Best known for pioneering acoustic-electric guitars in the late 1970s, Japan’s Takamine has scored a winner with the strictly acoustic GD20-NS dreadnought. It’s almost inconceivable that this is a $250 guitar. The sound is warm and mellow; the playability is reliable. There are no obvious shortcomings of craftsmanship, and the guitar even includes a limited lifetime warranty.
Most notably, the GD20-NS boasts a cedar soundboard. Distinguished by its warmth, cedar is not as dense as the spruce more commonly found on steel-string acoustics. The guitar’s back and sides are made from mahogany, which is characterized by a mellow sound and solid midrange. The cedar appears to be of a fine grade, with evenness in both its grain pattern and its lovely reddish coloring, while the mahogany on the back has an attractive, subtle feather figuring.
Affordable, Not Cheap
The GD20-NS is well constructed. Its 20 frets are tidily seated and polished, and the synthetic bone nut and saddles are precisely notched. All of the binding is perfectly flush with the body, and the guitar’s innards are clean as well, with smoothly sanded quartersawn X bracing and just a hint of excess glue. The satin finish on the neck and body feels smooth and inviting.
In terms of design, the GD20-NS does not look cheap. It’s got the wooden flourishes—a maple heel cap and a rosewood rosette and headstock overlay—found on much more expensive instruments. While there’s a minimum of other embellishments, the multi-ply crème-and-black binding adds an elegant outline to the dreadnought figure.
The bridge is an improvement over the traditional style. It houses a two-part saddle, with the highest two strings receiving their own segment, allowing for better intonation than the standard one-piece design. Also, the bridge does away with pins—which can be hard to remove (and easily lost) during a string change—in favor of a scheme that’s more user-friendly. The strings’ ball ends rest against the back of the bridge, as they are on the stop tailpiece of a Gibson electric.
This Takamine’s neck is attached with a traditional dovetail joint, a design widely accepted as offering the best wood-to-wood contact between the neck and body. By promoting the efficient transfer of energy between these parts, the sound is enhanced. What’s more, the neck profile has a comfortable C shape that’s on the slim side, which is easy on the fret hand. I can play the instrument for long stretches before experiencing the strain that comes more quickly with a traditionally sized neck. Also, the action is comfortably low and barre-chord-friendly.
Despite a relatively narrow nut width of 1 11/16 inches, fingerpicking on the GD-20NS comes easy. The instrument feels dynamic and responsive; the notes of arpeggios cascade together beautifully. And the guitar’s voice does not get murky when it’s placed in lowered tunings like double-drop D and even open C.
In a blindfold test, I wouldn’t necessarily mistake the GD-20NS for an expensive boutique dreadnought, but its sound is certainly full and woody. Though cedar tends to have less headroom than spruce, the guitar can be strummed fairly hard before its tone is adversely affected. The guitar also responds well to single-note lines, without the thinness typical of guitars in its price range.
The GD20-NS just might be a perfect beginner guitar, with admirable playability and sound that won’t frustrate a new player. But the guitar also would be an appropriate match for the seasoned player who needs another songwriting or even recording tool—for an absolute steal.
Solid cedar top
Mahogany back and sides
25.3-inch scale length
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1 11/16-inch nut width
Chrome die-cast tuners
D’Addario EXP 16 coated phosphor bronze strings (.012–.053)
Limited lifetime warranty
$359.99 list; $249.99 street
Made in China