Guy Little has the low down on the new Drop Guitar from Czech maker Rozawood.
Luthier Roman Zajíek set up the Rozawood workshop in the Czech Republic after years of fostering an interest in making acoustic instruments. Roman, an engineer by profession, loves music above all. His quest for beauty of acoustic tone led him to building instruments himself; he built his first instrument in 1979. His reputation as a man with deep sensitivity for wood and tone began to spread among high-end instrument lovers with every guitar he created. Rozawood now make acoustic guitars, mandolins, mandocellos and resonator guitars, aiming for high-end quality with only the finest materials.
We’ve seen a few Rozawood instruments in these pages, the last being their take on the mighty dreadnought by C.F. Martin. Build, sound, and value for money have always been exceptional, reaffirming Roman’s reputation as one of the outstanding luthiers in Europe. Rozawood use only the finest selected solid tonewoods and top materials, hand making every instrument without so much as a whiff of CNC. In fact, the use of rare handcut pearl inlays is standard in their workshop, as is the tap-tuning of the tops, and the final quality sign off by Roman. With that in mind, you know you’re getting an instrument of the highest calibre.
Here, we’re looking at what Rozawood is calling their “Drop Guitar”, hailed as the next step in their alternate tuned guitars programme. Back in 2009, Rozawood released the tenor guitar knowing that the demand for those was on the rise; in 2010, they released the bouzouki, and then in 2011 they released their baritone model. I guess the Rozawood Drop Guitar was the next logical step along from the baritone and that’s exactly where this guitar sits, but what differentiates it from the baritone guitar? While the baritone guitar is tuned a perfect fifth below a regular guitar, the Rozawood Drop Guitar is developed for those guitar players who are interested in drop tuning or playing various styles of open tunings. Now, while a regular guitar would hold some drop tunings just fine, some of us want to go lower. Much lower. Try drop C tuning, for size. Standard guitars just weren’t designed for super low tunings; the Rozawood Drop Guitar was.
The Rozawood Drop Guitar has a slightly bigger body than a dreadnought, a longer scale at 666mm, and has Rozawood’s unique double X-brace construction used for the top. A nice feature you see on most (if not all) Rozawood instruments is their wooden convex rosette. The dimensions of the top bracing are very close to those they use for their baritone guitar. The intended result is a full, robust and deep sound that could be used in many styles – starting with the folk fingerstyle players to modern rock bands.
Straight away, the Rozawood Drop Guitar makes a huge impression – and I’m not talking about the size. It’s that’s lovely light sunburst finish paired with a nitro lacquer. It just looks lovely, doesn’t it? Since you asked, the size isn’t all that bad. When I heard they were sending this guitar to review and that it was a step along (or down, see what I did there?) from their baritone guitar, I almost imagined I’d need some sort of Stretch Armstrong ability to get my arms around the thing. Truth be told, it’s not massive at all. It sits comfortably on your lap and doesn’t feel obtrusive at all – just think of it as a chubby dreadnought with a big bum. The body length is 50.8cm, the width measuring in at 41.5cm and the depth is 10 – 12.5cm.
The top of the Rozawood Drop Guitar is an interesting one. It’s master grade Stika spruce, but it looks to me like it has a hint of bearclaw figuring. Bearclaw spruce isn’t a type of spruce, more an irregularity in the growth. I’ve spoken to many luthiers about bearclaw spruce, and Dana Bourgoeis told me that the bearclaw effect is exclusive to old, dense trees. Stiff and old means you can cut it thinly and its response will be quick – it also means expensive. 30 years ago, no builder would have made guitars using a top with bearclaw figuring, yet now it’s an up sell. Go figure, right? Anyway, it sure is pretty. The back and sides are from plumwood, again an interesting one aesthetically. Here it’s pale brown with streaks of orange and red mixed in. Due to the small size of plum trees, swirled or irregular grain, as well as knots, are common in plumwood – and here that makes for a guitar that’ll be sure to turn heads. There’s a Honduran mahogany neck with a hybrid V/C profile to it – comfortable and kind of chunky. It’s perfectly balanced for the duties this guitar is made to undertake and has 20 frets, perfectly finished, on an ebony board with a 666mm scale length. The nut width is 45mm, so a little wider than some may be used to, but it makes for plenty of space for fingerstylists.
The next thing that stands out to me is the thick “tortoloid” binding, setting off against the pale sunburst beautifully. You see tortoloid used on a lot of guitars as pickguards, giving them the old-school sort of vibe. Now where we’d usually see a bone nut and saddle, we’ve got snakewood for both. This is a nice touch and reeks of understated class. I like this a lot. The ebony headplate is another touch that really makes its handmade origin known in the subtlest of ways. I’m not sold on the tuners, purely from a visual point of view. Functional and accurate they are (they’re Scaller tuners, so they’re great), but I think I’d have opted for open back, or something with nice ebony buttons perhaps. Anyway, they just seem a bit “standard” on what really is not a “standard” guitar. I’m not a huge fan of the semi-transparent pickguard, either. It’s thin plastic with a red tint to it showing through some of the spruce underneath. It kind of looks like a vintage pickguard until you squint and realise it is indeed clear. Anyway, what it’s wearing has no bearing on how it sounds – and how it sounds is sublime.
Most of us will play in drop tunings at some point, and then a lot of us will want to go even lower to drop C, drop A, B, among a variety of other open tunings that add a visceral sound to your mix. It’s when we drop tune too far that we start noticing problems, though: the lowest string feeling too floppy, sounding too muddy or boomy, and bad intonation. The reason this happens is because standard guitars aren’t made for super low tunings. Lower notes require longer and thicker strings, while higher notes require shorter and thinner strings (that’s why bass guitars are bigger than standard guitars). It’s important to note that the lowest tuned strings are now getting into a frequency range that really isn’t great when played on a standard guitar (assuming B Standard tuning or lower). The key factor in improving the feel, tone and intonation at these super low tunings is the longer scale length, ergo affecting the string tension. Here, we have an increased scale length which allows for a good feel and tone with perfect intonation. I put the Drop Guitar into an open C variation and the guitar sounded right at home. The string tension is perfect and it came with Martin Lifespan 014-070 as standard. The lowest string isn’t floppy in the slightest and the sound couldn’t be farther from sounding muddy or boomy.
The guitar has a huge sound and is well balanced acoustically – it has shimmering overtones and the harmonics are positively delicious. It projects well, too, and you’ll be waiting a while if you expect that sustain to die out – it just rings, and rings, and…
A simple fingerpicking combo with percussive slaps becomes a somewhat staple when testing this guitar, but drop it into DADGAD intervals (AEADEA), and it sounds delightfully orchestral with a piano-like soundscape and tremendous clarity. The 45mm nut width and spacious bridge spacing mean it’s immediately comfortable for fingerstyle or a hybrid picking and strumming style, which really helps to voice the low strings. It’s a beautifully full-bodied guitar that’ll age like a fine wine, with a terrific lower pitched voice, rich dynamics and plenty of versatility.
This guitar is a triumph of style and substance – it’s pretty, flawlessly constructed and beautifully rich in its voice. If tone and quality is your thing, then Rozawood ought to be on your “must try” list. I imagine a lot of you will be keen to explore the depths of drop tunings and if that’s you, then you can’t get any better than the Drop Guitar. Perfect for singer-songwriters with a penchant for drop tunings à la Ben Howard, fingerstylists wanting to add to their tonal palette, or just anyone looking for a distinctive voice. The low strings mean partial capos would be a lot of fun here, so I can almost picture some CandyRat whizz playing to a lot of awe-struck faces with this guitar.
Model: Drop Guitar
Retail Price: £2,876
Body Size: See copy
Made In: Czech Republic
Top: Sitka spruce master grade
Back and Sides: Plumwood
Neck: Honduran mahogany
Tuners: Schaller die cast
Nut Width: 45mm
Scale Length: 666mm
Onboard Electronics: No
Strings Fitted: Martin Lifespan 014-070
Left Handers: To order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox Pro II
Acoustic test results
Pros: A wonderful sounding guitar with an interesting story and voice to add depth to any player’s tonal palette
Cons: The price may deter some; other than that, nothing.
Overall: It’s a versatile guitar packing a lot of punch and a lot of fun