With the great Peppino D'Agostino featured in this issue, how could we not check out his very own signature Seagull? Tom Quayle reviews a unique instrument.
Robert Godin of Godin Guitars started producing instruments under the Seagull banner in Quebec, Canada in 1982, taking the best elements of hand crafted acoustic guitars, but using them to produce guitars that were priced within the reach of working musicians. The Peppino D’Agostino signature model is certainly not a budget priced guitar, especially compared with the more entry or mid-level range prices usually associated with Seagull, so is it more than just an expensive signature on a normal guitar, or can it justify its higher price?
The first thing that impresses is the light weight TRIC case that it is shipped in. It’s a snug fitting and strong case that is far lighter and more manoeuvrable than a traditional hard case. Opening the case reveals a very pretty instrument with a classic solid spruce top and rosewood back and sides combination matched with a mahogany neck and ebony fingerboard. The woods in use are of superb quality with a beautiful, dark chocolate grain running through the rosewood and a lovely purity to the spruce top. You have to handle it to these Canadians - they certainly know their woods!
The guitar is a large bodied, cutaway jumbo type design, with a wide front to back structure for maximum tonal impact and, as such, the body will feel a little intimidating for smaller players, but this body shape makes perfect sense for a fingerstyle guitar for a player with such a percussive approach as Peppino. The neck features a wider string spacing at the nut than normal and thus a greater neck width that allows him more accuracy for his complex fingerstyle approach. The headstock is a small, attractive shape and features a tapered tuning design that offers straighter string travel over the nut and into the tuning peg for better tuning stability, a feature that is very important for those using multiple tunings.
The hardware on board is also of high quality thanks to a Tusq compensated saddle and nut and a lovely Godin Quantum II system, providing an LR Baggs Element Piezo pickup matched with an electret microphone that can be blended in either in or out of phase for a more realistic amplified sound. As we have said many times before in the Quiet Room, the combination of a mic and a piezo pickup is by far better than having a piezo pickup alone, so this combination approach is a considerable improvement over the systems sometimes found in instruments twice the price. The pre-amp offers controls for Volume, Treble and Bass plus an onboard LED tuner in a compact format on the top shoulder of the guitar.
The Seagull's build quality is exceptional for this price point with flawless construction and execution of the binding and small neck inlays, especially the Seagull design at the 12th fret. Fretwork is very good with comfortable fret edges and the subtle rosette design around the sound-hole and patterning around the body add classic charm and good looks to this understated guitar.
In use this guitar will represent something of a compromise for some players between having the neck width and string spacing for accurate fingerstyle playing and being too much of a stretch for those with smaller hands. It’s worth bearing in mind though that this guitar is designed for a virtuosic fingerstyle player and as such is suited very well to that style of playing, where having the optimum space between strings is hugely important for accuracy, much like it is on a classical guitar. It’s certainly not uncomfortable to play by any means but it will be a bit of a shock for those used to a modern acoustic neck that is more akin to an electric guitar. Upper fret access is of course superb thanks to the generous cutaway and comfortable neck joint.
Played acoustically the large jumbo body and solid wood construction produces a very rich tone that is perfect for finger picking where dynamics are so important. The bottom end is very piano like with a thick, velvety nature and the highs are present without being over the top or harsh. The spruce top aids brightness and matches very well with the ebony fretboard, producing a tight and quick dynamic response that is very fun to play with either pick or fingers. The body size also produces a wonderful thunk and click for the percussive techniques that are an important part of Peppino’s style.
Plugged in, the Quantum II system provides a decent tone from the piezo pickup, but when the mic is blended in things become really special with a true acoustic feel and response that is inspirational to play through. The EQ controls do a good job of shaping the tone and feedback can be successfully controlled with the mix control allowing in phase or out of phase settings for the mic.
The Seagull Artist Peppino Signature guitar is a really lovely instrument that is very much designed for the great man to achieve his best on. It certainly won’t be right for every player, especially those with smaller hands or bodies, but this is a superb guitar, especially at the given price point, that is particularly well suited to technical fingerstyle players thanks to that extra wide nut spacing. If you’ve not tried a Seagull guitar before then they come highly recommended here and this model would be a great starting point for checking them out.