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  • tylerjohnhartman

My Guitar Journey

Updated: Jan 5

Anyone who knows me knows that I love guitars in a manner that borders on unhealthy. It's an obsession. I love the planning and production that goes into creating a guitar. I love things that are made by human hands. I love the astonishing differences in sound and playability that exist within the marketplace. I love how a new guitar can spark an idea or an emotion that nothing else has ever done before. I love guitars, man.

Some people are sentimental about their instruments and find one guitar that defines their sound for their musical lifetime. I am not that guy. I want to try them all. I have spent the last few years trying to own and play as many guitars as humanly possible, in a never-ending search to find my favorite styles and brands. Through this journey I have discovered my favorite guitar body shape, and also a few favorite manufacturers. I will admit that I've become a little sentimental about some of my guitars, so maybe it just took finding the perfect guitars for me.

Keep scrolling to see the ridiculously long list of guitars that I've owned over the last couple of years. I gave each guitar a rating x/10 and a few thoughts about the instrument. There is nothing scientific to this, but is simply a way for me to catalogue this journey. I've grouped the guitars by brand, and I'll be sure to add to the list as new guitars come and go.

*Just a reminder that for many of these guitars, I have kept them within my collection for 6-12 months and then sold them or traded them for other instruments. I have instruments that are my "keepers," as they are extra special, but most of the guitars shown below have come and gone. I am in no way crazy enough to have 15+ guitars in my house at one time. Okay, maybe I'm not allowed to have that many guitars in my house at one time.

C.F. Martin

Obviously Martin is one of the biggest names in the game. When I was a solo artist back in my North Dakota days, I played a 2002 Martin D1 and I loved it. They still make some of the best guitars on the market, but my controversial take is that their modern instruments lack any soul. They are almost entirely built with machines in an "assembly line" fashion, and their "Made in America" tagline is fine, but I'm over basing the merit of a guitar on whether or not it is made in America. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here are my thoughts of my Martin guitars:

  • Martin 000-17E (Whiskey Burst Finish) - I can't believe how good this guitar is. It's a throwback style solid spruce/solid mahogany guitar, with old school relic style appointments, an LR Baggs pickup, and it sounds GOOD. I would argue that the 000-15, 000-16, and 000-17 series are where Martin is currently doing their best work. For under $2,000 you are getting a guitar that can record, perform live, and just bring genuine joy when its played. The finish is a very nice satin all over the guitar, so I'm not sure how the body will hold up over time, but they are worth a purchase. Highly recommended. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $1,699

  • Martin LX1E (Little Martin) - I bought this guitar for my kid, but secretly it was for me. I've always wanted a Little Martin. They produce such big sound for being so miniature. They are very playable and a truly perfect travel guitar. The solid spruce top is loud, and while I hate Martin's compressed paper/plastic/not wood back and sides that they use on their lower priced models, it sounds pretty damn good. There are better travel guitars out there (Breedlove's Companion model, for example), but this guitar is one that will remain in this family forever. RATING: 7/10 - COST: $499

Taylor Guitars

I'm going to be honest here, I'm not a fan of Taylor guitars. When I was a kid, all I wanted was a nice Taylor. They are so pretty and so sturdy and playable. All of the cool people play them. Etc., etc., etc...Once I actually owned some Taylors, they were always high quality, very nice, and entirely soulless. I have never held a guitar and felt less in my heart than when I'm holding a Taylor. Maybe they are too perfectly made? Maybe the fact that almost no human touches them during the build process, yet they are some of the most expensive guitars on the planet rubs me the wrong way? I don't know, and maybe it's more of a "me" problem than a "them" problem, but I could live happily without ever seeing another "IF YOU ONLY BUY ONE GUITAR IN YOUR LIFE, MAKE IT A Taylor 814ce" review from in my life. Here are some thoughts on my Taylors:

  • Taylor 324ce - This guitar is a beast. It's heavy, the neck feels like a baseball bat, and the size is just surprisingly "big." As a short guy with a belly, I need a smaller and more shallow guitar so it can sit comfortably on my body. Taylor does not respect my plight, apparently. The guitar has a lot more depth than a lot of the other Taylors I've played (again 814ce, I'm looking at you). Taylor guitars almost always sound too "chimey" and bright for me. I am not a youth pastor, and I do not play music of that ilk. All of this being said, the mahogany top and blackwood back and sides really does give an actual, real classic acoustic sound. Bravo to Taylor for building a guitar that presents in this way. I wish any of their smaller bodied guitars were able to bring a sound like this. In my opinion there are many better guitar options at this price point, but for any guitarists who desperately want to blend in with the crowd, this is a uniquely great choice from Taylor. RATING: 7/10 - COST: $2,300

  • Big Baby Taylor - There is nothing "baby" about this guitar. The spruce top and laminate walnut back and sides produces a big, loud, rather punchy sound. It's also a not-actually-smaller bodied guitar, has a 25.5" scale length, and is still a larger body style than I prefer to utilize. I thought we were talking travel guitars here. This is less of a travel-friendly guitar than any of the "14" body sizes that Taylor makes. Throw down an extra couple hundred bucks, snag a 114ce and have an actual guitar. I bought this when I was looking for a "I'm willing to beat this guitar up and travel with it" guitar a few years ago, and it ended up being mostly ignored. I would put this guitar as a less solid "travel guitar" than a Little Martin, and also a Breedlove Companion. Stop making guitars with cheap and/or laminate walnut. Nobody wants that. RATING: 4/10 - COST: $549

Fender Guitars

Oh, Fender. When I first got back into playing and writing music at the very beginning of 2020, I purchased an amazing butterscotch Fender Player Telecaster, along with an Orange brand amplifier. I love that guitar. Even as a mostly non-electric player, it's hard to not fall in love with the history of a Fender Telecaster. I ended up with a few Fenders over the last couple of years, but I've only kept the Telecaster. Here are my thoughts on the Fenders I've had come through my collection:

  • Fender Player Telecaster - Fender Telecasters are pretty much "the electric guitar" for people who play country, folk and "songwriter-y" versions of rock music like I do. If we incorporate electric guitar, it's supposed to be a Tele. All of my favorite songwriter types play these guitars, and I was so compelled to own one. Fender (like Taylor) produces essentially the exact same quality out of their Mexican instruments as they do from their American instruments, so I decided to save $500 and snag this Player Telecaster. It plays fast, it plays clean and shimmery, and it also gets DIRTY sounding when I want it to. Fender has become such a huge company in all areas of instruments and musical tools (I own an amazing Fender Acoustasonic 100 amplifier and I will never get rid of it) but I feel like they've never wavered on Telecasters. Just a perfect electric guitar for all applications. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $899

  • Fender American Acoustasonic Telecaster: Have I mentioned that I love Telecasters? The very first "pricey" guitar that I bought once I decided that I wanted to get back into making music was this gorgeous, black Acoustasonic Tele. It's one of the sexiest looking guitars I've ever held in my hands. Here's the deal though, I have no idea what the application of this guitar is. It's basically an electric guitar with acoustic strings on it. It can sound "sort of" acoustic when recorded or plugged in to perform live, and it can sound "mostly like a regular Tele" when recorded with. Even though I think they are so cool (I think the Acoustasonic Jazzmaster guitars are even cooler) it just wasn't for me. I begrudgingly sold it to Guitar Center for 40% of its worth before I realized that Guitar Center is the worst company ever, and Reverb exists. Live and learn, young Tyler. If you have a lot of money and just want a cool Fender guitar that works pretty much like a regular Telecaster, I do suggest picking one of these up. Jack White plays one sometimes, so it's obviously a good guitar. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $2,000

  • Fender American Performer Stratocaster: So here I am, I own a Fender Telecaster, a Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster, and I'm about to start recording my first new songs in a decade. I decided then and there that I was going to be a "Fender guy," so I decided to add this Strat to my arsenal of instruments. Never in my life have I felt like I am less capable of "rocking" with an electric guitar than I felt with this Strat. I get it, Jimmy Hendrix played one. Other old guys played them. These guitars are an American institution. What does that mean for the application of this guitar to actual music? Well, the guitar is boring. It's "warm" in tone. It's damn near "muted" in tone. Does my music sound like the Doobie Brothers? Hopefully not. This just wasn't for me. I was very unimpressed with the way it played, the way it sounded, and just the general feel of it. There are a myriad of better $1,500+ electric guitars on the market, and this guitar lasted in my collection for exactly four days before I went and found the other options. RATING: 3/10 - COST: $1,400

Cole Clark Guitars

I had always been extremely intrigued by Cole Clark, but wasn't sure if I was allowed to own one. Once I realized that it is actually okay for a guitarist to explore non-American guitar manufacturers, I decided to snag one of these guitars. They are made primarily of regional Australian tonewoods, and they are just amazing, straightforward instruments. They also come with what I would consider the absolute best standard electronics of any guitar company. If you need a live guitar and are okay with a guitar that looks very different than the guitars the other singer-songwriters at the coffee shop are playing, I can't recommend these enough. Here's my thoughts on my AN2:

  • Cole Clark Angel 2: What a guitar. For under $2,000 you can get a uniquely gorgeous, handmade guitar that was made for live performances. This guitar has a Bunya top and Blackwood back and sides, and is just the right amount of growly and crisp in sound. I would compare these woods to an Englemann Spruce top with mahogany back and sides. Not overly punchy, but punchy enough and with quick decay. Not much for overtones. Just a great, straightforward folk instrument. The neck is big and chunky, and with a proper setup can be about as good of a neck as exists on the market. Perfect strummer and also fingerstyle and flatpicking guitar. Can't recommend this guitar enough. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $1,999

Gibson Guitars

One of the most exciting moments of my young music career was when my parents bought me an Epiphone Les Paul. I played in a rock band with my high school buddies, and the day I showed up to practice with that guitar, I felt like a real rockstar. I then became obsessed with Gibson and all of the rock and roll history associated with the company, but was too young and broke to ever afford an instrument at that price point. Fast forward A LOT of years, and I actually have a small bit of money to throw at my hobbies, so it was time to get my hands on a Gibson (or many of them). Check out my reviews, below:

  • Gibson L-00 Studio (Walnut b/s) - The first Gibson guitar I picked up was the Gibson L-00 Studio with the walnut back and sides. If you read my opinions on basic or non-Black Walnut guitars up above you know that I am just not a fan. It's like mahogany without any "oomph." Black Walnut is amazing, and entirely Black Walnut guitars (especially those Masterworks Elite models from Alvarez) are splendid. Gibson has a custom SJ-200 with Black Walnut and it's AMAZING. Anyway, the point here is that this guitar has the standard, thin sounding walnut, and it shows. I love the necks of Gibson guitars more than almost any other brand, and the necks on the L-00 models is just amazing. Chunky, but playable, and perfect for fingerstyle playing. The all-over gloss of Gibson guitars takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do it's something that I find quite endearing. Anyway, this guitar sounded okay but muted, thin, and boxy. It played very nicely, but wasn't right for me. Gibson almost forces players to upgrade to the Rosewood models of their guitars by using Walnut instead of Mahogany for their introductory level instruments. If they want me to come over and run things I will make a few changes. RATING: 5/10 - COST: $1,700

  • Gibson L-00 Standard Rosewood - Okay, so Gibson got me. I knew the walnut Studio wasn't the right one for me, but I did realize that I desperately needed an L-00. I opted to just "go for it" and went for the upgraded Standard model, with the Rosewood back and sides. Now here's the deal with L-00 models, they are always going to sound a tiny bit boxy and "small." They are small bodied guitars. But this guitar has such a heart and soul to it. The overtones are insane and the depth of sound is gorgeous. If you want to play the blues or something growly, this is a perfect guitar. I don't think they sound great plugged in or recorded, but for a "play at home in your underwear and pretend you are Buddy Guy" type guitar, this is about as good as it gets. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $2,200

  • Gibson Modern Parlor - My god, I love this guitar. It's beautiful, it's sophisticated, it's compact (but not too compact), and it has the best playability of any Gibson acoustic I've ever played. I used this guitar live for my first 4-5 shows, as I felt like a real musician up there with my shimmering professional acoustic guitar with the block inlays and shiny Gibson logo. The "rosewood burst" finish is gorgeous and the rosewood back and sides, to this day, are some of the prettiest I've ever encountered. There are of course limitations when performing or recording with a small bodied guitar like this, and as I played more shows I realized it wasn't the right size to achieve optimal live sound, but this will forever be one of my favorite guitars that I've owned. They are hard to come by as Gibson stopped making them (people don't want to pay $2,300 for a parlor guitar when they can get a full size for the same price), but there are a few floating out there. Highly recommend. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $2,300

  • Gibson J-45 - I mean, what can I say about a J-45 that hasn't already been said? Big, booming, balanced, and a 24.75" scale length, which makes it about as easy to play as a guitar can possibly feel. It practically plays itself. I love the black nut, which makes the black headstock even more iconic looking. The burst finish is gorgeous and its classy simplicity is just a beautiful thing (and that's coming from a person who likes bling). I don't play large body guitars often, for reasons listed above, but this is a top tier instrument. I hope Gibson never strays from this model, and always puts the effort and time into making them as perfectly as they have been for all of these years. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $2,849

  • Gibson Generation Series G-00 - Another 00? Yes, I was addicted for a while, there. When Gibson released their newest line of affordable, American made guitars, I had to check one out. They come with a satin neck (no gloss? NOPE!), an ebony fretboard, and a sound port. The sound port is what we like to call a "gimmick" and something that is "unnecessary." I am always in favor of guitar makers bringing guitars to market that allow less wealthy people to get their hands on premium instruments. Guitars shouldn't just be for rich people. The fact that it took me until I was a professional with a decade of work experience before I could truly afford to build a guitar collection, is a shame. So, good on Gibson for bringing some more modestly priced instruments to the table (this guitar was $999 while my L-00 Standard was $2,800). This guitar played remarkably well, had a nice tone to it, and was a lot of fun. It didn't have a pickup so there wasn't any live application, but I think this guitar with a K&K Pure Mini thrown in it, could be used in a live setting. I don't like the sound port feature, but other than that I think this is a big step for Gibson and for attainable premium guitars in this country. Good work, y'all. RATING: 7/10 - COST: $1,000

  • Gibson Les Paul Studio - Once I realized I was, in fact, not a "Fender Guy," I started to work diligently to become a "Gibson Guy." My first move was to snatch up a Gibson Les Paul Studio guitar. I got one with the red wine burst, and to this day it's one of the most stunning electric guitars I've ever laid eyes on (until I got the next Gibson Les Paul below this one). I recorded about half of my album "Mill Ends," and almost all of "The Wilderness" with this guitar. Perfect rock and roll tone. It's growly, the shorter scale just begs for guitar solos, and it just sounds like rock and roll. I love Telecasters and I love Les Pauls. I know that doesn't make me very unique or original, but I like what I like. These guitars are weight-relieved so instead of weighing 10 pounds, it was light and nimble and perfect. Best electric guitar I've played. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $1,500

  • Gibson Les Paul Standard 60's - After having a Les Paul Studio for a while, I got the bright idea that I needed to upgrade to the "real deal." I sold my Studio and put that cash towards a stunning LP Standard 60's with the shimmery "Unburst" finish. To this day, Davin still says it's the prettiest guitar I ever owned. This guitar is stunning. All of the beautiful binding and appointments, the absolutely exquisite top finish with the gorgeous wood grains peeking through, and the amount of sustain that absolutely no player could ever truly need. What an instrument. Mine needed some additional setup work done as there were some buzzes happening, so that was a little bit of a bummer. I also realized I did not need a guitar that weighs 10 pounds. I also realized that the playability on the Studio model was far superior to that of the Standard. I am willing to bet that all of the additional elements on the Standard may be the cause of a feeling of being "over-built" compared to the Studio. Far from "clunky," but certainly not as sleek as the Studio. Love this guitar, but for me the Studio Les Pauls are a superior instrument and a superior value to the Standard models. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $2,599

Guild Guitars

I'll be honest here, I don't know a ton about Guild. I know they have a rich history as great makers of folk instruments and hollow/semi-hollow body guitars. What I do know is that when I became interested in finding a semi-hollow body guitar, the best reviews were always around Guild or Gretsch. While I've still never owned a Gretsch (have to assume that'll change one day), I did snag a Guild to help bring a semi-hollowbody sound to my arsenal for when I recorded my album "Desperate Times." Here are my thoughts on this guitar:

  • Guild Starfire IV - Full disclosure here; I don't get super duper excited about electric guitars. There is far less romance for me in an electric guitar. I am not sure why. Is it because people like Limp Bizkit play electric guitars? Probably. Growing up during nu-metal probably caused me to devalue electric guitars a bit. Thankfully, there are semi-hollowbody electric guitars to help the "purists" like me truly appreciate non-acoustic-based guitars. This Guild Starfire is so amazing. It's big, it's full of natural sound to compliment the electric output, and it allows me to add electric guitar to my songs without feeling like the acoustic nature of what I do, is being entirely superseded by the instrument that brought us the songs "Break Stuff" and "Nookie." There isn't really much to say about this guitar other than the fact that it's been used in about 90% of my songs between "Desperate Times" and the most recent stuff. I love this guitar and I believe that it'll be one that stays with me forever. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $1,400

Paul Reed Smith Guitars

When it comes to electric guitars, it's hard to argue against Paul Reed Smith being right up there next to Gibson as one of the premier electric guitar makers on the planet. Before I bought my Guild Starfire IV, I was lucky enough to be one of the first buyers to get my hands on one of the new PRS Vela S2 Satin semi-hollowbody guitars. A gorgeous black little guitar, with what feels like an open-pore body, with just the thinnest satin finish over top of it. It was so light and delicate feeling, I honestly felt like I was going to break it whenever I played it. Here are my thoughts:

  • Paul Reed Smith Vela S2 Satin Semi-Hollowbody - What an absolutely strange instrument this is. It weighs around 5 pounds, and that weight is all in the neck, as the body of this guitar is lighter than almost all of my acoustic instruments. Being used to playing a Les Paul or more heavy electric guitar, transitioning to something so small and light was honestly pretty difficult. The neck is extremely thin and the nut is 1 5/8" so it's just a small fretboard. Perfect for "shredding" but not really what I needed for a semi-hollowbody. I love PRS guitars and I think they are works of art, but I would say that this guitar feels like something meant for a beginner or intermediate level player who wants something easy to play. At $1,100 this is as cheap of an American-made PRS as you can get though, so if you want something to play....I don't know....folk metal? Then this is a perfect guitar for you. I did use it to add a little arpeggio in the background of my song "Carrying Water" and I think it added so much to that recording, so I'll be forever grateful to this guitar for that. RATING: 7/10 - COST: $1,149

Breedlove Guitars

My besties. My family. The people who helped me get back into music after all of these years away from it. It's been a damn honor to be a Breedlove artist, and I can never thank them enough for partnering with me and giving me access to so many of their amazing instruments. Check out my thoughts on the (many) guitars of theirs I've had in my collection:

  • Oregon Concertina (All myrtlewood) - This was the first Breedlove I ever owned. This was even before I was a member of the Breedlove family. I found this gorgeous, sunset burst myrtlewood Concertina model, and I had to have it. Breedlove showed me how important ebony is when it comes to bridges and fretboards. The way this guitar played was unlike anything I'd held in my hands before. It was fast, smooth, and haunting. The delta, pin-less bridge is a game changer, and my god I have enjoyed not having to deal with bridge pins whenever I change the strings on these guitars. This small bodied guitar was far from loud, but the sound quality is clear and clean, and sounds excellent when plugged in. I'd compare the myrtle body to a spruce/maple combination. This was the guitar I recorded "Carrying Water" with, and since that seems to be everyone's favorite song of mine, I have to give credit to Breedlove on that one. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $2,200

  • Premier Concert (Adirondack Spruce/Rosewood) - This is the first instrument I snagged after becoming a Breedlove artist. After these two years of playing Breedloves regularly, I can say that this is the pinnacle of what they do. This guitar is loud and nuanced, and the shape allows for even more overtones than the average mid-sized guitar body. The neck plays fast, the action is perfect, and the tone is modern without losing the soul of the tonewoods. All of the Bend, Oregon-made instruments are hand-voiced, which is what we see from very few guitar makers anymore. This is the kind of instrument you keep for your whole life, as it doesn't get much better than this. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $2,600

  • Premier Concerto (Redwood/Rosewood) - When I was in my "I need large bodied guitars for live performances" phase, I made it a priority to get my hands on another Premier guitar, but this time I went for the larger bodied Concerto model, and this time I went with the Redwood/Rosewood combination. Redwood brings a soft and melodic tone to the guitar, while the rosewood brings out the bass and the overtones. The pairing of these two tonewoods isn't something I was certain I'd love, but my goodness the folks at Breedlove know how to get the most out of their wood pairings. The guitar is loud, but not too boomy. Melodic and subtle, but not too dampened in sound. Absolutely perfect for an intimate coffee shop performance, but still more than capable to win over a raucous bar crowd. It's been one of my most highly used live guitars ever since it arrived. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $2,999

  • Legacy Concertina (Adirondack Spruce/Cocobolo) - The most stunningly gorgeous guitar I've ever held in my hands. It shimmers in ways I never imagined a guitar could, and it is less of a conversation starter than it is the kind of piece of art that stops people in their tracks. Breedlove did a custom deep natural shadow on the soundboard for me, so hues of orange and yellow on the front compliment the insane patterns and grain of the Cocobolo on the back and sides. It has a slotted headstock, hand-laid abalone inlay all over the damn thing, and is just as stunning as a guitar gets. If someone ever tells you that a Taylor 812 is the best 12-fret guitar on the market, please let me know. I'll write them a strongly worded letter, and recommend to them that they make better life choices. This truly is an heirloom piece, and a highest of high end instrument. I recorded "Yellowbottom," "Sin Taxes," Redwood," and many other fingerstyle songs with it. It sounds gorgeous in all applications. If you ever have a rather large amount of money that you want to get rid of, pick one of these up. They are worth every penny. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $3,899

  • Rainforest S ECO Concert and Companion ECO - When Breedlove released the new ECO line of guitars (Rainforest S ECO Mahogany and Companion Travel Size Myrtlewood were my choices), I knew I had to get ahold of a couple. These guitars are focused around sustainability, and utilize ethically sourced solid topwoods, paired with impressively full sounding laminated mahogany and myrtlewood backs and sides. I have always been pretty anti-laminated guitars, as I feel that they almost instantly present themselves as "plastic" sounding when plugged in. These ECO models are some of the first guitars that I've ever played that truly "get away" with the laminated back/sides. The sound is full and rich, and is without the lack of power and depth that usually comes with a laminated instrument. The price point on these allows for more players to afford them, and to get more guitars into more hands. That's what it's all about. These are great guitars and the Companion is the best travel guitar for the money out there. RATING: 7/10 & 7/10 COST: $549 & $699

Ibanez Guitars

Okay, so I decided to get a little crazy on this one. I kept seeing videos on Instagram of "modern fingerstyle" players, and they were almost always using this same Ibanez fingerstyle guitar. Ibanez has a lot of solid electric guitars, and their acoustic guitars are also seen widely around the world, so I figured I'd see what all of the fuss is about. Here's my review of this trainwreck:

  • Ibanez Fingerstyle Series ACFS580CE - On paper this seemed like a perfect guitar for me. It's one of the top-end Ibanez acoustic guitars, comes with all solid woods (spruce top and Pau Ferro back/sides...which I am not a fan of now that I have played this guitar), bone nut and saddle, a nice wide fretboard width, Gotoh tuners, nice chunky neck with great action for fast play, and all of the "beautification" that comes with a company's higher end instrument. It even comes with the DP1 Preamp, which is supposed to be a great sounding pickup. Honestly, I think it's a pretty guitar. I was ready to take this to shows and "wow" the crowd with my fingerstyle acrobatics. Upon first playing the instrument, I did enjoy the neck very much, and the playability was decent. The Pau Ferro is like a weaker rosewood, so it pulls the low end and high end, but instead of creating thick overtones it sounds like some sort of fake or laminated rosewood. Worse yet, when the guitar was plugged in, that weak sound just showed itself more aggressively. I guess I was never destined to be an Instagram Modern Fingerstyle and Tapping Phenomenon. RATING: 3/10 - COST $1,050

Alvarez Yairi Guitars

It's safe to say that I've become truly obsessed with Kani, Japan in the last couple of years. This tiny town near Nagoya is where Alvarez Guitars crafts their Yairi models. The exemplary precision, playability, tone, and soul within these instruments is palpable. When I'm holding one of my Yairi guitars I feel inspired and I feel a connection to the instrument and to the sounds that are coming from it. Everything is clean and perfect. The hands that made these guitars are otherworldly. Here are my thoughts, though you likely know where I'm headed on these ones:

  • FY70CE - The first Yairi guitar I brought into my household was the 70, which is essentially an OM folk guitar with a cutaway. It's the basic, standard entry into the world of Yairi guitars. That said, there's nothing "standard" or "basic" about it. The crafting on this guitar is exquisite and at a price point under $1,500 it feels like a damn crime to own a guitar of this quality. Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, bone nut and saddle, Gotoh tuners, ebony fretboard, excellent on board electronics, and the smoothest and easiest to play neck in the game...just a genuinely amazing guitar. And this isn't even a Yairi Masterworks guitar. But wait, those are yet to come. RATING: 9/10 - COST: $1,400

  • WY1 - I grabbed myself a WY1 after I realized that I was going to become a primarily "Alvarez Yairi Guy" when it came to my live performances. It's technically within the family of OM body shapes, but it's a little bigger and deeper, and comes with a cedar top. Big, full sound with a warmth that translates so well when plugged into an amp or PA system. It has been my primary live guitar for the last few months, and I get regular commentary on how good my guitar tone is. I'd like to take credit for that, but that's just what happens when you play a stage-designated Yairi guitar on the stage. Perfectly constructed, clean and smooth, and just the right amount of growly thanks to the cedar. Best live guitar ever. RATING 9/10 - COST: $1,600

  • DYMR70SB - So this one is a very weird situation. This guitar made its way to me from a supplier in Canada and it ended up taking a month to get through customs, and then I got hit with a gigantic import fee. SO, by the time the guitar finally arrived on my doorstep, I had had about enough of it. This guitar is a beautiful abomination, in many respects. A slope shoulder dreadnought, with a burst and body that looks similar to a J-45, but with 12 frets to the body, and a slotted headstock. Who in the sweet hell would design this guitar to look this way? Anyway, it played beautifully and sounded gorgeous, and had a spruce top with rosewood back and sides (as opposed to the spruce/mahogany of a J-45), but it just didn't speak to me the way my J-45 did. I think my "big strummer, cowboy guitar" has to be a J-45 and not this extremely weird multi-hybrid guitar. I'd call this the only "miss" of my Alvarez collection. RATING: 7/10 - COST: $2,400

  • FYM66HD - This is the instrument that truly showed me what I want out of a guitar, and showed me what best suits me and my playing style. You know when I said I am not sentimental towards guitars? Well that's not entirely true. This guitar (and the one below this) are guitars that I'll keep and play for my whole life. They inspire me to no end. This Yairi Masterworks OM guitar is made from old growth (50+ years) Honduran Mahogany, and is the most gorgeously haunting guitar I've ever had in my hands. I can feel the history with each strum. The tone is an almost confusingly rich and buttery version of the dry, airy mahogany sound profile. It doesn't really make sense. It's delicate and nuanced, but it's also lively and pronounced. When Alvarez runs out of this wood, these guitars will cease to be made. I will treasure this instrument for all of my days. I recorded most of the "New Gravity" album with this guitar, as well as "Modern Heroics" and "Monster Eyes." RATING: 10/10 - COST: $2,700

  • FYM60HD - Everything I said about the 66 model goes for this one as well, except this one has the old growth mahogany on the back and sides, while topped with an Adirondack Spruce soundboard. This guitar is loud and punchy and still carries the beautiful tones of the mahogany on the back and sides. I'm going to start working this guitar into my live shows in late 2022 and early 2023, but first I need to fully learn to harness the powers of this guitar. It's the kind of instrument that is kind of intimidating to play, as it's just such a perfect monster of a guitar. It's my goal to be worthy of it one day. RATING: 10/10 - $3,000

  • MFA77CEAR Masterworks Elite - Man, I tried extremely hard to like and keep this guitar. I am so impressed with what Alvarez is doing right now as a company, with everything from their Yairi models, down to their Artist series. There is just a lot of thoughtful attention and respect to the future player that goes into the building of these instruments. For the most part, this guitar is no exception. For just under $1,000 you are getting an instrument that comes absolutely dripping in abalone inlay (around both the front and back of the guitar), as well as an inlaid headstock, and just generally gorgeous appointments. The beveled ebony armrest is also pretty and makes the guitar extremely comfortable against the body. The Masterworks Elite line is essentially the "top of the line" instruments that Alvarez is producing, outside of their Japanese Yairi models. We all know how I feel about those. All of that being said, this particular guitar just didn't do it for me. The fit was off and the weak spots really showed. First off, the tuners are pretty damn bad. I know that I am spoiled and I'm used to playing primarily on Gotoh, Grover, and Waverly tuners, but these tuners had a hard time. Lots of slipping during tuning. For me, personally, that's unacceptable. For a beginnger on a $400 or $500 guitar, this could be dealt with and just something that is annoying, but for someone who is going to spend $999, the tuners have to work properly. Next, the guitar had extremely impressive sustain. Absolutely bonkers. The problem is that the walnut is a weak tonewood. It's like wet, sad mahogany. Aggressive sustain when it sounds like laminate mahogany ends up being a negative more than a plus. I just can't do it, man. This is now the second "nice" walnut guitar that I've had, and that tonewood just doesn't do it for me. Absolutely beautiful to look at, almost zero real world application. The final issue I had is that the fretboard is Indian Laurel. This is a pretty poor fretboard wood. At the end of the day, if the fretboard isn't ebony or rosewood, I recommend looking elsewhere (or being prepared to replace the fretboard at a cost of a couple/few hundred bucks). The soft case is nice and if someone was willing to spend $400 to replace the tuners and fretboard, this could end up being a great guitar (walnut aside). But at that price point you could snag a FY70 Yairi model, which is infinitely better than this one. RATING: 4/10 - COST: $999

Eastman Guitars

Oh boy, we have entered the very controversial section of the guitar reviews. For so many years, many American guitar players have looked at anything made in China as low quality and not worth any attention from "real guitarists." There's even a lot of reporting out there that many American guitar companies that have some of their guitars produced in China, often send lesser/worse specifications for the Chinese manufacturers so that they don't steal them. ANYWAY, racism and nationalism aside, there are some phenomenal guitars coming out of China these days. At the forefront of this movement is the Eastman Music Company. They are handmaking guitars using old-world techniques, while also incorporating modern technologies in ways that many other boutique or high end manufacturers simply aren't able or willing to do. They have now partnered with the premier American boutique guitar manufacturer, Bourgeois, to build a new series, and to truly change the boutique and high end guitar community forever. Here are my thoughts on my Eastmans:

  • AC308ce-LTD-SB - This guitar is the sole OM-sized guitar in Eastman's AC guitar line. These guitars are usually Grand Auditorium in size, which sits between an OM and a Dreadnought, and is considered a "large body" guitar. As an "OM Guy," I jumped at the chance to snag an OM sized AC series guitar. Here's why I love Eastman so much: beautiful solid sunburst spruce top, gorgeous solid mahogany back and sides, with an ebony bridge and fretboard, and hand-scalloped bracing, plus hand-carved bone saddle and nut, AND an LR Baggs VTC pickup, for under $1,000. If this was an American guitar, or just had the name Martin on the headstock, it would cost $2,500. This company is allowing more people from more economic backgrounds to play high end, non-assembly line made guitars. I played this live the other day and it was one of the move enjoyable live performances of my entire music career. Thank you, Eastman, for giving me multiple guitars with 24.9" scales, instead of the usual 25.5" that we see on most OM's. The shorter scale length makes the guitar easier to play, and gives it a bit more "jangle," which I personally love. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $1,100

  • E40OM - This guitar is one of the most stunningly gorgeous pieces of musical art that I've ever laid eyes on. When I mentioned earlier that I love a little "bling" on my guitar, this is the type of instrument that I was referring to. The traditional OM body shape and style, just dripping with all of the best appointments available. Hand-laid abalone and mother of pearl all over the damn place, Adirondack spruce top, with stunning rosewood back and sides, and one of the most playable and comfortable necks I've ever held. The tone is perfectly balanced and pulls the low end out of some unknown realm, as a guitar with the body shape has no business sounding as deep and growly as it does. This guitar looks, feels, sounds, and plays like a Martin OM42, but comes in at a much lower cost than the $6,400 price tag for the Martin. I will always favor and support high end instruments being available for more people than just the rich old white men who make up the majority of the guitar collectors community. Bravo to Eastman for making guitars of this quality, and bravo to my pals within the boutique guitar sales and trading community, who sell Eastman right alongside Collings and Bourgeois. RATING: 10/10 - COST: $2,500

Santa Cruz Guitars

  • OM #5684 - I spent a long time deciding what boutique brand I was going to go after for the "showpiece" guitar of my collection. I'm not a rich person, so the idea of filling out my collection with multiple $7,000+ guitars isn't an option for me. That's okay, because as you can see from my entries above, you can get nearly perfect guitars for half the price of one of these boutique brands. That being said, I saved, traded, and planned ahead to procure myself a high end boutique guitar. I spent months deciding between an OM model from Bourgeois, Collings, or Santa Cruz. There is nothing remotely negative to say about Collings or Bourgeois, but what I found is that their guitars are bright and "punchy" in sound. Bourgeois and Collings make instruments that perfectly cut through the mix in a bluegrass or folk band, and while I love that sound, I am not a bluegrass or folk band. I am a person. Tyler Hartman is but one man. Santa Cruz, on the other hand, makes OM guitars that are able to produce a low end that legitimately makes no sense. That's what I'm after. I want the ability to produce a little deep growl when I want to. So far in my journey, my Eastman E40OM does this better than even the most high end of Gibson or Martin guitars, and that's why it's now my main live instrument. As for the quality of Santa Cruz, when the makers of your guitar only make 300-500 guitars a YEAR (Taylor makes 130,000...) they have the time and focus to make everything perfect. The tone is true, the playability is ridiculous, and there's just nothing on the guitar that isn't exquisite. Like Eastman, the neck on this instrument is perfect and will suit all playing styles. It's not too chunky, but it's also not too thin. The only criticism I have of my amazing Alvarez Yairi FYM66HD is that the neck is too thin. It's a perfectly crafted instrument, but I find myself playing it less often than my Eastmans or this SC, because the neck feels dainty and too thin to rock out on. What am I, Steely Dan? Do I play majestic flowing folk ballads? No. I just hammer my guitar and shout. I love a chunky neck. It took me until I played A LOT of guitars to realize that a thicker neck just makes it easier to play leads and riffs. I'm a riff guy. I'm like the 80's hair metal of solo acoustic folk people. Anyway, this guitar has a Carpathian Spruce top, Brazilian Rosewood back, sides, and headstock overlay, hand selected ebony for the fretboard and bridge, hand-carved Adi Spruce bracing with hot hide glue. It's damn near uncomfortably light, the whole damn thing vibrates with every strum or pluck, and it's worth the hefty price of admission. The only thing I wish was different was the scale length. I'm an "under 25 inch" guy, and this sits around 25.4" so it's long for my usual playing style. That said, it's the best guitar I've ever played, and until I eventually round out my collection with a Bourgeois and a Collings (within the next 5 years maybe?) this is as good as it gets for me. RATING: 10/10 - COST: A Lot

Update on this guitar: I did end up returning it and trading up to a short scale

Bourgeois. Santa Cruz obviously makes some of the best guitars on the planet,

but the playability on this guitar didn't inspire me. I'm not a bluegrass flatpicker.

I want jangly, growly tone, and this was too pure, clean, and pretty sounding for

me. Whoever ends up with this guitar is a lucky person..

Recording King Guitars

  • Tonewood Reserve Series 000 - I've been obsessed with Recording King guitars for the last few years. I watched "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" and saw that beautiful Single 0 30's style guitar in the movie, and just found it to be so charming. Then, upon further research I learned all of the history of the brand, being a subsidiary of Gibson many years ago, and then going away entirely until it was revived in 2007. Because of my formerly held belief that Chinese guitars aren't worth my time, I admired Recording King instruments, but never purchased one. Then, thanks to the insanely high quality of Eastman Guitars, I finally made the decision to venture out into giving my fair attention to instruments made in China. While it hasn't always worked out (the Chinese made Alvarez from up above was just a bad instrument, and that Ibanez from up above was an abomination of a guitar), it sometimes has (the Chinese made Breedlove guitars are extremely solid and playable, and Eastman guitars are some of the best guitars being made on the planet).

  • I am so glad that I purchased this instrument. It has become my "sitting on the couch" guitar of choice. Short 000 scale (24.9"), solid Adirondack Spruce top, with solid rosewood back and sides. Solid woods is where I do draw my line. Don't tell me about how good your laminating process it. Just use solid tonewoods across the board. Cut corners elsewhere and give players at all price points the ability to play guitars that sound how guitars are supposed to sound. Martin literally sells guitars for $1,000+ that have laminated back and sides, and it's insulting. But, I digress. The guitar is immediately playable, right out of the box. The weird-ass deep V neck takes some getting used to, but once you are used to it, it's about as fun to play as a guitar gets. It allows for a lot more strategic pressure to be placed when fingerpicking or strumming, and I'm surprised there aren't more guitars trying to replicate this neck. I find my thumb missing the angles when I'm playing on my other guitars now. Let's get the "Deep V Revolution" going, other guitar companies. We've got a solid mahogany neck, and a lovely rosewood fretboard and bridge (I am an ebony man, but honestly this plays very long as it's not cheap knockoff rosewood like "Laurel" or "Pau Ferro" a rosewood fretboard can be damn near as good as ebony).

  • I have three criticisms of this instrument: The big one is that the gloss is too thick. It dampens the sound a lot. These have aged Adi tops, so the sound is amplified thanks to those, but I think that Recording King needs to look into their gloss finishing process and figure out how to let the instrument breathe a little better. The neck is also gloss finished, which as a Gibson fan I don't mind at all. I know for many folks the gloss finish on the neck is a dealbreaker. I will say that it makes the guitar feel almost like a "toy" because there's just so much gloss on top of everything. Its a shame, as this would be a 10/10 guitar for me if the finish was better. All of this being said, the sound is still lovely and the sustain is there. It's just not as thick as it should be with this tonewood pairing. Charge $100 more and put that extra money towards buffing the guitars after the finishing process. There, I solved the problem. My next gripe is that the guitar doesn't come with a case of any kind. Most of Recording King's guitars are between the $200-$400 price point, and for those very entry level guitars I wouldn't expect a case. These are now the 2nd most expensive guitars in their lineup (next to the Tonewood Reserve Elite models) and they should come with at least a soft case. OR continue not offering a case and spend more on the finish. The choice is yours, Recording King. My last complaint is just that the tuners are pretty low-end. I asked RK what they use, and they said they are "unbranded open gear tuners," which...well, yeah. They do hold tune and they are not terrible quality, but again when this is your "near top of the line' instrument, just throw some Gotoh's on there. Hell, even throw some Ping tuners on there. Don't give me "unbranded." I also realize every other guitar I own has Gotoh or Waverly tuners, so I'm being a bit entitled here. Even with these criticisms, this is one of the best values in the guitar world, and while I think this isn't QUITE a professional level instrument, I would say that it's about as good as a guitar can get for an intermediate level guitar. I've played guitars at twice its price point, that are far, far worse and less fun to play. If you are looking for a true 000 guitar that will be a joy to play on your couch, you can't go wrong here. RATING: 8/10 - COST: $799

Bourgeois Guitars

  • DB Signature Small Jumbo - Well, as I said above, I loved my Santa Cruz OM, but it didn't quite speak to me the way I hoped it would. And that's okay. Even the best quality guitars on the planet aren't for everyone. After a couple of months with it, I was ready to try something else. I will always miss that neck. One of the absolute best necks I've ever experienced. Anyway, I needed a shorter scale and a little more "growl" to my tone, so I decided to try the Bourgeois DB Signature SJ, which was the guitar I was originally going to pick up prior to that Santa Cruz. Should have trusted the ol' gut on that one.

  • First and foremost, the DB signature line of Bourgeois guitars features the most gorgeous guitars on the planet. Adirondack top, stunning, ultra-figured Madagascar Rosewood back and sides, figured Koa body binding, Ziricote headstock, Ebony fretboard and bridge, glossed and buffed Honduran Mahogany neck, gold Waverly tuners with the Snakewood buttons. My goodness, y'all. This is a guitar for people who obsess over wood pairings. It just basically gives you all of the good ones in one guitar. Add in the short scale and this guitar is just everything I've ever dreamed of. It's basically the size of an OM, but with a slightly wider lower bout and a very slightly deeper body. As a guy with a belly I am not trying to have 6" deep guitars, but this one is around 4.5" and is still fits very nicely against my body. The depth and roundness of the guitar allow for an insane amount of bass and overtone resonance. It's just everything I could ask for out of a guitar. This is the body type that Taylor is trying to copy with their GT series, but these actually produce a full sound, as opposed to the GT's and their weird round, yet overly treble-focused bark.

  • The short scale allows for ease of play, but also allows for the jangly growl that I just love in a guitar. My Eastman E40OM and Alvarez FYM66HD both have it, and it's part of the reason why those guitars will remain in my collection, along with this guitar, forever. Martin does the growly jangle well, as does Gibson (both use predominantly shorter scales), but Martin lacks the true craftsman soul now that they are so huge, and Gibson does not know what Quality Control is. Thankfully, Bourgeois knows how to do it all, while also creating instruments that beg to be played, and inspire like no other.

  • This guitar is everything I could have ever hoped for in a high end boutique instrument. It's unique, it has its own personality, and it invites me to pick it up and write songs. RATING: 10/10 - COST: A Lot, A Lot

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