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This article was originally published in issue #24
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Canada's Godin Guitars has long been regarded as a company capable of producing innovative, high quality instruments that stand apart from many of the other classic designs in a crowded guitar market.
Aimed specifically at the Jazz musician, the Godin 5th Avenue Jazz is a very good looking, modern shaped archtop that forms a part of the wider 5th Avenue range, comprising a series of old-school and more up to date designs. Adopting the subtle but stylish approach, Godin has opted for three variations in finish for the core design with a Piano Black option sporting Canadian wild cherry top, back and sides, whilst the Natural and Sunburst version have flame maple top, back and sides with a wild cherry core. Godin sent us a flame maple variant in a natural, gloss finish with a flame maple neck, ebony fretboard with matching ebony volume and tone controls and a small, nicely shaped floating, black scratch plate, sporting an engraved Godin logo. The hardware is top notch with high-ratio, open geared nickel tuners, adjustable Tusq Graphtech bridge, custom metal tailpiece and a single floating, Godin-designed, mini humbucker for an authentic archtop tone.
The design is very attractive and well thought-out with enough distinctiveness and quality to catch the eye of the connoisseur, whilst still retaining classic archtop looks and feel. The flame top, back and sides are subtle enough to be respectable on a Jazz gig and add the required element of class to the instrument, without being over the top. Every element of the Godin's design feels sophisticated and high end. Construction is dead on with top notch fret work, finishing and set-up out of the fantastic included hard case. The binding around the body is beautifully executed and the internal wood work is also of top quality with no stray glue or saw dust, but rather a clean and precise looking interior. Tuning is very accurate and stable thanks to the high ratio tuners that look great thanks to the exposed gear mechanism and vintage styled buttons. The only minor criticism would be that the etched scratch plate logo looks a little messy and frayed at the edges, spoiling or cheapening the overall appearance a little.
The 5th Avenue Jazz is a great performer, with impressive playability once set up well, thanks to a 16” fretboard radius and user friendly neck width that makes chordal and especially lead work very comfortable indeed. The vintage sized frets are also highly user-friendly with a consistent feel across the entire range of the neck. Right hand comfort is also good, meaning long gigs won’t cut off the blood supply to your right arm and the scratch plate is well positioned for those guys that require a place to put their pinky whilst playing and can of course be removed for those preferring a less cluttered look. The mini humbucker never gets in the way of your picking runs or chordal stabs, offering you plenty of room to explore the tonal variations between it and the bridge.
Played acoustically the 5th Avenue Jazz is fairly loud and very warm sounding with none of the more plasticky attributes associated with cheaper, laminated Jazz guitars. The tone is consistent from string to string with a full bodied sound on each of the open strings and no apparent dead spots across the neck. Chords sound even and full and match well with single note runs where the notes are round and have a good mid-range pop to them. Plugged in, the 5th Avenue is a very warm and smooth performer with a good balance between bass fullness and smooth top end. It never becomes plinky or boomy but, as with all archtops, will be prone to feedback at higher volume settings. Jazz guys will also be pleased to hear that intonation is also very good, so your furious chordal excursions beyond the 12th fret will sound in-tune and well balanced!
As well made archtops go, while the 5th Avenue Jazz may not seem cheap if you are used to Rock guitars, it actually resides in a pretty reasonable price bracket, considering how much people pay for their Jazz boxes. This guitar can be found for the lower margin of a four figure sum and combined with the very nice case that is included in the price, represents a great deal for such a well made guitar. The 5th Avenue should appeal to a wide range of Jazz players and beyond, from serious Jazz students looking for a quality guitar to help them achieve the next level in their playing right up to pro players looking for a great instrument that won’t require the sale of spare body parts. Godin has hit a home run here and produced a high quality archtop at a sensible price and it comes very highly recommended.