Tag Archives: Takamine

A Life in Guitars, part 1 – Acoustics

Here we go. The most self-indulgent series of I’ve ever written. Feel free to skip, unless you happen to be a connossieur of non-vintage, non-collectable guitars.

Over the course of more than 20 years of playing music, I’ve acquired a decent amount of gear, but it’s all workhorse-level stuff. Good quality, but modest in price. Nothing high end, nothing vintage.

For years, this was due to a lack of budget. I tried to make a living as a freelancer in my twenties, but with little financial reward. Later, it became more of a philosophical choice – two different less expensive guitars would give me more tonal options than one more expensive guitar, as long as those cheaper guitars sounded good in themselves and played well. None of which is to say I wouldn’t lay down big(gish) money for an instrument if one came along that I fell in love with, but it’s not something I’ve done up to now, and I think it would take something quite special to make it happen. A vintage Martin or Gibson acoustic – something like that.

I’ve written about my main acoustic before. A 1999 Takamine EN10, it’s been a constant companion for more than two decades, and is the instrument I’m referring to if I say “my guitar”. It’s the one I’d rush back into a burning building for, if Mel and our cat CJ were already safe. Cedar top, mahogany back and sides, rosewood fingerboard and that distinctive 1990s Takamine soundhole rosette that always looked smart and no-nonsense to me when I saw them on stage or in adverts, years before I got one. It’s nicely played in (it long ago “let go”, and acquired a woodier, mellower depth than it had when new), and is set up to accomodate heavy, low-tuned strings (I tune CGDEAD). I’ve written 99% of the songs I’ve ever written on it, and the idea of making music without it is close to inconceivable.

Takamine EN10 on stage at the Oasthouse Theatre, Rainham, Kent. October 2019

Its partner in acoustical crime is my 2001 Seagull S12+, bought from Rose Morris in Denmark Street in 2001, with some of the proceeds of a summer spent doing manual labour in the maintenance department at Westminster Cathedral. Unlike my EN10, this model has not not been discontinued and you can still buy something very similar today. It’s £150 more today than I paid twenty years ago, but still, it’s a damn fine guitar at the price. Mine’s got a lot of wear on it – for years it was my main live acoustic guitar in two separate bands – but it still sounds great, and it’s not all that hard to play for an acoustic 12. The string spacing is wide enough to accommodate fingerpicking, but the neck is not so wide that getting your hand around it is an insurmountable challenge. I tune it DGCFAD to avoid breaking too many high Gs.

Seagull 12-string. With James McKean, Dan McKean and Matt Lloyd (hidden) at the much-missed Gladstone Arms

A final flat-top spends most of its time in a cupboard. It’s a Jasmine TS70S from the late 1990s. Jasmines were – and I believe still are – beginners’ guitars made by Takamine. This one’s a dreadnought, laminate top, back and sides but not bad-sounding for all that. I often use it for Nashville-tuned parts, or occasionally for a contrasting tone in a mix that contains several tracks of acoustic. It has a somewhat honky, nasal type of tone that cuts through when paired with more mellow, woodier acoustic tones. It’s not much to look at, but it’s a useful instrument to have around, and it finds its way on to a surprising number of recordings. I also use it live sometimes if I’m playing a gig that, for whatever reason, I don’t want to take my Takamine to.

Jasmine dreadnought, pictured at the foot of the bed. The rug is grey, but looks rather blue here, oddly.

Next time, electrics.

Happy birthday, old friend

Apologies. Still can’t confront what happened last week. Still, this piece is a lot less whimsical than it may seem.

Twenty years ago today, on a cold Saturday just before Christmas, I took the train up London with a schoolfriend. We got off at Limehouse, changed to the DLR, got off at Shadwell, changed for the East London Line, as it was then called, and got off at Wapping.

I’d never been to Wapping before, and its cobbled streets and warehouses delighted me. This was London like I’d never seen it. So was Shadwell, come to that, and little did I know that less than three years later I’d be living there.

We were heading for the Acoustic Centre. I’d been left some money by my granddad, who’d died earlier in the year, and I’d decided to use it on something that I could keep, something that would be worth spending money on. After all, £500 was more money than I’d ever had in my life up to that point, and I wanted to use it wisely.

I had an idea that I might go for a Takamine. I’d heard of them, seen them being played by musicians in bands on TV, and I’d seen them advertised in music magazines. I knew Takamine made very high-end stuff, but also guitars that were more affordable. They seemed a good place to start.

When I got there, I said my budget was £400-ish (maybe I felt a bit sheepish about spending all that money on a guitar when I was still a comparative novice) but the guy in the shop didn’t have anything at that kind of price point. He did, though, have an EN10 priced a fair bit higher that he said he could probably let go for £500 at a push. At that point, the EN10 and EN10C (the same thing, but the latter had a cutaway) was a popular model that you’d actually see pro and semi-pro musicians using, so as a 17-year-old I could hardly have been more impressed by it. It looked great – matt finish, simple decoration around the soundhole, red cedar top, mahogany back and side – and it sounded great too. I loved it.

Long story short, I still play that EN10. It’s what I’m talking about if I refer to “my guitar”. It’s the one I’d rush back into a burning building for, assuming Mel and our cat CJ were already safe. 90% of all the songs I’ve ever written were written on this instrument. It fits my hands, it sounds like me. More than that, it’s a part of me.

In the years since I bought it, I’ve sometimes thought about potentially getting a vintage Martin or Gibson, but I never have. I can’t really imagine ever playing another acoustic guitar. It wouldn’t feel the same, it wouldn’t sound the same. Yeah, good tone is 90% in the hands of the player, but what about that last 10%? I’ve put in twenty years on this guitar, and it’s aged and matured with me, mellowing and letting go, to the point where its sound is fundamentally and inextricably part of my sound. If I were to buy a vintage guitar, someone else would have done that work, and it could never be mine in quite the same way.

This probably sounds ridiculously sentimental to anyone who’s not a musician, but to me a good guitar is so much more than an assemblage of wood and metal. There’s a part of me in it. It’s not a tool, it’s a partner.

I’ve got other guitars I’ve had a long time (Seagull S12+, purchased in 2001; Fender USA Stratocaster, bought in 2007), but there’s something about your first. Happy birthday, old friend.

003aMe and my guitar, always in the same mood, as James Taylor put it. On stage at the Harrison in London, a couple of years ago.