From the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Adam Perlmutter
It was another strange year for the world of gear. Each January, more than 100,000 visitors from around the world normally head to Southern California, where they cram the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center to see the latest offerings from across the musical instruments industry. But due to the pandemic, the annual Winter NAMM was cancelled in January 2021, for only the third time in the show’s 120-year history. (Not even the 1916 pandemic stopped the event, but World War II did, in 1942 and 1945.)
Makers pivoted to virtual NAMM showcases. And buoyed by a year of record sales despite—or maybe because of—uncertain times, they introduced an astonishing range of new guitars and accessories, both traditional and forward-looking, at all price points. As usual, throughout the year, AG got its hands on some of the best new offerings, from D’Addario’s innovative new XS strings to top-shelf instruments by Collings and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
Here’s an overview of the year in gear, with many of the pieces reviewed in the pages of AG: guitars, sound-reinforcement solutions, and more, for players of all stripes. Note that all prices are what you should expect to pay new in a shop, whether brick-and-mortar or online. And for more detailed information, be sure to check out the in-depth reviews in your back issues of the magazine or online.
New Offerings from the Big Players
The venerable C.F. Martin introduces bunches of new models each year, and 2021 proved no exception. Boasting a Sitka spruce top and siris or ziricote back and sides, as well as Fishman MX-T electronics with a built-in soundhole tuner, the D-13E ($1,349) gives players an affordable entry point for an all-solid acoustic-electric dreadnought. The 00L Earth ($2,249), with its planet-emblazoned soundboard, plastic-free construction, and hemp gig bag, represents Martin’s stance on taking action against climate change—and it’s a real head-turner to boot.
For players looking to add a little chime to their tonal palettes, Martin introduced the Grand J-16E 12-string ($2,099), an acoustic-electric powerhouse with a Sitka spruce top and East Indian rosewood back and sides, and a high-performance neck taper for enhanced playability. Another new 12 in the lineup, the D-35 David Gilmour 12-string ($5,499) boasts a Carpathian spruce soundboard and sinker mahogany back and sides, a tonewood that Gilmour chose for its richness of sound and appearance. A six-string Gilmour signature version (also $5,499) has an Adirondack spruce top with Martin’s VTS (Vintage Tone System).
AG checked out the affordably priced acoustic-electric GPC-13E ($1,299), a cutaway Grand Performance model with a solid Sitka spruce top, either mutenye or ziricote back and sides, and a Fishman electronics package. Testing a ziricote version, Greg Olwell found the GPC-13E to be an excellent all-purpose guitar, well balanced across the sonic spectrum and easy on the ears and fingers.
Having exited from an ill-fated foray into consumer electronics in recent years, Gibson has clearly shifted the focus back to its bread and butter: guitars. In terms of acoustics, the legacy maker added to its collection of painstakingly accurate replicas of golden-era classics. Instruments in the Custom Shop Historic Collection now includes everything from the Pre-War SJ-200 Rosewood ($6,899) to the 1942 Banner J-45 ($4,999) and 1960 Hummingbird (also $4,999), all made in Gibson’s newly expanded Bozeman, Montana, shop alongside new custom signature models like the Orianthi SJ-200 ($5,999), Tom Petty SJ-200 Wildflower ($9,999), Noel Gallagher J-150 ($4,299), and Slash Collection J-45 ($3,499).
Meanwhile, Gibson built on the Acoustic Modern Collection of guitars that, with their slim necks, contemporary voicing, and advanced electronics packages, are clearly intended for today’s players. 2021 saw the introduction of the J-45 12-String ($3,399), while the J-45, Hummingbird Standard, and SJ-200 received new finish options, like a traditional ebony.
We auditioned Gibson’s Original Acoustic Series 50s LG-2 ($2,499), an update on a classic originally intended as a budget model for students and casual musicians, which has become a coveted model on the vintage market. Nick Millevoi, who had been dreaming of owning an LG for years, praised the new iteration’s vintage vibe; warm, resonant voice; and outstanding playability.
In the fall, Gibson announced a new series of modern guitars—the Generation Collection (from $999)—equipped with Gibson’s new Player Port, designed to direct the sound toward the player’s ears for an immersive experience, as well as L.R. Baggs’ Element Bronze electronics systems. Stay tuned for more coverage of this affordable series.
While known more for electric guitars than acoustics, Fender does have a long history of making steel-strings, dating back to the 1960s with models like the Malibu and the Newporter taking their inspiration from Southern California beach culture. The company looked back to these Golden State flattops with the Redondo Mini ($199.99) and Sonoran Mini ($199.99), each sporting a short scale length and the iconic six-in-line Stratocaster headstock.
In the last several years Fender has made a big splash with a clever series of acoustic-electric hybrid guitars based on its solidbody shapes—first the Acoustasonic Stratocaster and then a Telecaster version, each delivering classic acoustic and electric tones in a single package. A Jazzmaster iteration ($1,999.99) was introduced last year, and Mark Goldenberg found it to be a pleasure to play, whether as a couch guitar or sophisticated tool for the studio.
Toward the end of 2020, Taylor Guitars introduced a new body shape—the Grand Theater (GT)—and along with it, the new C-Class bracing, which builds on the company’s recent V-Class pattern to lend a robust bass response in this compact body size. The Grand Theater line now includes the flagship GT 811e ($2,999), with East Indian rosewood back and sides, and the all-koa GT K21e ($4,699). Taylor also unveiled the ultra-deluxe PS14ce Honduran Rosewood ($9,999), with back and sides made from that lush-sounding tonewood, along with a sinker redwood top, and an ornate California Vine inlay pattern on the fretboard, headstock, and bridge. (The guitar is also available in a 12-fret version.) At the other end of the price spectrum, the new AD22e ($1,599) features a mahogany top and sapele back and sides, all solid, in a Grand Concert platform.
Last year also saw the introduction of a smart new device of interest to all acoustic-electric Taylor owners: the TaylorSense Guitar Health Monitoring System ($79.99), measuring temperature, humidity, and physical impacts. The system consists of a sensor box that fits into the 9-volt battery compartment on most Taylor guitars, which interfaces with the TaylorSense app on Apple and Android devices. (See a review of the TaylorSense, along with the GTe Urban Ash [$1,599], in this issue.)
While Breedlove freshened up its U.S.-made Premier Series (from $2,399) with L.R. Baggs EAS VTC electronics, the innovative company also unveiled its Eco Collection (guitars from $399) of solid-topped instruments made from sustainably harvested tonewoods. Emile Menasché checked out the top-of-the-line Pursuit Exotic S Concert Edgeburst CE ($1,299) and was notably impressed by its warm voice and excellent projection.
Also designed with sustainability in mind, Córdoba’s spruce-and-mahogany Protégé C1 Matiz ($249) is available in four bold colors, each with a matching gig bag made from recycled nylon. This model offers an affordable entry point for the new student or the steel-string player looking to branch out to the nylon-string, as does Cordoba’s Fusion 5 (from $429), which Nick Millevoi found helped him sound convincingly like a classical guitarist and also summon his inner Chet Atkins.
While once known for its no-frills budget models, in recent years Cort has been steadily producing affordable instruments that look less like student models than boutique guitars. A good case in point is the Gold-Edge ($1,499), with its rich appointments, beveled armrest and cutaway, and L.R. Baggs Anthem electronics, a “classy, distinguished model with a warm, rich low end and midrange and a bold sound,” according to Kate Koenig.
As an affordable alternative to U.S.-made classics, Epiphone introduced the Inspired by Gibson collection, consisting of non-cutaway and cutaway J-45 models, a J-200, and standard six- and 12-string Hummingbirds. James Volpe Rotondi checked out the iconic six-string Hummingbird version ($799), with its avian-themed pickguard, and found it to be great-sounding and inspiring to play, writing a handful of tunes in the days after he received the guitar.
Guild introduced a trio of new jumbo guitars with built-in Fishman electronics. A standard six-string, the F-240E ($399) sports a solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides, as does the B-240E Baritone ($499). Meanwhile, the BT-258E ($629) is an eight-string baritone with two octave courses and rosewood back and sides. Greg Olwell was particularly taken with the unique instrument’s clarity and massive headroom. Toward the end of the year, Guild unveiled the A-20 Marley ($399), which replicates Bob Marley’s songwriting partner, an old Guild Madeira. Keep an eye out for a review of this neat guitar in an upcoming issue.
At a glance, the new Collings CJ-45 Traditional (from $6,400) looks very similar to the slope-shouldered CJ-35 that has been in the Austin-based guitar maker’s catalog for years. But the CJ-45 T—one of only two new acoustic models (unless you count the reissued C100) unveiled since the luthier Bill Collings’ passing, in 2017—is quite a different animal. It’s built with an entirely new bracing pattern, the result of countless hours of R&D and retooling, and is designed to capture the dry growl of the best 1940s examples, while having superior build quality and playability. Greg Olwell praised the CJ-45 T’s warmth and power, and its “singularly satisfying sound.”
The Santa Cruz Guitar Company seldom releases new models, so it was a big deal when SCGC introduced the Happy Traum Signature Model HT/13 ($8,800 as reviewed in the November/December 2021 issue). Sean McGowan checked out this 13-fret beauty, with its old-growth redwood top, Honduran mahogany back and sides, and opulent 41-style appointments—the perfect tribute to the beloved roots musician and educator. McGowan, a jazz guitarist with demanding tastes in instruments, was wowed by the HT/13’s sonic and physical beauty.
Strings and Setup Tools
For acoustic guitarists, the biggest news from stalwart strings and accessories manufacturer D’Addario was the introduction of the XS series of strings (from $17.99), with their hyper-thin coating, designed for longevity and strength. Phosphor bronze XS sets are now available for six- and 12-string guitars (as well as mandolins) in all of the typical gauges. I tried a 12–53 set on a Waterloo WL-S and was as impressed by the strings’ sound and feel as their handsome new packaging.
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Augustine, the nylon-string pioneer, still makes the same sets it built its reputation on decades ago. But for 2021, the company freshened up its packaging with bright new colors, designed not just to be attractive but to help easily distinguish the different sets. Mark Small auditioned a pair of Augustine sets—the Imperial and the Regal (both $9.99) and was impressed by the ways in which they enlivened his cedar- and spruce-topped classical guitars.
In one of the year’s more curious product launches, the cleaning, care, and maintenance company MusicNomad introduced the Keep It Simple, Setup (KISS) kit ($159.99)—a package containing all of the tools needed for adjusting an acoustic guitar, so many wrenches and screwdrivers and such, plus a booklet explaining exactly how to use them. Kate Koenig, admitting to having had only a little experience setting up her guitars, found that the KISS kit gave her the confidence to successfully adjust an old Tacoma dreadnought.
Gearing Up to Be Heard
While the possibility of live music seemed bleak for much of 2020, gigs did begin to return for many musicians in 2021 as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted. Acoustic guitarists who had been playing unplugged for many months then needed to gear up with sound reinforcement.
Throughout the year, AG checked out a range of products for being heard. Fishman offered a series of systems combining transducers with body systems, to capture the information that pickups alone tend to miss. Emile Menasché reviewed a humbucker soundhole version, the PowerTap Earth, as well as the undersaddle PowerTap Infinity (each $299.95), praising both their great sound, flexibility, and potential for creativity.
For another soundhole solution, Doug Young auditioned the Mojotone Quiet Coil NC-1 ($189.95), a single-coil unit that, as the name suggests, avoids the unwanted humming associated with this pickup type. Young found that the Mojotone sounds far more natural, balanced, and acoustic-like than the typical soundhole pickup, also admiring its lightness and ease of installation.
If you have a pickup, then you’ll obviously need an amp or PA system. We checked out some solutions good for a range of applications. The Boss Acoustic Singer Live LT ($399.99) is a small 60-watt package boasting plenty of audio flexibility—James Rotondi found it to be a great companion for the singer-songwriter, perfect for the woodshed or small venue. Bose updated its L1 Pro series of compact PA systems with several different versions: the L1 Pro8 ($1,199), Pro16 ($1,799), and Pro32 ($2,698–$3,098). Doug Young put the L1 Pro16 through its paces and admired the system’s abundant power and clear, evenly dispersed sound.
As for effects pedals, the year saw some excellent offerings tailored specifically for the acoustic guitarist. After introducing the Crush Acoustic 30 amplifier, the British amp company Orange followed up with the Orange Crush Acoustic pedal ($169). Nick Millevoi tried this class-A preamp and appreciated its transparent EQ options and its groovy design. Millevoi also auditioned a pair of Fender stompboxes—the Acoustic Preverb and the Smolder Acoustic OD ($149.99)—and, while noting their staid appearance, he did appreciate their utility and potential for sonic exploration.
In an entirely different direction, L.R. Baggs’ Voiceprint DI ($399) is a preamp/direct input that uses digital signal processing based on impulse response (IR). To put it plainly, this allows you to take an aural snapshot of the natural sound of your acoustic guitar, and then use that image in conjunction with a pickup so that your guitar sounds more natural when plugged in. The Voiceprint DI is the first product of its type that can use a smartphone for creating IRs and for accessing the hardware’s advanced features. Doug Young was amazed that he could use his Apple Watch to work the Voiceprint DI, and he praised the way the system could not just capture natural acoustic guitar tone but remove problematic frequencies.
Stay tuned throughout the year for AG’s take on other electronic innovations like these, guitars both boutique and budget, and much more—all the tools that will help you play and sound your very best.