I picked up the Recording King Dirty 30’s RPS-7 and RPS-9, not expecting much on account of their modest price tags. But an hour later I’m like, “What happened?” I can’t believe how much fun I’m having with these little troublemakers.
While there’s much to be said for the refined kind of playing that a fancy, high-end guitar can inspire, a bargain option can also be a good muse. You can pick up an inexpensive instrument and toss it around without even thinking about it; you can play it with abandon, not worrying about babying the thing, and this can be a setup for some magical moments.
A pair of new guitars by Recording King—the California-based company that pays homage to Depression-era fretted instruments—definitely fits the bill for fun and easy-to-play bargains.
The RPS-7 and RPS-9 are modeled after Dust Bowl–era Montgomery Ward guitars, and they share some basic specs: Each guitar has a compact, style-0-sized body with a 12th-fret neck junction and a relatively long-scale fretboard, 25.4 inches. The price difference reflects the use of a solid Sitka spruce top on the RPS-9, versus laminated spruce on the RPS-7.
Both guitars have a cool old-school vibe with their Tobacco Sunburst–finished tops. Interestingly, although the RPS-7 is the less expensive guitar, it looks fancier, having checkered purfling and stenciled, fragmented fretboard inlays. With no purfling and simple dot fretboard markers, the RPS-9 is plainer, but smart looking.
The workmanship on both is impressively good and consistent—especially considering these prices. Neither guitar has any over- or under-spray, nor, most important, their frets are cleanly dressed, with no sharp edges.
Both the RPS-7 and the RPS-9 have slim necks with relatively narrow nuts (1-11/16-inches) that will be good fits for all hand sizes, and definitely ideal for beginning students. When I play either guitar, my fingers fly from the nut to the 12th fret, and I don’t break a sweat. I miss the access to higher frets, but luckily, there are some good 14-fret 000 and dreadnought options in the Dirty 30’s series.
On the RPS-7, I fingerpick my way through Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance” in open-E tuning (low to high: E B E GG B E) with some bottleneck slide. The guitar sounds great; with a quick attack and decay that lends a rough-edged vintage character. Normally, for fingerpicking, I prefer a chunkier and wider neck, but each guitar has adequate room on the fretboard—and in the saddle’s string-spacing.
With its solid soundboard, the RPS-9 has a bit more of an open sound as well as greater clarity. I play Magic Sam’s “Looking Good,” which, while more of an electric blues piece, reveals an upside of these Recording Kings: they’re good transitional acoustic guitars for electric players. The response and feel are similar to that of an unplugged electric guitar. Of course, you get more volume on these guitars than you would using an electric, but the Recording Kings are loud enough to get the point across.
The RPS-7 and the RPS-9 might not have lots of tonal complexity, but you wouldn’t expect that from such affordable guitars. They’re great for exploring musical ideas on a whim, and you don’t have to handle them with kid gloves. Throw them in the back of the car and get to some picking!
Recording King Dirty 30’s RPS-7 and RPS-9
BODY 12-fret 0 size; spruce top with Cross Lap (X) bracing (RPS-7); solid Sitka spruce top with Cross Lap (X) bracing (RPS-9); whitewood back and sides; Revebond bridge with 2-1/8″ string spacing; satin Tobacco Sunburst finish (RPS-7 also available in Matte Black or Tobacco Sunburst with Golden Strings decal)
NECK Nato neck; Revebond fretboard; 25.4″ scale length; 1-11/16″ bone nut; closed-gear tuners with ivory colored plastic buttons; satin finish
EXTRAS D’Addario EJ16 Phosphor Bronze Light Strings (.012–.053); optional Recording King gigbag ($49.99 street) or Guardian hardshell case ($89.99 street)
Made in China, recordingking.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.