LAG’s Tramontane auditorium acoustic has been on a diet, but is the tone slimline too? Acoustic finds out…
Words by Sam Wise Image by Richard Ecclestone
LAG has been designing and making guitars in France since 1978. Like most manufacturers, while they design their instruments in France, the less expensive models are manufactured in the Far East, in this case China.
The T100ASCE is a slimline auditorium body shape, clearly designed to be played plugged in most of the time, since when using the piezo, the tone, always heavily dependent on the top, has even less influence from the chamber of the body – or the back and sides. Slimming down the guitar this way theoretically cuts down on the likelihood of feedback, but at the cost of acoustic tone and volume.
The top here is red cedar, a relatively unusual choice compared to the various types of spruce, known for its warm, rich tone. All the Tramontane models have an elegant soundhole rosette, a sweeping asymmetric mahogany shape which flatters the guitar a lot, especially set against the richness of the cedar. Top, back and sides are bound in mahogany and maple, and classy it looks too, setting off the sapele veneered laminate back and sides in a luxurious fashion. The neck is of Khaya, a tropical mahogany derivative, and is topped with a rosewood fingerboard which seems to have a very flat radius indeed. In fact, the neck has a real electric guitar feel, with its slim C section, and broad heel. There are 20 chunky frets with no position markers. At the top, a graphite nut signals the start of the LAG trademark headstock, which has a nice carve to it, and wears a set of proprietary closed back tuners, black to match the deep darkness of the rest of the neck. The bridge, once again a LAG signature design, has a compensate graphite saddle, which we rarely see on other acoustics.
Electronics-wise, the undersaddle pickup is paired with a Shadow-produced head unit that LAG call the StudioLAG Plus. This has a tuner, tone and volume controls, and an unusual EQ preset control. It has five settings, all of them analogue EQ rather than any kind of digital modelling. A 32-band studio EQ has been used to create an output boost, a mid cut, a jazz tone with the treble rolled off, and more. Setting 0 is the guitar’s natural tone with no effect from this control, and then there is a separate bypass button which removes all the controls on the head unit from the signal path.
Overall, the T100ASCE has quite a unique look; you could consider some aspects of the appearance quite electric guitar like, and certainly the Tramontane series all stand out from other identikit acoustics. For us, it’s a successful look; it feels professional, and luxurious without going overboard with bling. The guitar is also impeccably put together, with the binding, in particular, beautifully executed; the T100ASCE will make you feel like the owner of something a bit special.
Picking this up, we were expecting the unplugged sound to be thin and underpowered, but the tone was, in fact, a pleasant surprise. The cedar top may be a contributor here; the trademark warm, soft-edged trebles are evident with a rich midrange – and while the bass doesn’t have the depth you might expect from a deeper bodied guitar, the impact is minimal. In fact, the T100ASCE probably has a fuller bass than some full depth guitars you can find in this price range; just don’t expect it to sound like a deep-bodied McPherson. The tone works really well for fingerstyle, the warmth of the mids making pretty stuff very pleasant, and with a little more sparkle on the top end than you might be expecting from this topwood. Dig in, and there’s plenty of headroom despite the shallow body; cedar has a reputation for sometimes muddying up when driven hard, but there’s no evidence of that here. In fact, the acoustic tone absolutely defeated our expectations; we were assuming that something clearly designed as a stage and studio weapon would be severely compromised when unplugged, but we wouldn’t hesitate to pick this guitar up at the kitchen table, a jam session or anywhere else – it won’t embarrass you, looks- and performance-wise.
Plugged in, it’s clear the guitar is in its element; the slim body is impressively resistant to feedback, and the EQ presets allow you to quickly and easily dial in a tone you like. They’re not needed though; the guitar’s tone is echoed pretty effectively, with just a little extra piezo punch, but even that feels in keeping with the guitar’s styling. All in all, it’s an even more impressive package plugged in than when it is unplugged.
This is a lot of guitar for the money in many ways. It’s a handsome and unique looker (not unique among the Tramontane range, but certainly well differentiated from the crowd), it’s predictably impressive plugged in, and surprisingly good unplugged. It’s probably a guitar that suits those who like the mellower sound of cedar, but it’s a far better all-round package than you will be expecting when you see the slim body. So, if you want a great guitar that has all the plugged in benefits of this body type, while avoiding almost all the compromises, give the T100ASCE a try – it’s likely to surprise you.
Need To Know
Model: Tramontane T100ASCE
Retail Price: £339
Body Size: Slimline auditorium
Made In: China
Top: Solid western red cedar
Back and Sides: African sapele
Neck: Tropical khaya
Fingerboard: Indian rosewood
Nut Width: 43mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Onboard Electronics: StudioLag Plus
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP
Gig Bag/Case Included: No
Acoustic test results
Pros: Unique luxurious looks, great plugged-in tone
Cons: There’s a tiny compromise to the unplugged tone, but we’re splitting hairs here.
Overall: A great stage and studio guitar which doesn’t disgrace itself at the kitchen table either.
Sound Quality: 4
Build Quality: 4
Value for Money: 4.5
(Distributed by Marshall Amplification)