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This article was originally published in issue #30
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The chance to get your hands on a Lowden is always something to look forward to, so I approached the Lowden 32Se we were loaned for this review with high hopes. Essentially, the 32SE owes a lot, in terms of its design, to the LSE or Limited Stage Edition model. Lowden used the original LSE design as a template and then used the new F body shape, which, incidentally, was updated around a decade ago. The body depth on the 32SE is definitely on the slim side, to make the guitar more comfortable to handle on stage, so it was particularly interesting to hear the effect this had on the sound produced.
At the heart of the 32SE lies the perfect marriage of two choice tonewoods; a soundboard constructed of beautifully figured Sitka spruce and back and sides made of stunningly smooth and dark rosewood. These fine pieces of wood have been beautifully bound using sycamore, which looks absolutely wonderful. On the soundboard you find a perfectly set pin-less rosewood bridge with a split saddle design, one bone saddle for the top two treble strings, and another saddle for the lower four strings. According to Lowden, this split saddle design improves intonation and is a design that has been rolled out across George's entire line of instruments.
The neck of the 32SE is constructed using five pieces of a combination of mahogany and rosewood which have been meticulously bound. Lowden says it is very stable and an ideal match for players who favour alternate tunings.
In keeping with the luxury theme (and this is a top-end guitar after all) you find a fine ebony fretboard with quite plain, but stylish, fret markers.
The tuners are also, as you'd expect, a premium choice - they're Gotoh gold and ebony 503 tuners, which make for a nice visual pairing with the headstock and ebony fingerboard. The 32SE comes fitted with an L R Baggs Anthem pre-amp system, the controls for which are housed just on the upper bout inside of the soundhole. The controls on the pre-amp feature a thumbwheel for volume and pickup blend and also include phase, battery check and mic level controls.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up a 32SE for the first time is the slim body depth of the instrument. For me personally, I like it a lot as it feels like a much more intimate playing experience. The slim body depth contributes to reducing the lower end frequencies which in turn goes some way to giving it a much tighter voice. I put the 32SE through its paces by playing a wide variety of musical styles including some fingerpicked fretwork, chordal strumming and even modern percussive techniques, all of which felt totally at home on this instrument. This is a testament to how versatile this guitar is - it seems capable of handling a wide variety of styles and not just handling them but handling them superbly: it's an instrument that responds exceptionally well to what you put into it. Encouraged by that versatility, I also tried detuning to various alternate tunings and found the 32SE felt very stable, producing a remarkable balance between the bass and treble strings.
Of course, being an instrument designed to be used on stage, not only is the body shallower, making for more ease of use in a live setting, but it comes with a pickup and pre-amp - and that could make or break the guitar for its intended use. Fortunately, it's a good choice. I found the L R Baggs Anthem to be exceptionally good. The reproduction of sound had a remarkable clarity to it, which tracked every nuance that came from my fingers. Very impressive indeed!
Overall, the Lowden 32SE is quite simply a stunning instrument. The build quality is exemplary, the playability practically perfect and the tone nothing short of inspiring, however, its trump card lies in its sheer depth of versatility and its ability to project that sound incredibly well. Couple that with a great pickup system and, in my opinion, the 32SE is perhaps as close to a perfect stage instrument as it's possible to get.
And now, our rating. This is not a cheap guitar. However, some instruments are so fine that you know they will last you a lifetime, even if you are a demanding professional player with a rigorous schedule. If you are earning your living with it (and this is very much a working professional's gigging guitar) how can it be anything other than great value for money? Try one and we think you'll understand why.