An unusual European union of tonewoods feature in this custom guitar from Lakewood… David Mead keeps an open mind
At the Frankfurt music show this year, Lakewood announced that it was now possible to have a guitar built by their custom facility employing only European woods. In order to bring this about a few traditions had to be rethought – fretboards, for instance, are normally either rosewood or ebony and furthermore the neck and tail blocks are generally mahogany and bridge plates are made once again from rosewood. But not here; the M-38 Custom we’re looking at features some new players on the guitar timber scene…
Basically, the Lakewood M-38 Custom is a Grand Concert guitar – but that’s just about where formality ends and new thinking takes over! However, first things first, I’m going to wield my measuring device once again in order to gain a little perspective on the exact dimensions of this rather attractive little guitar that I have sitting in front of me. The upper bout is approx 280mm with a lower bout of 390mm, slimming down to a waist of 230mm and a depth of 91mm at the neck and 117mm at the tail pin.
As for the looks of the instrument, it reminds me of the Catherwood we looked at last year – and that, of course, was an instrument that used woods that were indigenous to Ireland and so there is a similar theme at play here. The guitar industry as a whole is trying to wean itself off the timbers on the endangered list and so we can expect to see more guitars made from wood with unfamiliar names in the future. Different companies have their own solutions; C.F. Martin & Co., for example, is looking at synthetic materials, but more I suspect will follow the Catherwood/Lakewood model and experiment with more readily available, non-controversial local woods.
So, the top wood on the M-38 is spruce – AAA grade European spruce, to be precise and so we’re still on the right side of the familiar here at least! This particular example is a very fine looking piece of wood, with a nice grain texture and a creamy white appearance that acts well with the honey coloured back and sides. Talking of which, these are both cherry with a grain pattern that I can best describe as being a bit like bleached Indian rosewood. Hopefully our pictures will allow you to see what I mean; it’s plain but not unattractive and I’m told that cherry has similar sonic capabilities to maple, which should be interesting to hear a bit later on.
The body bindings are yew which here is slightly darker than the cherry and offers a nice contrast to both the back, sides and top woods.
On to the neck now and it’s a two-piece flamed maple affair with a heel cap of plum – yes, plum; and we’ll be returning to that in a moment, but for now the flame in the maple is particularly attractive. Maple is not an uncommon choice of wood for necks – Fender has been using it for years – and is known for its hardness and general durability. The neck profile is a widish D which feels on the thin side to the touch, but we’ll see if this is a factor later on.
There are Schaller M6 tuners on the headstock with buttons from plum – don’t worry, I’m coming to it shortly – and the headstock veneer is plum, too… as is the fingerboard. So I’ll admit straight away that plum is a new one on me and a little bit of Googling couldn’t turn up too much information about it as a guitar timber, either. It’s a relatively new player in the field of luthiery – at least, for guitars – but I understand from Lakewood that it is hard wearing and eminently suitable as a playing surface. Of course, its reddish brown colour, where you might be more used to seeing either dark rosewood or black ebony, is very much a subjective issue. How do I feel about it? At this stage, I find it interesting, let’s put it that way; but I look forward to seeing what I think about it when it’s under my fingers shortly. However you look at it, I think Lakewood was wise to forgo the use of fretboard markers as I think leaving it plain is the best choice, aesthetically speaking.
It’s plum once again for the bridge, end pin and string pegs and so if you’ve noticed any theme at all prevailing here, you’d very probably be right. Plum, all the way!
The M-38 is quite light to hold and that D shaped neck profile is a comfortable in the hand. There was something about this guitar that said to me “DADGAD, please” from the start and so I began by retuning it accordingly. I’m always quite excited to hear new combinations of tonewood, playing guessing games as to how it might sound and from the first note any doubts I may have had about the presence of plum here were dispelled. The Lakewood has a very pleasing, light and airy voice – I think that the conventional wisdom about cherry being very similar to maple must be spot on because there is the same distinct sweet openness here, too. The trebles shine and there is quite a dynamic range on hand, as well. If I wanted to hear more of anything it would be bass; what’s here is perfectly adequate, but it doesn’t quite shake, rattle and roll in the way I like it. This might be something that changes a little as the spruce opens up, but only time will tell.
In all respects though, it’s very easy to forget about what woods have been employed here and just enjoy the sound of the guitar. The plum doesn’t feel any different to rosewood to these old fingers and so its presence here is welcome, as far as I’m concerned.
No one would exactly call me an eco-warrior, but I’m as aware as anyone that the current controversy with tropical woods isn’t going to go away and that we’re going to see more experimentation with new and unusual timbers as the years pass. It’s a thing that definitely has to happen and if the results are as good as I find here then I’m confident that the future of acoustic tone is in safe hands. Offering a “full European” option isn’t a gimmick, it’s a statement that has resulted in a good looking, fine sounding guitar!
Model: M-38 Custom
Retail Price: £1,900
Body Size: Grand Concert
Made In: Germany
Top: European spruce
Back and Sides: Cherry
Neck: Flamed maple
Tuners: Schaller M6
Nut Width: 46mm
Scale Length: 653mm
Strings Fitted: .012 – .052
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox Lakewood embossed