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This article was originally published in issue #26
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The Levinson LS-43 Sangamon is one of a range of acoustic guitars from Gary Levinson, the American designer behind the Blade electric guitar company and the iconic RH-4 Superstrat from the late '80s. Although this acoustic range is relatively new, it has actually been over 40 years in the making, with Gary building and repairing acoustic guitars since the mid '60s and early '70s in his native Illinois. Small amounts were hand-made from his workshop in Basel in Switzerland to fund his studies at university there in the late '70s prior to the success of the electric guitars, and those 40 years of designs and techniques are implemented here in the current collection.
The LS-43 is one of four guitars in the Sangamon range, which are a deep-bodied concert shape with a narrow waist and slightly shorter scale length at 24 ¾”. The neck is a solid piece of mahogany with a modern, low profile C shape and feels very comfortable indeed. The compact headstock has Levinson’s ‘Flying Fish” logo set into an ebony headplate with butter bean vintage-style machine heads. The fingerboard is ebony with abalone fret markers and a bone nut. Binding for the head and neck is a striped Ivoroid. The bridge is also ebony and sports a compensated bone saddle. The “voiced” solid Engelmann spruce top is a constant throughout the Sangamon range and the back and sides on this particular model are solid East Indian rosewood.
Understandably, you would expect any guitar of this quality to be made from the finest woods available, but it’s also the combination of those woods that gives an instrument its tone, resonance or that special something which (for each individual) makes it stand out from the crowd. On picking this guitar up, you would be expecting a small, bright sound - lively even, but without the bottom end of say, a dreadnought.
One strum and you realize that there’s something special going on here. The choice of the rosewood gives it a rich/warm under tone and, combined with the deeper body (around 1’’ more than a regular concert design), you get more volume than you’d imagine from a guitar of this size. I’ve been fortunate to have had this guitar for a while and one of the first reactions when I play it, is how loud it is for its size.
Levinson’s design brief for the Sangamon range was to create an instrument that responded quickly to the player’s touch, but without sacrificing volume. This has been achieved by using a technique described as “Table Voicing”. In essence, the top has been varied in thickness in specific areas, allowing it to vibrate more freely, but still maintaining enough mass to not lose its full, rich tone and ability to move the air more quickly. This concept has been taken even one step further by applying the same principles to the “X” bracing inside. This has been ‘scalloped’ to allow further movement of the top and provide a quicker response.
I’m no luthier, but I do get the physics of what’s going on here - whether finger picking or hammering out barre chords (only in the name of research, you understand!), the sound is constant and projection is great. When playing very lightly, I never felt that I had to dig in and ‘pull’ the volume out of this guitar. Conversely, when strumming out a heavy rhythm, it never got too boomy and overpowering. In the accompanying video review, I mention that (to my ears anyway) it almost has a kind of mild compression going on when hit harder - maybe that’s all the materials working together, or the science bit - either way, both live and in the studio, the LS-43 handles both styles admirably. The intonation goes without saying on a guitar of this build and the balance of volume and tone throughout the neck is excellent.
The gloss finish to the body and neck and the extra design details like the back centre stripe, binding and endpin insert add a little class to what is already a good looking guitar with a compact, understated appearance.
In all honesty, this would be the kind of guitar that I would gravitate to in a music shop anyway, but as you can tell, I am unashamedly a fan of the LS-43. Highly recommended.
Now, if anyone has the number for a slapdash courier than can help me, ‘lose’ this guitar on its way back to Switzerland, please get in touch.