Northern Irish guitar builders Lowden are primarily known for their breathtaking high-end acoustics, designed and built by master luthier George Lowden. So it came as something of a surprise when Lowden announced their collaboration with Ed Sheeran to produce a range of more affordable instruments - built not in East Asia but in Ireland.
Naturally, Sheeran needs no introduction. He has lent his name to a number of very popular entry-level acoustic guitars over the years - usually smaller body models, like the two shapes on offer from Lowden - the parlour-sized "W" (wee Lowden) and the slightly larger "S". Each of these shapes is available in four wood combinations, each with its own sonic signature.
The S04 features a Sitka spruce top over a beautifully figured walnut back and sides. Normally the preserve of high-end instruments, walnut is sonically somewhere in between koa and rosewood, with plenty of sparkly high end, but also a healthy midrange punch. This, combined with the spruce top and ebony fretboard, makes for a guitar with a bright voice and loads of projection - ideal for loud stages and sitting in a dense mix.
The fit and finish of this guitar are excellent, with very tidy fretwork and a comfortable "player's action" right out of the box. It's common to find guitars at this price point set up with the kind of action height that makes anything past the open position a fight, but that's not the case here. This guitar is very comfortable to play right up into the upper reaches (thanks to its healthy cutaway) without sacrificing the boldness or clarity of its tone. Another very welcome feature is the forum bevel on the top - another premium appointment not often seen on guitars in this price range.
Aesthetically, the S04 is clean, modern and elegant, without the "signature-itis" that some of Ed Sheeran's previous signature models have suffered from. There are no gaudy logos, no huge signatures in weird places, just a subtle "Sheeran" on the peghead, and that's it. Even if you're not a massive fan of Sheeran as an artist (or just don't like guitars with artist associations in general), you won't feel out of place playing one of these guitars.
Electronics come courtesy of an LR Baggs element system. It's a very natural sounding system, with pleasantly simple controls nested inside the guitar's soundhole. Regular readers will know that one of my pet peeves on acoustic guitars are elaborate preamps that require a huge hole to be cut out of the guitar's side. They look ugly, they add unnecessary weight, and they usually invite the guitarist to tweak away the natural sound of their guitar. I'm a big fan of minimalist systems like this one, but fewer controls mean the core sound has to be "right". Fortunately, the plugged-in sound from this guitar is superb.
The Sheeran By Lowden S04 is a guitar that sounds great, plays great, and won't break the bank. If you want to get your hands on that legendary Lowden tone without paying big bucks, this is the guitar for you. If you're a songwriter looking for the perfect writing and performing instrument, this is also for you. If you're an Ed Sheeran fan, even better, but even if you're not, you should give this guitar some serious consideration.
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