Pros: pretty koa back, sides and top; good playability; good intonation; nice, warm sound; good sustain
Cons: I miss the "lawsuit" headstock; slightly thick neck
I was killing some time in the back room of Guitar Center the other day and stumbled upon a Takamine EF508KC among the nice acoustic guitars from Martin and Taylor. I have to admit I was surprised to see a guitar from Takamine that retailed for $1929 and was offered at $1349. Takamine's "law suit" guitars from the late 1970s and early 1980s are solid Martin imitations, but I'd recently come to associate Takamine with $199 beginner guitars that don't sound that great.
The Takamine 508KC is a smallish acoustic-electric guitar made of solid figured Koa. It features a white-bound rosewood fingerboard, snowflake inlays for fret markers, and built-in electronics (which I didn't use). The guitar is quite attractive, and a close inspection revealed what appeared to be really good workmanship. All seams were smooth and the guitar felt solid and well-made. I'm not a fan of Takamine's current headstock design, but that's a matter of personal taste. The gold tuners were a luxurious touch (though I actually prefer silver), as is the abalone rosette. The guitar features a gentle cutaway for access to a few extra treble notes.
The first thing I noticed when I picked up the guitar to play it was the nice size (they call it "Grand Auditorium"). It felt really comfortable in my lap, and was nicely balanced. There are 14 frets clear of the body and scale length felt like it was standard (around 25.4"), rather than short-scale. The next thing I noticed was that this is not a skinny neck. It felt like a 1 11/16" neck at the nut, but the neck was fairly thick front to back.
Still, this was a playable guitar overall, and I enjoyed my time playing the Takamine EF508KC. The action was set medium, and I had no trouble doing the little runs I always do when I test drive a guitar. Both flat picking and fingerpicking were fun to do. Intonation was good up the neck, and the treble strings were not overly jingly, as I've found to be the case on many of Takamine's current inexpensive guitars. I could slap a capo on up the neck and the guitar stayed in tune.
I also liked the sound of the guitar overall. It was dark and warm with decent bass and nice sustain. It didn't have the volume of a Martin HD-28 that was on hand for direct comparison, nor did it have the throng in the bass of the larger Martin. A better comparison would be between the Takamine and a smallish Taylor 512CE that was also on hand. The Taylor was more trebly and delicate, and also a bit easier to play. But the Takamine was warmer sounding and almost as good as the more expensive Taylor in terms of sustain.
I didn't use the electronics on the Takamine, so I'll just quote the hype that Takamine provides: "The Takamine Palethetic pickup and the warm-sounding CT4B preamp is designed for ease of use and purity of tone. The CT4B consists of 3 bands of graphic EQ tone control, a volume control slider and a built-in chromatic tuner." These are not "hidden" electronics; the controls are on the "top side" of the guitar. My hunch is that the warm sound of the guitar would amplify well.
Overall, I was favorably impressed with the Takamine EF508KC. There was nothing distinctive enough about it that I'm going to run out and buy one, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a Takamine competing with the likes of Martin and Taylor. If you're looking for a cool-looking real koa guitar with a warm tone, good playability (assuming you don't have small hands) and built-in electronics, give the Takamine EF508KC a test drive.