The 2013 Holiday Gear Guide

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

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Dean Markley UltraSound Acoustic CP-100 Amplifier
(Street $599)

Dean Markley has been known for its strings for decades, but the company also offers guitars, pickups and more. One of the company’s high-quality products that is made for the musical times we live in is the UltraSound CP-100 acoustic guitar amplifier.

The CP-100 is a two-channel, 100 watts RMS amp with a good sound that kicks bigtime. It has an 8” heavy-duty Eminence speaker and super-tweeter that brings out the best in an acoustic guitar, with two-band EQ on each channel and 16 footswitchable effects (reverbs, delays, choruses and more) that can also be changed by hand instead of with a pedal when choosing a particular effect, like reverb, for an entire song or the whole night.

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This unit, which easily weighs 30 pounds or more, is aptly nicknamed the “Little Brute,” and can get a lot louder than one might imagine given its relatively small size. At the same time, it communicates the true sound of an acoustic guitar even at high volume. Both channels have combination ¼”/XLR inputs so they can be used for either guitar or microphone (or another instrument), bass and treble tone controls for each channel, and a notch filter on channel two to help control feedback. The amp has a line out for connection to a PA, an effects send/return, an aux input for a drum machine or CD player, and many other features.

For the singer-songwriter or acoustic guitarist looking for an amp that’s at home in a room of any size, and can handle the rigors of the road, Markley’s UltraSound CP-100 is a good bet. – R.M.

The Loar LH-309 Archtop Acoustic/Electric Guitar
(Street $650)

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Archtop guitars reflect a guitar style of the 1930s (think Charlie Christian) before solidbody guitars and humbuckers came along, but they started making a comeback about 20 years ago just because they’re cool. Manufactured by The Music Link of San Francisco, The Loar LH-309 archtop acoustic/electric is a nice axe that holds its own as an acoustic, sounds even better when plugged in, and is affordable.

The name of The Loar is most closely identified with Gibson master luthier Lloyd Loar, who was famous nearly a century ago for his F5 mandolin and other instruments. Some purists object to a guitar that really has no association with Loar being on the market just because someone is legally able to use his last name. But most people aren’t going to know or care, and will be more concerned with the value and quality of this axe. In this case, the street price of around $650 is a respectable deal.

The Loar LH-309 has a spruce top, maple back and sides and a mahogany neck, with a rosewood fretboard and open-geared butterbean tuners. The guitar I played produced a nicely balanced sound for lead, rhythm and fingerpicking both acoustically and when plugged in, with one single-coil P-90 pickup in the front position that nicely turned out to be fatter than I expected. The thicker V-profile of the neck of this guitar can take a little getting used to depending on what you normally play, but once you get warmed up you won’t want to put it down. A really fun guitar that, admittedly, has some limitations, but one that was created for specific applications and is perfect for them. – R.M.

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Takamine P4DC Dreadnought Cutaway Acoustic-Electric Guitar
(Street $1,369)

Takamine has been in business for over half a century now, becoming a favorite of major stars as popular culture has changed and the guitar manufacturing industry has changed with it. And ever since the company unveiled its first acoustic-electric in the late 1970s and began to hit the major stages of the world, guitars built in Asian and Asia-Pacific nations have increasingly gained respect, as the once-maligned “Made in Japan” label has become more closely identified with quality than quantity.

In keeping with that quality theme, Takamine’s P4DC is yet another good workingman’s guitar from a company whose axes are wielded by hard-driving performers like Toby Keith and Garth Brooks. This dreadnought cutaway is loud and rings forever, the way a good dreadnought, old or new, should. It has great balance and an especially sweet bottom end.

This guitar isn’t made with some of the typical standard guitar woods; the neck is African mahogany, and the back and sides are sapele, also an African wood. The top is the old standby, spruce, and the fingerboard is rosewood. The onboard electronics system is the Takamine CT4B II Preamp System with Takamine’s proprietary Palathetic pickup technology, with three-band EQ and a built-in tuner, something that’s becoming increasingly common these days and may well cause the death of some tuner companies soon. It has something else I really like, a pinless bridge made of rosewood with a split bone saddle. The nut is also bone, and the strap buttons are gold.

Appearance-wise the guitar is classy with the pinless bridge and the understated tiny circular fret inlays. Overall the Takamine PD4C is a very playable guitar, but a big one, something that needs to be considered by a smaller person in terms of the stamina required to play a dread well for any length of time. – R.M.

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