Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #47
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
It's been known for hundreds of years that the sound of wooden instruments 'improves' with age.
Superb Takamine Pro build quality
Very well finished and set up
Very different - take your pick!
Both sound great
It's been known for hundreds of years that the sound of wooden instruments 'improves' with age. Why this should be is open to question but in the past few years several leading guitar manufacturers have been experimenting with ways of delivering brand new products that sound like aged ones, Japan's Takamine among them. The Takamine process is found in in the 'Thermal Top' models. Does it work? We asked Sam Bell to check two out....
Takamine bills its instruments as the world's hardest working guitars which may, or may not, be literally true but it is undeniable that its products have become the go-to workhorses for many professional players the world over. They sound great, they are tough as nails and you know they won't let you down on stage, even after years on the road.
Both of the models we had sent to us for review are in Takamine’s recently launched ‘Thermal Top’ range and this is a different development, not just for Takamine but for acoustic guitars as a whole, Takamine being one of several guitar companies that has been trying to find ways of making new guitars sound like nicely aged ones. To do this, Takamine has developed a unique process of baking spruce wood tops in a controlled high heat, low oxygen environment. The desired result from this process is that the instrument should deliver the volume and tonal features of a well-played in vintage guitar whilst retaining the quality of a brand new guitar. That's the theory.
The two models I'm looking at here are the EF360S and the EF450C which both have had the same Thermal Top treatment but feature different woods and design aesthetics. Both, let it be said, are handmade in Japan to the sort of quality standard you would expect from this famous builder.
The EF360S is a traditional style Dreadnought that has lots of low end and volume. The neck is quite chunky as well, which a lot of traditional Dreadnought players will love. The ebony fingerboard makes notes pop out and ring with a clear chime. The guitar is built with the pre-aged features of the Thermal Top with a solid American mahogany back and sides and it both looks and feels the part.
This guitar has a lot of drive and power, which is what the Dreadnought traditionalist is going to want. Playing lush open chords produces a thick resonance that sustains and burns out nicely. At this point I feel it’s important to mention that both guitars in this review also feature Takamine’s critically acclaimed ‘Palathetic Pickup’ and a stealth TLD-2 line driver pre-amp. The guitars don’t actually have volume/tone controls however. The rear strap pin doubles as an input jack and the 9 volt battery can be found tucked neatly and securely behind the guitars soundhole. Needless to say, it also works very well indeed!
The EF450C is a very different beast indeed to the traditional Dreadnought style EF360. The immediate features you notice on the EF450 are the beautifully formed flower inlays in the fingerboard, the flower inlays on the scratch plate and the pearl tuners and binding. You'll also notice that it has a cutaway for a huge upper fret access. The guitar is made from different woods too. This time we have flame maple back and sides. As a result the guitar is noticeably brighter sounding than the EF360 and the maple woods are definitely the reason behind this. This guitar still retains a lovely warm zing and resonance in its tone, though.
Overall, the EF450C has a more contemporary vibe in its appearance and this is carried through to its playability. Are we allowed to say it's a more feminine instrument, in these PC days? It has a slightly thinner neck than the EF360, too, and the upper fret access is definitely going to appeal to acoustic musicians who need the added range.
Comparing these two guitars is difficult. They are very different machines. One is traditional and the other is more contemporary. Both are high quality in their build, tone and playability, but the main question I kept asking myself while playing them was, of course, ‘do these sound like a well-seasoned acoustic guitar?’ And, you know, I really couldn’t tell. To make that sort of comparison, ideally you would need one of these with conventionally treated woods and another with a Thermal Top. But, that said, they certainly felt ‘homely’ in their playability and tone. In my job as a columnist for Guitar Interactive I get to play lots of brand new, never played before, guitars out of their boxes and I know that any new instrument needs ‘playing in’ before it really shows its full potential. However with these guitars they looked brand new, smelt brand new, and played like a brand new guitar but they did sound and somehow feel very different to anything I have ever unpacked right out the box before! Is that 'aged'? I couldn't say - but it's a great sound in any case and it's something you will notice in the shop - well, providing someone else isn't thrashing a Strat, three yards away! Seriously, take one of these two into a quiet room and take your time to find the subtle points that make it different.
Overall, I would say to anyone reading this review might want to look beyond the Thermal Top treatment. It's clever and it makes a difference, I'm sure, but it shouldn’t overshadow that Takamine makes amazing acoustic guitars with traditional build values. These are pro player level instruments and if you are looking for a seriously high-end acoustic guitar then these two Takamines are definitely worth considering - very much so.