It’s now been around 18 months since my enthusiasm for playing guitar was revitalised and I’m fairly confident that, with my developing vocal accompaniment, it should last the distance and become a long-term fulfilling leisure activity.
The “renaissance” began with an existing three guitars and has currently ended up with seven in the collection. The initial three were my 35 year old Yamaha FG430S Acoustic (my first proper guitar and the only one to survive throught to the present day), a 2 year old Tanglewood Heritage Acoustic and a 10 year old Squier Stratocaster. I had still thought my Yamaha sounded pretty good but it wasn’t quite up to the standard of the Tanglewood that I’d paid £700 for from a local music shop. However, I noticed that even this sounded a little on the harsh side compared to the sweet, mellow sounding acoustics I would listen to in my music collection and videos. Yes, these had seen the benefit of studio production but I was fairly sure the sound I was hearing, for the most part, was fairly natural especially on the videos. I yearned for the ability to reproduce these sweet sounds for myself.
Thus, my quest to acquire the perfect guitar tone began. The tonal quality of my guitars was to eventually become as important as the playing itself as I perused Youtube (mainly) and listened to the various guitar sounds I so much wanted to be able to recreate. To begin with then, how could I get that definitive acoustic guitar sound – a bright, sweet, rich but, at the same time, soft and mellow tone. My research led to the two leading manufacturers of high quality guitars – Taylor and Martin. I prefer a brighter tone which pointed me in the direction of Taylor Acoustic Guitars.
Now, I’m no spring chicken and I reckon my remaining time (health permitting) in which to enjoy playing instruments to a reasonable proficiency will be around two decades. Any guitars I was about to purchase from now on will almost certainly outlast me if they were keepers so, with that thought in mind, my policy would be simple – buy the best I want and can afford. The decision on which model was made relatively quickly and easily. I would trade in the Tanglewood and get a Taylor 814ce. At £2,700, this is an expensive guitar but it is also a beautifully crafted instrument made with the best quality tonewoods. It was a big financial step to take but the result was an achievement of the desired objective – an acoustic guitar that, for the first time in my personal history of playing, sounded like the ones on the records and one that I could be satisfied with until the end of days. Being an electro acoustic, the Taylor is designed to be plugged into an amplifier too but how do you recreate an acoustic sound electronically? It’s not an easy task if it’s to be done reasonably accurately. That’s probably why good Acoustic amplifiers aren’t cheap. My vocals require amplification which, in turn, means the guitar does too for any live performances that may happen in the future so a good acoustic amp would be a requisite. Small but reasonably powerful, versatile with 2 channels (guitar plus vocals), inputs and outputs for recording and headphones and, most of all, the ability to retain the wonderful sound of an expensive Taylor guitar albeit electronically amplified. Three letters seem to be what many guitarists aspire to acquire when it comes to acoustic guitar amplification – AER. So, that’s what I went for, an AER Compact 60. It hurts the wallet at £750 but it would appear that you can’t get much better if you want studio quality reproducible acoustic sound. There was no doubting to my ears anyway that when the Taylor was plugged in and a little reverb was added, it was difficult to imagine it sounding any better.
It became evident to me that tone costs money. I had purchased a Martin Travel guitar a little earlier. Not in the same class tone-wise as the Taylor, obviously, but compared to other travel guitars possibly as good as you could get. Again, relatively expensive at £400 but, hey, it was a Martin.
The Taylor 814ce, now one of my prized possessions, is a “special occasion” guitar to be kept in mint condition and only comes out when I want to give myself a treat. Thus, over time, the search ensued for a similar but cheaper workhorse alternative that was readily available to pick up and play . This materialised in the form of a Yamah APX700II.