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This article was originally published in issue #18
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Alister Atkin's handmade acoustics have become one of the highlights of the UK acoustic scene in recent years. Increasingly found in specialist retailers, this small specialist builder, seems to be headed for big things. Time we looked at one, then. Rick Graham does the business.
Before we begin this review, let me give you a brief rundown on Atkin guitars, as the company will be a newcomer to some of our readers, I'm sure. The owner of the company, Alister Atkin, began building acoustic guitars full time after leaving the London School of Furniture back in 1995, then
shared workshop space with the highly respected Canterbury archtop maker Andy Crockett. I should add that, despite its name, the London School of Furniture has been for many years perhaps the UK's most prestigious educational establishment for the teaching of musical instrument manufacture and design - it's by no means about just tables and chairs! Inspired by the sheer craftsmanship of a Collings guitar that he tried in 1998, a period of re-design, research and development followed, culminating in a range of six acoustic guitars, influenced by classic vintage styles and incorporating contemporary construction techniques.
The range has become quickly established and Atkin has an ever increasing list of high profile players using his instruments, including such artists as Status Quo and Graham Coxon (Blur).
OK, let's get to it and check out the Atkin J35 Thinline in closer detail.
The J35 Thinline, like all of the guitars in the thinline range, offers a depth of 105mm, as opposed to the standard J35 which has a depth of 125mm. This gives it the feel of playing a small bodied instrument. Significantly, though, according to Atkin, this has very little difference in terms of sound. At the heart of this guitar lies a very traditional combination of Sitka spruce for the top and
Indian rosewood for the back and sides. The wood of choice for the neck is mahogany, upon which you'll find an Indian rosewood fretboard, both of which have been very tastefully married with an ivoroid binding.
The J35 features a neck join at the 12th fret unlike the J45 models. The classic profile headstock, which features the gold decal Atkin logo, has nickel Kluson tuners, which simply can't look any more vintage! In fact the guitar as a whole really does look fabulously vintage!
Moving back to the body, the soundhole for this model has been moved closer to the waist of the guitar, which some people deem to be the sweet spot, and the bridge has been slightly repositioned to the middle of the lower bouts. It has been very tastefully finished with nitrocellulose lacquer and with its classic sunburst finish it looks very classy indeed.
I can confirm that the J35 most certainly feels like a small bodied guitar, mainly due to that reduced 105mm depth, but despite this, the J35 is capable of producing a very impressive level of volume.
There's no doubt that you'd have no trouble being heard at small pub/club type gigs with this guitar in your hands. Tonewise, meanwhile, the J35 is equally impressive, producing a lovely full round tone but with a very focused mid range and a crisp and clear treble response, all of which are exceptionally well balanced resulting in a very musical tone indeed.
There's also an attitude in the tone that I can't quite put my finger on - it's quite gutsy and raw, actually. While I feel it would be a perfect candidate for earthy, Blues style playing, the impressive dynamic range ensures that it has enough sensitivity and responsiveness to handle more subtle musical styles too.
This J35 really does feel like a great guitar to hold and to play and regardless of the type of playing style, always felt like it was responding positively to everything I was throwing its way.
I couldn't help but be impressed with the Atkin J35. The high build quality and attention to detail ensure a great playing experience and the tone is such that it can easily compete with the other high end companies out there. A fine instrument indeed. Great work Atkin.