David Mead considers an entry level classical guitar from Ashbury Guitars…
We last heard from Ashbury a couple of issues ago when I looked at instruments from their bouzouki and mandolin ranges. This time we return closer to home by examining one of their classical guitars which is aimed at the entry level/beginner market. The AGC-30 sits in the middle of the three different models on offer, the AGC-32 being a three quarter size classical and the top of range AGC-40 is an electro cutaway.
It’s actually refreshing to take a day off from caressing the guitar world’s most treasured exotica, in the form of instruments with four figure price tags, and recall that we all had to start somewhere – and for many of us it was with a guitar like this one. I would say that most parents, at one time or other, are faced with the dilemma of their offspring taking an interest in playing a musical instrument and wondering if it’s going to be just another passing phase or an ongoing commitment. That’s where the entry level guitar market comes in and saves the day with well built but inexpensive instruments that allow access to the big wide world of music without costing a fortune in the process. The AGC-30 retails at a very respectable £109 and so it’s obvious that corners have been cut in manufacture in order to bring it in on budget. The key question is whether it plays well or not.
The label on the box that this guitar arrived in bore a sticker saying “Plywood Classic” and so needless to say the spruce top is a laminate. In fact, spruce might strike you as an odd choice of wood for a classical guitar’s top as traditionally they tend to be cedar. But as the spruce in this instance is only wafer thin, it’s not so much a sonic issue as a purely decorative one. As such, it’s a fine looking piece of laminate that does the job admirably. The rosette is a decal, too, as opposed to an inlay which is another way to curb costs at the point of construction.
The AGC-30’s back and sides are mahogany – again, not solid wood – and feature a broad grain pattern with no back strip and are finished with a satin lacquer. Bindings around the top and back of the body are black with around 1mm of white and round off everything this end of the business nicely.
The neck is mahogany with a two-piece heel and there’s a very narrow gap where it’s possible to see the join around the mid section. On an instrument at this price level, it’s not much of an issue as it’s not going to affect either tone or playability. But it’s easily avoided, I would have thought, all the same. Moving up the neck, everything else is in order. The profile here is a wide D, as is common with classical necks, the nut being considerably wider than that on a steel-string acoustic.
Tuners are the traditional open geared three-a-side variety with cream coloured plastic buttons and an engraved nickel panel. Moving on to the fretboard, it’s rosewood all the way with 19 nicely polished frets and only the merest hint of rough ends that really aren’t an issue as it’s nigh on impossible to feel them when playing the guitar. The action is set fairly high if you’re used to looking at steel string instruments, but this is a common factor with nylon strings. Being more flexible than steel, more clearance is needed above the fretboard, hence the higher action. This is offset by the fact that the string tension is much lower than that found on steel string acoustics – around 90lb as opposed to an average of 160lb – and so while the eye might consider the action to be high, the fingers don’t.
A rosewood bridge rounds off the AGC-30’s exterior furnishings, with the strings neatly tied around the bridge block at the rear.
As I have said, in order to produce instruments in this price range corners have to be cut, but it’s important that any new scholar on the instrument is at least rewarded by a good sound, so let’s see how the Ashbury fares in that department.
I will admit that I wasn’t expecting too much from the Ashbury when I tuned it up ready for playing. But what a surprise; it actually has a very sweet sound with a fine set of dynamics, too. The trebles are very nice and respond well to both free and rest strokes. Basses, meanwhile, are crisp with a good amount of depth, presence and sustain.
One of the crucial elements of nylon string guitars is how in tune they are at the 12th fret octave as this obviously affects the tuning overall. So I tested the AGC with an electronic tuner and all six strings were fine, falling well within acceptable limits.
My classical guitar repertoire isn’t huge – although once upon a time I could dash off a perfectly respectable ‘Cavatina’ at the drop of a hat – but what I remember from my youth sounded really very good on the Ashbury, to the extent that I was actually enjoying myself paying memory lane a quick visit!
Seeing as we’re dealing with the entry level field here, it’s important to remember that the main criteria – where any judgment on my part is concerned – have to centre around the sound and playability of the instrument rather than the luxury of its fixtures and fittings. As a teacher I have seen students fighting with their instruments in order to get anything resembling a good sound from them and this shouldn’t be the case. The early days of playing rely on a reward system and the instrument itself shouldn’t stand in the way. In this way, the Ashbury scores highly. It’s an unfussy guitar with a really very nice sound that would enhance any early learner’s progress towards those all important first goals.
Pros: Good sounds from an entry level guitar
Cons: Gap in the heel shouldn’t really be there
Overall: Good basic beginner’s instrument where the emphasis is on sound and playability
Sound quality: 4 stars
Build quality: 3.5 stars
Value for money: 4 stars
Retail Price: £109
Body Size: Full size classical
Made In: Vietnam
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Tuners: Open nickel, classic style
Nut Width: 53mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario
Gig Bag/Case Included: No