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This article was originally published in issue #8
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Crafter guitars are usually associated with the entry level to mid-priced sectors of the acoustic market but the brand has nevertheless managed to gain an impressive roster of artist endorsements including fragrant UK-based songstress Katie Melua and even grizzled old rockers Satus Quo, who have been known to strum a Crafter acoustic or two in between unleashing salvos of their trademark heads-down boogie! Crafter's reputation for making good quality affordable acoustic guitars clearly demonstrates that it knows a thing or two about acoustic guitar manufacturing: indeed it's said that the company's Korean factory is one of the world's most impressive guitar building facilities. It seems to have an instrument on hand to cater for just about any style and budget and the Crafter HiLite appears to have been pitched to tempt electric players seeking an acoustic whose easy playability and neutral feel allows a relatively comfortable transition between an electric guitar and an acoustic.
The HiLite is a full-sized orchestral model whose complex product description helps to delineate its features and finish: 'TE' donates that this is an electro-acoustic model whilst 'CD' alludes to its lower cutaway and 'VTG' refers to its convincingly aged-looking satin vintage sunburst finish. The orchestral body is comprised of a solid cedar top and laminated mahogany back and sides, neatly finished off with black edge binding. The solid top is 'A' braced, which refers to the bracing pattern helping to stiffen the underside of the solid top between the sound hole and the neck block; there isn't any noticeable difference in tone between A bracing and standard X bracing patterns, in this instance the A shape is simply there to accommodate the lower cutaway.
In typical orchestral style the HiLite features a 14th fret neck join, bolstered up by a traditional dovetail join that guarantees a firm union between the neck shaft and the neck heel. The mahogany neck itself feels very comfortable; it's firmly rounded 'C' section offers a compact but not cramped playing environment that doesn't feel too far from Gibson's luxuriously comfy '59 profile. Indeed, this neck feels very familiar, demonstrating our earlier point that this guitar feels ideal for the electric player who maybe doesn't play acoustic that often and would appreciate any instrument that helps to make the transition between the two disciplines as smooth as possible. The satin finish on the rear of the neck also feels very smooth, sidestepping the mildly uncomfortable sensation of resistance often found with a normal gloss finish neck.
The rosewood fingerboard looks like a good quality piece of timber and it's also good to see a decent setup, the fret ends are evenly profiled and the frets twinkle with a freshly polished gleam! There are only 20 frets, which might seem a bit limited if you are used to playing 22 frets and beyond but even taking that into account, the HiLite's generous cutaway still allows virtually unhindered access to most of the important bits that soar beyond the 12th fret.
This electro acoustic delivers its amplified sounds courtesy of the onboard C4T active preamp. The compact control surface contains a simple but highly effective three-band EQ, a rotary master volume and a phase switch that inverts the polarity of the signal between the guitar and the amplifier's speaker, thus helping to eliminate tiresome feedback that threatens to spoil your latest Magnum Opus whether you are performing down the local acoustic jam night or onstage at a football stadium.
The pre-amp's built-in digital tuner bypasses the pre-amp's output, thus saving your audience from the ordeal of listening while you tune-up, aided by a small but nonetheless very bright and easily readable LCD display that helps to monitor the tuning process.
Dual ¼ inch and XLR outputs offer a choice of connecting to an acoustic combo or else sending the signal directly out to a PA, which is a very useful and unexpected feature to find at this fairly modest price range. Orchestral guitars by their very nature are designed to be fairly strident and the amplified tones duly reflect this whilst being really rather good! Time was when an acoustic pre-amp often meant being saddled with an uncomfortable compromise that inevitably revolved around rather harsh faux acoustic sounds that sounded miles away from the natural tone of the instrument itself. The Crafter HiLite's amplified tones, however, are thankfully much more rewarding; the guitar's natural brightness is still evident but the EQ provides plenty of scope to adjust the tone to suit the player's personal taste and the EQ requirements of the venue in question.
Even in an ideal world you still need an electro-acoustic guitar with a fairly flexible EQ to compensate for the widely varying acoustics of the typical live gigging circuit and the C4T system seems more than up to the task. It is also simple to use and even those with gnarled 40-something-plus fingers should soon get the hang of it!
The natural acoustic tones have a pleasant roundness and the brisk-sounding top end displays an underlying sweetness that sounds surprisingly sophisticated given that we are dealing with a very affordable instrument. There is a very slight hint of boxiness to the lower frequencies but the general impression is of a guitar that punches above its weight, tonally speaking. Digging in, the guitar doesn't sound particularly cloudy or over-compressed when you strum firmly and it definitely makes a really effective acoustic 'lead' guitar; demonstrating a very punchy and clear attack with the power to inspire the player to attempt some pretty ambitious soloing if the need arises.
The Crafter HiLite-TE-CD-VTG feels like the type of electro acoustic that you can safely take home to meet your mother! The vintage style finish makes a refreshing change from the popular pale and glossy spruce and the compact dimensions are counterbalanced by a pleasantly big and punchy sound. You can imagine this guitar suiting a Jazz or Country soloist just as adeptly as it effortlessly sits alongside a singer songwriter; the terrific neck, good tone and workable amplified tones add up to a whole lot of fun. Just as importantly this guitar won't break the bank, either. In fact it's really very good value for money.