REVIEW: Takamine EG510SC

Ya gotta love a good Takamine. They play great, they’re an absolute pleasure to set up, and the electronics always do a great job of taking all of what’s so damn good about them and pushing it out to your audience without fuss. But they can also be pretty darn expensive. Takamine’s G series guitars offer much of the same quality construction, clever design, complex tone and flat out cool looks as their Japanese made buddies, but at a lower price. The division includes over a dozen distinct dreadnaught models, with options including cutaway and non-cutaway models. 12 strings, straight acoustics and acoustic electrics.

The EG510SC on review is of the dreadnaught cutaway variety, with a solid spruce top, nato back and sides, and a TK4N preamp with piezo under-saddle pickup.
The benefit of a solid top, as opposed to a less expensive laminate, is that over time the wood ‘settles’ in a sonically pleasant way. After a few years of the wood resonating as one piece, some magical voodoo seems to happen and any impediments to the transfer of energy just sort of …flitter away. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation for all this, but I prefer the magic explanation, so let’s just say that fairies did it.

Before plugging the EG510SC in to hear its amplified tone, I sat and strummed it for a while to hear its natural voice. I pretty much immediately concluded that this would be the perfect guitar to back up a solo vocalist, because notes and chords took on a lush background of overtones which almost made it sound like there was another instrument in the room. I don’t have a symphony orchestra on hand but I imagine the tone would fit beautifully in that setting too. I didn’t expect this level of detail and warmth in a guitar in this price range, and of course wood being wood you’re likely to find some that aren’t this rich and maybe even some that are moreso, so as with every guitar, try a few examples of that model if you can before settling on the one you take home. But on first impressions straight out of the box, the tone was quite impressive given the price.

Plugging in to my recording setup, the natural resonance of the body is of course not transferred by the piezo pickup, but instead you get to hear the clarity of the preamp. With two selectable midrange contours, a 3 band graphic EQ and a notch filter, the tone shaping facilities here are exhaustive, and the guitar’s characteristics can be altered to sound like a full jumbo, a delicate acoustic fingerpicker, a loud strummer and everywhere in between. Piling on the delay and reverb, I was able to come quite close to the sensitivity and dynamics of Tommy Emmanuel’s classic “Initiation” track, which amused me for hours. Of course you probably don’t want to add that degree of ambience for general playing, but due to the piezo nature of the pickup, you’re not getting any of the sound that’s bouncing around inside the guitar’s body, so you might still want to add some degree of reverb or maybe even a gooseneck mic mounted in the body.

Like all Takamines I’ve played or set up, the playabilty of this guitar was near perfect from the beginning, and Takamine’s famous two-piece compensated bridge saddle kept everything nicely intonated. While it may not have quite the level of craftsmanship as its Japanese-made cousins, this is still a very cool guitar.

LINK: Takamine.com

FEATURE: Going Solo

Performing as a solo acoustic act can represent either an artistic breakthrough or the kiss of death. It’s undeniably difficult to stand up in front of a crowd with only an acoustic guitar to shield you from the glare of public opinion, able to hear every little comment or conversation from the audience. While some artists are right at home in this environment, others could be forgiven for scurrying for the hills. While it’s easy to slip into the trap of just strumming some chords and warbling along, there are some tricks you can use to make your solo acoustic performance more distinctive, sonically varied, and unique. Let’s look at a few of them.

The first thing to think about is what to play. Are you taking songs that were originally written on electric guitar, with thrashing power chords? Songs like this don’t tend to translate well into solo acoustic performance because the awesome power of a blazing 100 watt amp is such a big part of the sound, and playing the same part on an acoustic guitar can change a riff from “CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUG” to “dinka-dinka-dink.” Clever use of open strings and arpeggiation (breaking up a chord into one note at a time) can take an otherwise heavy riff and recast it with moody atmosphere that will service the song much more musically if you take a riff that’s not meant for an acoustic or clean sound and just play it verbatim.

Take, for example, the main riff of that good old standard, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” For the song’s intro, Metallica took the same riff and moved it around a little, with some open strings and sustained notes, instead of just playing a clean toned version of the ultra distorted main version.

Another pitfall to avoid is the vigorous thrashing of chords, unless the song really needs it for dramatic emphasis. With the limited tonal palate of an acoustic guitar compared to a fully augmented rock band, dynamic control becomes one of your most important tools. One quite intuitive and great sounding technique is to break up a chord by strumming pairs of notes, or strumming only the bass note on the first beat of the bar, and all the remaining notes on subsequent beats. This opens up the arrangement a lot more and allows the audience to mentally fill in what the song might sound like with a full band. The idea is to treat the guitar as six individual voices in a choir – you can have them all sing the same melody in the same octave for dramatic emphasis, but an entire concert’s worth of that same sound can be a little bit of an onslaught. Breaking up a chord into groups of notes allows each section of the chord to breathe, and creates a more supportive bed for vocals.

Next, there’s guitar tone. Despite some great technical advances (like the D Tar Mama Bear acoustic preamp, Takamine’s CoolTube valve-driven onboard acoustic guitar preamp system, and various other analog and digital modelling technologies), a lot of players still just plug the guitar into the mixing desk and treat the audience to the unpleasant quackiness of piezo pickups. The problem with the pickups built into most acoustic guitars is that they transfer only the direct vibration of the string, but what we, the listeners, know as a true acoustic guitar sound also includes the effect of the sound reverberating inside the guitar body before leaping out of the sound hole. If you don’t have a dedicated acoustic processor, a little bit of this mysterious aural voodoo can be added with reverb and delay pedals. Dial the reverb to a ‘small room’ setting, set the effect mix to a ratio of about 75% dry signal and 25% reverb, then feed the reverb pedal into a delay set for a very quick single repeat of around 40-60 milliseconds, again mixed down relatively low, and with the treble of the repeat reduced, if your delay has a tone shaping feature. What you want to do is mimic the sound of a guitar string echoing only within the space of the guitar body, not an entire room. Then if you want to add traditional delay or reverb sounds, and have an extra available pedal or processor, the resulting echo or reverb will sound more like it’s being applied to a real acoustic guitar, instead of just repeating the trebly, hollow piezo sound.

Finally, the best acoustic performers I’ve seen make it feel like you’re sitting in their living room. They do this by being relaxed and displaying lots of personality and confidence, especially during between-song banter. The worst ones I’ve seen make you feel like you’re intruding on their private time, by mumbling or generally ignoring the audience (probably out of nerves, but still, this makes for a terrible entertainment experience).