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Testing Western Guitars

Over the last weeks, I felt the huge urge to go outside with a guitar and play it somewhere in the shadow. I have two classic guitars with nylon strings. The oldest of them is my favorite but doesn’t function anymore as I need to change the tuning system in the future. The other one is working but I pretty much dislike to play on that cheapo classic guitar, it’s doable but a horrible experience, so, nope thanks. I had a Yamaha western guitar in the past but lost it somewhere while I was tripping hard, back in the days when I researched drugs (lol). But that is decades ago and I still have memories that I liked to play on western dreadnought guitars. I actually still did play on them once in a while, for example when I visited the guitar stores.

So, this week I thought I need to get myself a western guitar. As it would only be some kind of summer project, I don’t want to spend that much money on it. It’s unbearable hot in my apartment, even in the evening but especially in the afternoon. It’s the same outside but the wind really helps and the shadow too. So, the idea is to have a guitar that I can use outside once in a while, when it’s windy, somewhere in the shadow. I think that would be kinda inspiring. I could mess around with ideas and have some fun while I don’t die the heat death like in the apartment. That would be the whole plan. With this idea in my head, I couldn’t stop myself today and visited the local guitar stores. I had €300 with me because this would be the maximum I would use for something I’d call “Just a summer boredom project”. I thought more money would neither be justified nor needed. I think I was pretty much wrong.

I walked into the store with my mask, disinfected my hands at the Corona booth in the entrance and was greeted by a salesperson. He asked me if I would need help and I replied: “I’m looking for a decent low budget western guitar” and then he told me to follow him. Arrived in the acoustic area, he asked me if I would have knowledge about woods and stuff and I responded: “Kinda, but I do usually play electric guitars, so, you can tell me something about it”. I think that was a stupid idea, not because he told me a lot but because I was wearing a mask and like all previous days, it was a hot day today too. He was very friendly and I liked how passionated he talked about the things but I think I could have saved the time since the bottom line was nothing you wouldn’t have expected. Better materials, better product. To be more exact, in this case: Better wood, better tone and playability. In other words, more money, more bang.

Despite the fact that I told him I was looking for a guitar that would cost me less than €300, he started to give me a €2000 Martin guitar, not without the commentary “I know, it looks like I want to sell you something expensive, but I really just want you to know the differences”. I didn’t have much time to think about it because who doesn’t like to test expensive guitars? Damn, there was an immediate connection between myself and the guitar. That guitar would have gone straight home with me if the plant in my living room would grow money. I could hear out every single note, the first strings had a very warm and beautiful sounding bass, the lower strings were bright but warm and not annoying bright. I then got a Riversong guitar that was slightly cheaper, it was decent too. And then he gave me some guitars that would cost between €700 and €1000, including a Breedlove guitar that I will talk about later. That’s where the difference was already noticeable but I still liked the guitars in that price range.

What happened next was a big shock. We went on with the guitars that would cost less than €500 and I even tested some €300 guitars that would have met my budget. And you know what? They were all horrible and I don’t exaggerate. Not horrible when we talk about playability. I tested a Sigma guitar for €300 and I really liked the fretboard there but I was pretty disappointed with the sound. Sure, you could hear the chord you played but the individual notes didn’t stick out as much as they would in the higher price classes. The difference between a €2000 acoustic guitar and one for €700 was noticeable but very little. However, the difference between a €700 acoustic guitar and one for €300 was huge. Before I could finish this thought, the salesperson said “If you want a decent western guitar, you need to spend at least €500”. I don’t want to argue if this is entirely true or not but in this store it was. You can argue he wanted me to spend more money but if that is the case, his strategy is pretty bad because I left the store without purchasing a guitar. Suggesting guitars from top to bottom is the worst thing a salesperson could do.

But it could have worked if the whole idea with the acoustic guitar wouldn’t just be a summer side-project where you’re less likely to spend big money. Anyway, after I’ve been disappointed by the mishmash tone of one of the Sigma guitars I tested, he then said “Now I’m going to shock you again” and handed me a custom shop guitar of a brand I can’t remember. I guessed it would be a guitar for €3000 but he said it would cost €6000. Who wouldn’t like to test such a guitar? I took it out of his hands. But honestly? I felt that the guitar was no more than a luxury item. I really thought that because in no way did the guitar feel or sound better than the guitars between €1000 and €2000. It actually did play and sound like the guitars in the Martin price range. And honestly, if I would have had too much money, I actually would have wandered out of the store with the Martin and not with the custom shop guitar. So, yeah, I thought quality is pretty much capped at €2000.

In this store, highly-priced guitars aside, I had to agree with him. You can grab any guitar that costs at least €500 and you will get a decent one. In this store, any guitar below this price really sounded bad. They’ve all been set up very nicely, I must say I didn’t have a single one in my hand that felt bad. But I had guitars in my hand that did sound incredible and those that did sound horrible. There was this one guitar I mentioned already, it was the Breedlove brand. The Breedlove C21CEC guitar would cost €700 and sounded superior to any guitar below that price range but matched up with the much higher-priced guitars I mentioned. He did let me alone with it and I played it 30 mins straight and forget that I was sweating below my mask. When he gave me the lessons about woods and materials, I thought I wouldn’t survive much more time with the mask in the store. But this Breedlove guitar made me forget that I did suffocate and sweat. Such a nice guitar…

Even though, I actually mean the playability and the tone when I said it’s a nice guitar. I actually didn’t like the look of it at all. I would prefer a standard dreadnought shape without a fancy cutaway. Also, I really would like a dark brown guitar more. But then again, I liked the playability and the sound of the guitar a lot and couldn’t stop playing it. But I am a realist, I told myself that it’s not even justified to spend €700 on a guitar if I just want to go outside with it once a week or so. When summer ends, it would be barely used since I can’t play loud in my apartment. Apart from that, I have electric guitars for that anyway. So, I left the store without purchasing an acoustic guitar but it was fun nonetheless.

I am not quite sure if this guided tour through all the guitars is standard practice in this store or if it’s due to the Corona pandemic. I’ve read “Ask the salesperson before you grab an instrument” on a sign, together with the common pandemic rules. While this dude was a decent guy to talk with, I actually prefer to shop on my own. I really do. On the other side, I wouldn’t have gotten the idea to grab a custom shop guitar and stuff like that. The dude seemed to be genuinely interested to give me a good time. So, it was a nice experience. The store was empty the whole time too, so it might be that he was happy that I came in (lol). Whatever, I am going to visit another store soon, maybe I can still find a decent guitar for less money. Doesn’t matter if not, it’s not a super high priority, it’s just a summer fancy.

7 Comments »

  1. Guitar shopping post, what could be better! I had a similar project a few years ago. I ended up with a cheap 3/4 size acoustic made by some chinese company (i was living in beijing). I used to take it down into the gardens of our apartment block. It cost a little over 100 euro but was fit for purpose. I loved not needed to take care of it — and while it didn’t have the tonal sophistication of more expensive guitars I grew to like the sound a lot. I think with a project like yours you ask for the second cheapest guitar in the store and go with that! Don’t start evaluating as you would in a normal guitar purchase instead think of the purchase more as buying a picnic hamper lol
    By the way, I’m a big fan of the Chinese brand enya. they make a 3/4 size acoustic that has a dark, pleasant tone. About 200 euro with pickup. I have their ukuleles as well and am impressed with the company.
    Think this is the one I have: https://www.enya-music.com/collections/travel-collection/products/satin-hpl-koa-guitar
    Not 100% but if you’re interested to know more I’ll get the info for you. I blogged about the purchase. I see i can find it…

    • Hey Jeremy, just seeing your comments now… I couldn’t stop myself earlier this day and went to a second guitar store and checked guitars again. This time I had total freedom in the store and tested all kinds of acoustics within my budget (not doing the same mistake again of starting at the top price segment).

      And the irony? I found Sigma guitars again too and this time I loved the sound and playability of one particular model. Strangely enough, they had some other Sigma guitars too that I didn’t like. But the Sigma DMCE+ was my thing… I couldn’t put it back into the guitar stand 😀 So, it went with me home. Photos will follow later or tomorrow.

      I did unbox the guitar and went straight outside, found a park bench, and played that thing for hours until sunset started and went home. Now I am super concerned about humidity… it’s burning in my apartment and it’s already dark… it’s literally burning. The air is like lava! I did go to the basement and put it there for now because it’s colder there. I believe this thing won’t be put into my apartment during summer… I will do that in autumn. Maybe I am a pussy, but I am really afraid 😀

      I’ve read your comment too late today, although I still remember when you wrote your post. This would have been a decent option especially due to the fact that the wood of your guitars takes humidity well. But on the other side, I noticed this week how many acoustic guitars of the same model vary, be it the setup, or generally how they’re made. It seems like they vary quite a lot more than electric guitars do. This week I played a couple of the same models and noticed that you can have two of the exact same, and one is like shiit and the other one fantastic. So, this week it became clear that I definitely won’t order online but test them myself.

      This week I haven’t seen Enya guitars, I also haven’t seen Tanglewood guitars (Found online videos and would have liked to try them in real). But I tested some sub-€300 Takamine guitars, Fantastic! Except for the strange headstock lol. Today, one would have gone home with me if the headstock wouldn’t be that ugly. So, I found this equally nice-sounding Sigma I mentioned… and this one went home with me.

      • Yes i think that one of the advantages of more expensive guitars is that the quality control is better and they are more consistent. With the cheaper models you can really find variations…so much so that like you say the ‘same’ guitars can be quite different when you sit down and play a few of them. Anyways congrats on the new guitar, sounds like a keeper!

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