I have a sickness, and it’s called guitars. For years, I’ve regretted not learning to play one before, or at the same time as, learning piano. And more recently, the condition of my hands/wrists has stymied my progress with the guitar. However, some recent changes in my band have had me looking at the guitar again. About a year ago, I sold the Oscar Schmidt I bought back in 2011, so I borrowed an acoustic from one of the guitar players in the band, and set about to see what would happen. Lo and behold, I learned a song.
Emboldened by this success, I started into researching acoustic-electric guitars. As usual, I had a price-point in mind, but quickly realized that I might have to spend a little more than I initially wanted, or compromise on a lesser-known brand.
There was one guitar maker that came up repeatedly as a “can’t lose” proposition — Orangewood Guitars out of Los Angeles is a direct-to-consumer outfit with a stellar reputation, and what appear to be lovely sounding, well made instruments at very reasonable prices. But, I wanted to be able to handle my guitar before purchase, and a mail-order deal wasn’t going to work.
I also, if possible, wanted to be able to support my friends at my favorite local music shop, Coffey Music here in Westminster. After spending a couple of hours in the store, I’d all but picked out a very nice Tanglewood (their Kensington Dreadnaught Cutaway). It was in the $300 price range I wanted to pay, and is a very nice guitar. Tanglewood is a British company, and seem to be one of the most popular guitars in the UK. But, the Kensingtons are a brand new series for them, and there’s very little on line about them.
Donna suggested that I take one more look at the local used market before making the purchase, though, and since we really like to not add to the rampant consumerism that’s over taken America, I agreed. I usually look for local used music gear on Craigslist, and have had very good success there in the past, but recently Donna’s been having some really good experiences on the Facebook Marketplace. It’s been gaining popularity, in spite of its horrible programming. I am a member of a couple of local/regional music buy-sell-swap groups there, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
After entering a few search parameters, I was presented with a selection of very-nice-but-too-expensive listings — Martins, Taylors, Yamahas — or strange no-name instruments (have you ever heard of Gremlin guitars?) and beat-up low-end models. I was actually close to giving up that idea when I came across the ad for the Breedlove Discovery shown in the picture above. I’ve always liked the sound of Breedlove guitars, and here was a chance to own one (if only an entry-level instrument) at an excellent price. I drove up to Hanover, PA to meet the seller. We had some very nice conversation and I tried out the guitar for a while. After a bit more conversation, and the seller giving me a few general pointers on playing more comfortably, I parted with a small stack of $20 bills, and we went our separate ways.
The Discovery is about a $400 guitar new, and it plays similarly to the Seagull I’ve been borrowing, although it’s a bit lighter weight. This one might need a little setup touch-up and/or benefit from a string change, but it sounds great and feels pretty good.
The included OEM version of Fishman’s Isys T electronics (nearly identical to the newer Presys I) are extremely basic — and extremely transparent. In fact, with the contour and phase switches out, and in a studio environment, pickup output vs. the guitar mic’ed can be nearly indistinguishable.
I also (finally) got rid of the old Yamaha classical guitar I haven’t been able to play for years. I traded it, along with it’s custom-fit hard case for a new case for the Breedlove — at Coffey Music, of course (if you’re in the market for a very nice classical guitar, there’s a like-new Yamaha there…). While I was there, Bob said there was something I had to try. They have a new Kepma on the floor (I believe it’s the D2-120A). Kepmas are all set up using a Plek machine, and this model includes their AcoustiFex™ pickup system.
First, let’s talk about the guitar itself. The Kepma Elite D2-120 is a standard, dreadnought acoustic. It’s beautifully made. It’s about a $1250 guitar — as well it should be. And the setup was superb, owed in part to Kepma using the Plek system to assist with the setup. According to Bob, the way it played was the way it came out of the box.
The “A” version, which is what I played on, also includes Kepma’s AcoustiFex™ pickup/preamp/effects system, which puts a chorus/delay and reverb unit right in the guitar. That’s handy, as they’re probably the most-used effects for acoustic guitar, and having it on-board eliminates the need for a stomp-box or two. Nice. But, the AcoustiFex™ system actually goes a step further, making the effects available when your not plugged in. That’s right. Pressing the switch and turning up the reverb knob even works when you’re unplugged! The same goes for the chorus/delay, and it sounds really good! You can see and hear it in action in the video below. Oh, and you can check out a video showing a guitar being Plek’ed below, too.
Now, here’s the kicker about the AcoustiFex™. Let’s say you want the same functionality in your Martin or Taylor or … Breedlove. For a couple hundred bucks, you can pick up the AcoustiFex™ Go and install it in any acoustic guitar. Any competent guitar tech should be able to do it, and if you’re handy and not too squeamish, you should probably be able to do it yourself.
One other thing I want to touch on, briefly. While there is definitely an experiential difference between the pricing tiers in acoustic guitars, setup and strings and even the choice of finish can make or break a guitar as well. Meaning, you can derive an excellent playing experience, sound and a great deal of pleasure from a less expensive instrument — don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune on a guitar, especially if you’re just starting out. But, don’t think that something you order from Amazon on the cheap is going to be a winner, either, especially not right out of the box. Unless you know what you’re buying, I’d heartily recommend going to a local music store (preferably locally owned) and buy there as well, if you can. They may not have the widest selection, but what they do carry, they’ll know well, and they’ll be there to help you down the road.