guitars Triad 10E is an odd guitar. Not only does it come with features not commonly found on guitars under $400, it has ten strings. Much like a 12-string guitar, the Triad 10E features courses of doubled strings, except on the low strings, which do away with the 12’s typical octave strings.
The company says this format offers players a guitar that has much of a 12-string’s special charm, but with more clarity, better articulation, and enhanced playing range. I also suspect that an unusual guitar like this will appeal to players who admire tradition and also like to find new sounds, and perhaps, new ways to play.
Of course, you can take off two strings from a 12-string to achieve the same effect, but the results won’t be the same. One reason is the Triad’s smaller headstock, which is the same size as a normal six-string, but with five tuners on each side. Besides being more compact than the larger, fraternity-paddle-sized headstocks on many 12s, the Triad’s normal sized headstock is far less likely to dive—or require extra work from your left hand to keep it balanced. And, as I found, the Triad will fit in a gigbag that fits a six-string.
A Revelation of Sound
But these ergonomic and technical bits aren’t what the Triad 10E is about: It’s about offering players a new format for play and creativity. Once I began playing the Triad 10E, I quickly began to understand its appeal. Chiefly, this unique guitar blends the low-end clarity and punch of a six-string’s lower strings with the best of the chime and chorus effect of a 12-string’s unison and octave pairs. Bass runs over chord comps, in particular, took on an entirely new flavor. While I missed trying to cop some of power and tone in the manner of Lead Belly’s energetic bass runs on his Stella 12-string, the clearer low-end of the single E and A strings opened up a door that I didn’t know I was ready to walk through.
Instead of leaning on my palette of 12-string clichés, I quickly found myself exploring arrangements that took advantage of this setup’s solid, clear bass strings and a dreamier high-end. Travis picking I–V basslines over chord progressions and open tunings became my new favorite flavor. I could see inventive blues players taking advantage of clearer bass backing up slide lines on the higher strings, but I ended up spending time woodshedding on Hawaiian slack-key. Thanks to such great players as Gabby Pahinui, his son Cyril Pahinui, and others, 12-string guitar has been popular in this playful, laid-back genre that was heavily influenced by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Tuned down to open-G and even lower tunings, it was a lot easier for me to cleanly play rolling thumb-picked lines on the ten-string than the luck I’ve had with a 12.
Plug It In
As you may have guess by the “E” in the model’s full name, the Michael Kelly ten-string comes with onboard electronics. I played the Triad through my normal test rigs, including a Fishman Loudbox 100 and an acoustic-ready SWR, and I was impressed with the guitar’s plugged-in tone. I really liked the sound I achieved by trimming a little off the highs by rolling back the onboard Fishman’s tone control. It delivered plump low-end and singing highs, without some of the piezo quakiness you can still find on acoustic-electrics. Volume and tone controls were through the Fishman’s discrete soundhole-mounted array, an innovation that still feels fresh after years of bumping into external controls.
With its matte-finished top and neck, and a trapezoidal bridge reinforced by wood screws, the Michael Kelly won’t trick you into thinking that you’re playing a high-end exotic. Still, with features like the dual side soundports, okoume back and sides, and solid construction paired with comfortable playability, you could be forgiven for thinking that this costs more than it does. As it stands, this great-looking and playing guitar is reasonably priced and would make it a good second or third guitar for your collection.
The Michael Kelly Triad 10E offers lovely woods and good electronics at a very attractive price. And, it has ten strings, so it has a unique vibe that you won’t find anywhere else—including a “normal” 12-string missing its doubled lower strings.
Solid spruce top
Three-piece back with
flamed okoume and ovangkol
Flamed okoume sides
Natural finish, satin top
and gloss back and sides
20-fret rosewood fingerboard
Bone nut 1 11/16-inches
Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp
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$580 MSRP/$399 street
Made in China