From the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Emile Menasché
If you ask me, the Takamine CRN-TS1 needs a more evocative model name—something, anything, that captures this acoustic-electric slope-shouldered dreadnought’s combination of style and utility, brawn and beauty. First, the style: The CRN-TS1 stands out visually by combining familiar elements in a distinctive way. The most striking example is the slotted headstock, but there are other more subtle details that enhance the instrument’s traditional-but-updated character—from its honey-tinged natural finish to the understated appointments of gold, ivoroid, abalone, and faux tortoiseshell. Add the qualities that Takamine fans expect—playability and stage-worthy electronics—and you almost have the full story. Spoiler alert: the “Wait, there’s more!” is all about the unplugged sound.
The CRN-TS1 is a large instrument designed to deliver a full-bodied acoustic sound. Despite having plenty of volume, it doesn’t look bulky and is plenty comfortable to hold and play. Handmade at the Takamine Pro Series facility in Sakashita, Japan, the guitar is noticeably well built, from perfect fretwork to tidy bracing and kerfing inside the box.
The body features a solid sapele back, laminated sapele sides, and a solid thermal (i.e., torrefied) spruce soundboard, claimed to lend the tone and response of a vintage guitar. It’s always hard to know how much one specific design element influences the sound of an acoustic instrument, so I can’t say for sure that the thermal top is more responsive than a non-torrefied top would be on the same guitar. But I can report that this Takamine has a big, complex, and vibrant tone full of shimmering overtones. It’s also capable of truly impressive sustain.
The mahogany neck joins the body at the 12th fret, another tone-focused design choice. All other things being equal, a 12-fret design shifts the bridge toward the endpin and away from the soundhole, which is intended to produce a warmer sound than a 14th-fret joint. Of course, a 12th-fret joint also makes the body more of an obstacle for reaching higher pitches.
The rosewood bridge houses a two-piece saddle made of bone; the lower four strings sit on one section, the top two on the other. Takamine believes its split design offers better intonation than standard one-piece compensated acoustic saddles. If you’re worried that separating the strings negatively affects sympathetic resonances, the CRN-TS1 certainly doesn’t suffer from any lack of tone production. In fact, the unwound high strings sound stronger and clearer than I’d expect from a dreadnought, where upper midrange resonances can smear together.
Top-Notch Setup and Playablity
Considering that almost any guitar right out of the shipping container would benefit from a proper setup, the action on the test instrument was exceptional—low but buzz-free. And while the CRN-TS1 doesn’t necessarily offer easy access above the 15th fret, the action up the neck is still silky and true.
For a dreadnought, the Takamine’s ovangkol fretboard is relatively short (24.8-inch scale vs. the 25.4-inch you’d find on, say, a Martin D-28) and also slender at the bone nut (1.67-inch vs. the wider standard of 1.75). The 12-inch fretboard radius is a little rounder than you’ll find on traditional flattops, but if you’re used to a 14-inch radius it’ll probably feel natural enough.
Taken together, those specs will probably feel pretty familiar to electric players who spend more of their time with narrower nuts and 10- or 12-inch radii. I find the neck to be comfortable all-around, an easy reach for both chords, fingerstyle arpeggios, and single-note lead lines.
The neck feels fat and ample, with a rounded C curve. I’ve always liked chunky necks because they support my long fingers, but I don’t think the Takamine’s proportions would be overwhelming for smaller hands. The full, round contour encourages hand positions that support my fingers on the fretboard. It’s not so much about reaching notes and chord shapes more easily, but about making solid contact when you do. And nothing affects tone more than the contact your fingers make with the strings.
I’ve already mentioned the Takamine’s lush tone and resonant sustain. Those qualities jump out when I play and hold single notes on the high E string, even with a light thumb attack. There is ample body to the sound no matter what I play.
Switching to arpeggiated open chords shows off the instrument’s balance and response to finger attack. When playing a descending bass line from an open D, for example, the bass notes on the A string sound consonant and mix well with the higher notes in the chord.
This consonance is even more impressive when it comes to close-voiced triads on the interior strings up the neck (e.g., an E chord voiced at frets 7, 6, and 4 on strings 5, 4, and 3, respectively). Flatpicked lead lines and melodies show off the guitar’s ability to combine a warm core tone with an articulate attack. I like it best for sustained notes and bendy bluesy leads. For fast country picking, I usually prefer the tighter string resistance of a longer scale.
If the Takamine handles the subtle and expressive stuff with grace, it really comes to life when you roll up your sleeves and strum big chords. Think Americana, country rock—any genre where you want, say, an open G chord to jangle at the top and punch hard at the bottom. The tone is big and muscular, but it’s lean muscle, with no tubby undertones to muddy the sound. Thanks to the fretboard radius, barre chords are especially easy to play, and they sound huge. With all six strings vibrating clearly, a barred F rings like an open E.
Amplified sound has long been synonymous with the Takamine brand, and the CRN-TS1 is no exception. Here, Takamine’s time-tested and proprietary Palathetic undersaddle pickup system, which uses individual piezo elements for each string, feeds a CT-4BII preamp. Controls include volume and a three-band EQ with fixed frequencies and 5dB of boost and cut for each band. There’s also an onboard tuner, with a push button that lets you switch between muted and non-muted operation, and you can calibrate the tuner’s reference frequency from 438Hz to 445Hz in 1Hz increments.
Because Takamine says the design is tuned to reduce feedback, I tested the CRN-TS1 at higher volume than I normally find comfortable. (The tuner’s mute mode came in handy while I was adjusting the amp.) If I face the speaker from about a foot away with the amp well above drum kit volume, sympathetic resonances get the D string vibrating. But under commonsense conditions—e.g., a few feet away from the amp with my body blocking the speaker—the sound is easy to control, even with the bass cranked to 5dB.
More important, the electronics capture much of the guitar’s unplugged character, including those rich overtones. Perhaps the split saddle plays a role, but the upper strings maintain the clarity I mentioned earlier without getting spikey in that plugged-in acoustic way. The higher strings sound full on single notes and blend well with the lower strings on chords.
The EQ is effective at shaping, not altering, the tone. Boosting the lows and highs relative to the midrange is perfect for strumming solo, though you might cut the bass in an ensemble. I have my own very scientific metric for undersaddle pickups: quack factor. The higher the quack, the worse the score. Even with the amp turned up loud, no ducks flew in expecting to find friends in my studio. Quack factor: 0.
The Bottom Line
From its handsome looks to its player-friendly fretboard, big sound, and strong onboard electronics, the Takamine CRN-TS1 seems designed for the stage, especially one shared with electric guitars and drums. Reviewed with that in mind, it ticks all the boxes. Priced on the higher end of moderate at around $1,800 with hard case, it’s within reach for working musicians and would be a good option for touring pros.
Yet, the unamplified sound, with its combination of clarity and harmonic overtones, makes the CRN-TS1 more than an elegant yet reliable tool. For a big guitar with a big sound, the Takamine also offers an intimate quality that rewards an uncluttered approach, where notes are given the time and space to linger.
BODY 12-fret slope-shouldered dreadnought; thermal spruce top; solid sapele back; laminated sapele sides; ebony bridge; bone compensated saddle with 2.086″ string spacing; natural gloss finish
NECK 24.8″-scale mahogany; slotted headstock; bound ovangkol fretboard with 12″ radius; 20 frets; 1.67″ bone nut; gold open-gear tuners
OTHER D’Addario EXP16 Phosphor Bronze strings (.012–.053); Takamine Palethetic undersaddle pickup system with CT-4BII preamp; hardshell case; left-handed available
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This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.