Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Nine And A Half Guitars

My beloved companion is sick. Very sick indeed. Potentially a terminal condition, in fact. This unfortunate state of affairs has, alas, rendered it completely unplayable (oh, sorry, should have said - it's my acoustic guitar I'm talking about...). This is more than mildly annoying, because I had a few d.i.y. recording ideas I wanted to try out with my almost-but-not-really-acoustic "me, myself & I" trio, which just won't work without the poor old beast. It also meant that my original plan, of wittering more about why Keswick is so damn great, it's jazz festival, and consequently the excellent bass-looping wholesome jazz goodness that is the music of Mr. Danny Fox, went completely out of the window. Which, since I've managed to squeeze Danny's promo link in anyway, (solo album due out...umm...soon. Ish. I'll let you know), is possibly no bad thing.

A brief visit to the (extremely handy) buzz diagnosis pages quickly revealed that it was definitely truss-rod related, and quite possibly easily fixable...or absolutely not. Since I lack almost all of the requisite skills, or the spare cash to pay for someone else's expertise, my trusty 15-year old Seagull is currently languishing, severely wounded, in the guitar cupboard.

Of course, this meant that an investigation of the current state of the acoustic guitar market would be an eminently sensible way to spend a Saturday morning amidst the seething fleshpots of old Edinburgh toun - just in case mine turned out to be beyond repair, (oh, and the miraculous magical money fairy appeared, and waved her wand over my bank account too, naturally...).

So, off it was to Red Dog Music, (used to be Sound Control, but is now trading as an independent store following the financial collapse of what had been the UK's largest musical instrument retail chain - a cautionary tale about over-expansion and the power of the internet...), in the latest part of my (cue music - Nightwish, "Ghost Love Score", swelling under continuing narration), "epic quest to discover pro-quality gear at very reasonable prices."

Wandering through to the back of the store, (where they hide the poor, bedraggled 'acoustic' folk away from the cruel gaze of mocking humanity), I was immediately drawn towards a wall of Freshman guitars - in particular the rather attractive, (but horribly utilitarian-ly named), folk-bodied "FA1ACD". Solid cedar top, (for those who can't be bothered clicking the link. Everyone else, sorry, but you've got to make allowances...), mahogany back & sides, 4-band eq, blah blah blah. While the shop assistant was getting it down for me to abuse, (I'm not really what I'd call a 'genuine' acoustic player...to be honest, I treat an acoustic guitar more like an electric guitar than anyone else I know...which probably isn't a good thing. No fancy flat-pickin' round here, I'm afraid. Oh well...), I had a quick look at their product catalogue, which had more than its fair share of impressive review quotes from reputable magazines...and "Total Guitar" (but more on that later). The list of endorsees was, however, a lot more questionable, including as it did such guitar luminaries as Jason Donovan, Kelly Clarkson, and...Steven Seagal!! Still, I was determined to be fair (possibly harsh, but definitely fair), and it was time to see what this instrument could do...

At this point, I was going to bang on about the build quality; the depth of tone; the smooth, easy action of the neck; the fact that in spite of the price, the electronics were perfectly acceptable - I got a very decent sound through a (tonally-neutered) amp within a couple of minutes...but I won't.

To save your time (and mine), all I'll say is this - have you got £229 handy? Want/Need/Burn with unquenchable desire for an acoustic guitar?

Buy one. Don't hesitate, don't sit and consider all the other possible options, don't make yourself a cup of coffee and wonder about heading over to the shop tomorrow, or possibly Thursday, hmmm, depends if it's raining.... get over to your local retailer, (have a quick, 5 minute plonk on one to satisfy yourself I'm not an incorrigible liar and scoundrel), then hand over the money. You will not regret it. Even if your spouse/partner/occasional chum dumps you because that was the money you were saving up for your big holiday in (insert cheap, low-quality destination joke most appropriate to your geographical location). That simply won't matter any more.

This is a fantastic guitar. Absolutely unbelievable value for the money. I didn't want to put the damn thing down (certainly didn't want to hang it back up on the bleedin' wall). If you're a pro, then this is exactly what you want for those gigs where you'd think twice before turning-up with your treasured Taylor/Martin/whatever. You know what I mean...you'd be looking at paying over £500 for any measurable improvement from this little baby.

You could say I liked it.

At this point, though, I'd like to offer a small word of caution. If you're on a budget, but serious about your sound/music, I'd urge you to buy this Freshman guitar, even if it means stretching a little. But I really do mean this particular model.

You see, after I'd had my wicked way with the "FA1ACD", I thought I'd have a quick look at the lower-priced (£199), solid spruce top, same electronics "FA1AN", which had received a 5-star "Best Buy" rating, (and gushing review), from the aforementioned "Total Guitar" magazine. Should be pretty good, I thought.

Oh dear, oh dear.....oh dear.

For the sake of saving £30, I now found myself playing what might as well have been a cardboard box with some wires attached to it. It felt so entirely "wrong", I'd have been barely worse off grabbing a sub-£60 'bargain basement' effort from Ebay. It was so bad...ach, no, I haven't got the energy for that line in weak gags tonight. Suffice to say, it was so damned horrible that it almost spoiled my earlier guitar-testing experience. Almost.

Being marginally reasonable, I'm perfectly prepared to consider that I happened to get my mitts on the only 'lemon' in the batch, or that "Total Guitar" were handed the finest example Freshman had ever made, but seriously, if you can bring yourself to pay what is roughly the cost of a mere 11 pints of Guinness (maybe 12?? I wouldn't know for sure - can't stand the stuff) , extra, the improvement in quality is staggering.

Now, if you'll just excuse me, I'm off to write a begging letter to the money fairy. If anyone could tell me her postcode, I'd be very, very grateful...??


Martin Lennon said...

Hopefully, it's the postcode of my solicitor...

Seriously though. I want one myself now. Who'd have thought that a half gallon of sliva could be either inspiring or persuasive?

Andy Gilmour said...

Heh! I seem to recall heading down your way later on that afternoon, and I'm sure I was STILL ranting on about how great a beast it was several hours later...! :-)

Martin Lennon said...

Sliva? Saliva, you idiot Lennon...

Yes. You were - and I'm deeply intrigued. I want a shot of one now...

Andy Gilmour said...

Then, dare I suggest, since you (unlike meself) actually reside in the same town as Red Dog Music, get your @rse up there and give one a severe plucking!


Just make sure it's the solid cedar top model...I know, I made that point in the post, but it definitely bears repetition.

Hell, you could *even* compare it against a couple of their more expensive models - I was considering it, but time, as ever, wasn't in abundance.