Posted by Adam Perlmutter
While recent years have seen structural innovations like armrest bevels and soundports incorporated in steel-string acoustic guitars, traditional designs such as slotted headstocks have also been reconsidered by makers at all price points. An excellent example of a guitar incorporating these vintage-inspired features for well under $1,000 can be found in the Woodland Pro Folk offered by Simon and Patrick, a division of Godin Guitars. (The Woodland Pro series also includes parlor, mini-jumbo, and dreadnought models.) We put this good-looking little guitar to its paces and found it to be something special.
Fit and Finish
The Woodland Pro Folk is a small-body flattop (14.75 inches at the lower bout) with a 14-fret neck joint and a slotted headstock. Like all the instruments in the Woodland series, the Pro Folk boasts all solid-wood construction: mahogany neck, back, and sides and a solid pressure-tested spruce soundboard. The top’s X-bracing is made from Adirondack spruce, chosen for its lightness and its strength, while the fingerboard and bridge are rosewood.
The Woodland Pro Folk has a handsomely straightforward look, with little in the way of ornamentation. Its dark body binding almost blends in with the mahogany back and sides and is offset nicely by the crème-colored purfling around the top. The rosette is made of wood, as are the back strip and end-block inlay. Position markers on the fingerboard are simple small pearl dots. Graduating from a rich deep brown to a warm golden orange, the sunburst finish (the instrument is also available in natural) evokes that of, say, a 1930s Gibson L-00. Also contributing to the vintage vibe are the guitar’s slotted headstock and butterbean tuners with engraved plates. In other words, the guitar sort of synthesizes features found on vintage Gibsons and Martins.
Craftsmanship on the Woodland Folk Pro is tip-top. There are no imperfections to be found in the body’s lustrous gloss finish or the neck’s comfy satin finish. The fretwork and the grooves in the nut and saddle are all meticulously executed, and the interior of the guitar is similarly clean; the bracing, kerfing, and gluing are all rendered with great care and precision—always a bonus on a guitar at this price point.
A Responsive Partner
Picking up the guitar and striking an open E chord, I was immediately taken with its responsiveness and sound—warm and rich with overtones, a promising indication of a great guitar. I was also pleased by the instrument’s lightness and by the way it sits on the lap, well-balanced between neck and body.
At 1.72 inches, the nut is relatively wide, and the neck has a fairly flat profile, almost like a scaled-down classical guitar neck. It feels comfortable to grip in all regions and is equally hospitable to simple chords in open position and complex chords in higher regions, thanks to the excellent factory setup. Together with the generous nut, the saddle, with its 2 3/32-inch spacing, provides ample room for fingerpicking, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for most players accustomed to tighter quarters to adjust to this guitar.
Because smaller-body guitars generally respond best to fingerpicking, I first tried an arrangement of a Duke Ellington tune, “On a Turquoise Cloud,” to assess the Woodland Pro Folk’s performance. In this setting, the guitar sounded excellent, warm and slightly punchy, thanks probably to the mahogany-and-spruce build. And it had an impressive amount of sustain. The guitar sounded equally nice in a couple of dissimilar contexts, a country-style blues improvisation in the key of A major and an arrangement of a piece by Maurice Ravel.
Grabbing a plectrum, I strummed through some songs from a classic folk songbook, and the Woodland Pro Folk reacted agreeably. The bass response was more powerful than I would expect from a guitar of this size and the midrange was robust; overall the sound had great presence and balance.
Given the good bass response, it seemed only natural to try some slackened tunings. In double dropped-D and D A D G A D, the Woodland Pro Folk’s voice remained sweet and brawny, with a satisfying low end. Whether fingerpicked or flatpicked, the guitar felt very responsive and the notes blended together with accord. At moments, it sounded almost piano-like.
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Low-Cost Vintage Vibe
A vintage small-body Gibson or Martin flattop—or even a recent reissue—will set you back many more times the cost of Simon and Patrick’s Woodland Pro Folk. Players in search of an inexpensive but high-quality solid-wood guitar with a vintage vibe and an impressive, diverse voice, made all the more versatile with an optional pickup, would be remiss not to consider this fine instrument.
SPECS: 14-fret 00. Solid spruce top. Solid mahogany back and sides. Three-piece mahogany neck with slotted headstock. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. 24.84-inch scale length. 1.72-inch nut width. 2 3/32-inch spacing at saddle. Tusq nut and Graphtech saddle. High-gloss finish on body, satin finish on neck. Open-back tuners. Light-gauge Godin phosphor-bronze strings. Made in Canada.
PRICE: $899 list/$750 street.
MAKER: Simon and Patrick: (514) 457-7977; simonandpatrick.com.