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This article was originally published in issue #35
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The boom in acoustic guitar sales has seen a flood of low cost instruments coming onto the market - often more or less indistinguishable from one another. Fortunately, South Korea's Crafter seems to float about that with some distinctive, classy models that still don't break the bank. Michael Casswell tests the understated but appealing CAE-600 ABLE.
Here we have a very modest and cute looking Crafter CAE-600 Able acoustic. This is from the South Korean manufacturer's Castaway series guitars, which are all about fun, portability and affordability. We've played quite a few Castaways over the past couple of years and have always been impressed.
The first thing that you notice about the CAE-600 is its size. In fact it's a shorter scale Grand Auditorium, making it fun and easy to handle. The cutaway allows for easy higher fret access and the size of the body and neck all add up to a guitar that would be great for people with smaller hands, or people with big hands that just want a really easy time of it! The string spacing and cut of the nut still makes it feel familiar on the rosewood fretboard, but the profile of the neck and reduced scale of the body does make it easier to handle. This could be a great choice for a very young beginner but could easily hold its own with a well seasoned semi-pro or pro player who just didn't want a large acoustic to carry around.
The top is solid, not laminated, Englemann spruce which is finished in natural gloss. We're great fans of solid topped guitars. There was a time when they were almost always expensive, but those times have largely passed and unless a guitar is exceptionally cheap, the presence of a solid top is always to be preferred over a laminated one. Properly looked after, a solid topped guitar should only get better as it ages.
On this spruce top is a discreet and tasteful abalone sound hole inlay and the bridge matches the neck in a nice chocolate shade of rosewood. The body back and sides are gloss finished mahogany which is always a good tonal complement to a brighter spruce or maple top. The mahogany gives the lows and mids, and the spruce (in this case) gives the definition and brightness. It's a tried and tested combination which always works great.
For such a small bodied guitar, the acoustic sound certainly sounds bigger than you think it is likely to, which is a sign of Crafter's abilities as a maker and some good tonewoood choices having been made. In a blindfold test, you certainly wouldn't guess this was a shorter scale guitar, because it does fill the immediate area with sound very well, as long as you are firm in your picking and strumming. If you tickle it, then it will still sound OK, just not bigger than it should, but if you are prepared to really play it, you're in for a pleasant surprise.
Where this guitar really shines is with the onboard LR Baggs pre-amp. Plug this in to a PA or studio desk and you'll get a great acoustic tone that is instantly sweet sounding, almost regardless of how you have the EQ set on the pre-amp. Obviously there will be a sweet spot on the LR Baggs EQ that works for you and your playing, so I would suggest once you find it, set it and leave it, so that you know whatever you feed the front of house sound guy generally sounds good. If the monitor guy is amateur, then you have an on-board phase switch as well, to kill any feedback that he might give you. I don't know the science behind this but basically if your acoustic guitar gets in a cycle of resonance with your nearby monitor speaker, then changing the phase on your guitar, this kills the cycle and therefore kills the feedback. Great for stage work, but I doubt you will encounter any big feedback problems jamming on the beach with some friends and some beer!
Adding to the appeal, there is also an onboard tuner with a clear orange to green display which is always handy, although with this particular guitar, I did notice when the open string was reading in tune, the fretted string was ever so slightly sharp. Some acoustics are like that and a certain amount of compensation and using your ears, rather than relying on the orange to green onboard tuner, can often be needed. That raised a question in my mind about the gauge of strings that had been fitted to our sample. For my taste they were a bit heavy, especially for a shorter scale instrument. As we always say, this is why you should ideally buy a new guitar from a shop, so you can iron out these things before you get home.
I've played and been asked to review a couple of Crafter acoustics before this one, and they seem a really good option against some bigger and more expensive brands. In fact that may be the biggest problem with this guitar - they don't seem to be as widely available as some of the 'big name' guitar brands, but don't let that put you off. For the right guitarist, who wants a smaller, easier to play instrument, this is definitely one to audition and will be worth seeking out. It's particularly impressive plugged-in, by the way.