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This article was originally published in issue #20
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Canada's Godin caused a flutter at NAMM this year when it launched its handsome Montreal Premier model. The cherry red coloured semi was a show-stopper! Add a Bigsby and you're in 'brand new vintage' country. Finally we've got our hands on one. Michael Casswell does the business.
Canadian company Godin, has built superb quality guitars for 40 years now and although it's not in the same size league as the 'big two' US guitar brands, there can't be many who haven't come across a Godin (or one of its sister acoustic brands) by now. This new Montreal Premier sits in the company's upmarket Signature range and competes visually with the obvious countrified choices from the much revived Gretsch or, perhaps, the many thinline semis that Gibson and Guild have produced over the years.
Constructionally, ours was as well made as we have come to expect from Godin - it was really well put together and finished in fine cherry red over a Canadian wild cherry top, back and sides. A unique feature of the design is the spruce centre block, which runs from top to bottom of the body but is only fully connected to the top. Godin call this a 'breathe through' centre block. The theory is the air can travel from one side of the body to the other to create resonance and give a vibrancy to the overall sound.
Looks are subjective but this guitar definitely caused a stir when it was launched earlier this year. Our editor has been raving about it since then and you have to admit it's perfectly captured an era - especially with the optional extra (fitted on our review sample) of a Bigsby. And speaking of subjective, nothing is more subjective than a Bigsby! You either like them or... well, let me explain.
I am not a fan of Bigsbys. They do have their admirers and one certainly adds a retro vibe to any guitar that's wearing it. For real trem use, though, I would personally run away fast. Polite shimmering, or rockabilly waggle is what they do best, and that can sound great and certainly add to what you could do over a guitar without one. But, really, aside from the cool looks, is it really what a trem should be these days? Still, it's an option. If you want one you can have it and if you don't, that's your choice too. I would just say that I suspect the presence of the Bigsby was why I was a little less impressed with the acoustic volume and tone of this guitar than some other reviewers seem to have been. They were trying models without one. I strongly suspect the Montreal Premier would have been more alive without the Bigsby.
The pickups are Godin's own and use Alnico 5 magnets. They sound clear in character and certainly give you a nice bright but still thick tone which brings through the semi-acoustic nature of the guitar. Very nice for working the volume pot with a bit of gain! By way of comparison, I would say a 335 is muddier and darker if you were to A/B the guitars with exactly the same amp settings. A single volume and tone and a 3-way switch complete the electronics.
The body has a nice arch to both the back and front and is slightly thinner than a 335. The arch of the wood comes from pressing the laminated wood rather than carving a solid piece of wood. The neck joins the body at the 15 fret, and the heel doesn't hinder access to the upper frets, although there is always a compromise on this type of guitar. Still, Les Pauls are particularly awkward but no one seems to mind! The frets are medium and the rosewood neck is unbound with a full feeling neck shape that will suit most players.
Overall this Montreal Premier is a really nice guitar, with or without a Bigsby but, personally, I'd like to have tried one without. Still, as I keep saying, the choice is yours. In either case it's a well-priced guitar, particularly considering it's made in North America. Definitely check one out if you are looking for a good semi, or even check out Godin guitars generally, which are a quality brand making superb instruments. Even though I've complained about the Bigsby, we still feel the guitar is worth four stars as a guitar in its own right. In fact, for what it is, it's very well priced.