Any musician knows what it's like to hear a sound that just captivates you, grabs you by the heart and draws you in. That's what happened to me when I heard Ed Gerhard play a weissenborn style guitar. I fell in love with the sound and immediately knew I needed to get one and learn to play it. I'd been playing a squareneck resonator guitar for a couple of years so I was familiar with playing a lapstyle slide guitar.
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In my years of playing acoustic guitars I've learned that solid wood instruments generally have better tone than those made of plywood. In addition, solid wood guitars will "open up", or sound better over time as they are played. Plywood guitars won't change much in sound over time, what you start with is pretty much what you'll end up with. I don't play music for a living but I do play out, often on a paid basis, and need a quality instrument capable of producing a professional sound. At the same time my budget is limited and I can't afford to spend an excessive amount. So the criteria in my purchase was:
1. Must be solid wood construction.
2. Must be of high quality and playability.
3. Must be capable of professional tone/sound.
4. Must cost no more than $800
In all honesty there are only 2 weissenborn style guitars I'm aware of that can be purchased new in that price range: The Gold Tone LM and the Gold Tone SM. The LM model is laminated wood so that leaves the SM, selling for $674, add another $100 for a hardshell case. Gold Tone makes another solid wood weissenborn but at $1200 it was out of my price range. I'd heard/seen video clips of the SM model on youtube and felt it would give me the sound I was looking for, so that's what I purchased. Searching the Internet I was able to find a used, but in like-new condition, Gold Tone SM with hardshell case for $650. The previous owner ran a recording studio and had purchased the guitar for a specific recording project that was completed, so the guitar had been played very little prior to my getting it.
I've had the guitar almost a year now and I absolutely love it. Tone and playability are more important to me than looks....BUT....I have to say this is the most beautiful guitar I've ever owned. It's solid mahoghany with a natural finish and is just stunning to look at. The top and bottom are very straight grained and have almost a striped pattern to the grain. The edges of the top, bottom, and fingerboard are bound in a rope pattern design reminiscent of the original style 3 weissenborns of the 1920's; the rosette around the sound hole continues this pattern. The fingerboard is made of dark ebony with inlaid wood markers instead of frets. Inlays on the fretboard are also similar to the original style 3 design. Tuners on the headstock are gold in color. The guitar is coated with a durable, high gloss laquer. Looking inside the soundhole, the braces are well sanded and neatly glued. It's made in China but the workmanship is very good with attention to detail. I see no flaws anywhere.
More important than how it looks though is how it sounds, and it sounds wonderful. Weissenborns have a lighter construction compared to a regular acoustic guitar; that in addition to the hollow neck causes them to vibrate more noticibly than a standard guitar with deep mellow sounds. My Gold Tone seems to come alive in my lap when I hit the strings. Tone is deep and resonant, the notes ring out clearly and sustain is wonderful. I also play lap style resonator guitar (dobro) but the weissenborn really feels different, so much more vibration. It's not just that you hear the sound, you also feel it in your body, like the guitar has become a part of you. It's wonderful, almost magical.
These types of guitars are played with an open tuning, meaning that it sounds a full chord when strummed with all the strings open. I've used both D and C tunings. I think I like C tuning best, the guitar responds really well with the deeper notes and gives a full resonant bass that seems to vibrate my whole body as the guitar sits on my lap. It's really a wonderful sound and feeling, like the guitar and my own body are one. I haven't tried G tuning on it yet. According to Gold Tone's specifications the guitar is capable of withstanding the higher tension of G with medium gauge strings.
I've played styles of music ranging from slow ballads, to blues with a thumping alternating bass rythm, to faster almost bluegrassy sounds and the guitar performs really well. It has a lighter more delicate feel when compared to my resonator guitar, and I need to adjust my right hand to be more gentle and less agressive when playing the weissenborn. But I've found it to be very responsive in terms of dynamics. It gives me strong punchy tone when I dig in with my right hand, but also soft and delicate with sustain when played more lightly. Anyone interested in hearing the music these guitars are capable producing should listen to youtube recordings by Tom Dougherty or Rob Anderlik. Their skill level is beyond what I'm able to do at this time. As I improve in my abilities, I'm more and more impressed and in love with the sound my SM model gives me. Playing one of these guitars is a very personal thing, as the notes and vibrations seem to become a part of your body.
In the year that I've been playing my instrument I've had no issues at all with playability. It stays in tune well and has proven to be very dependable and durable. The more I play it the better it sounds. I'm very happy with it and feel it's capable of producing better sounds than I have the ability to coax out of it at this point. I expect to be satisfied with the music this guitar can produce for a long time to come and whole heartedly recommend it for both beginning or experienced musicians. I would recommend that anyone purchasing this guitar also get the hardshell case. The guitar seems to be built sturdy enough, but I wouldnt feel comfortable myself carrying it around in just a gig bag. Give it the extra protection a hard case provides
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