Packing vintage good looks and the sheer power of a jumbo body, will Nineboys blow the competition out of the water or prove too much to handle? Alun Lower investigates…
Nineboys is a brand that is still very much in the early stages of establishing itself, but already the company has treated us to a wide selection of budget and mid-range acoustics along with the more unusual Wedge (a single-string diddley bow) and even a cigar box guitar. Here we have the J15VS OS, a guitar that offers all the heft of a jumbo body at a decidedly featherweight price, coming in at well under £300 and even throwing in a hard case for good measure. It’s a good start, but if budget guitars have taught me anything it’s that for better or for worse, appearances can be deceiving. So which will it be with this vintage-inspired number?
First impressions count for a lot in guitar circles, and upon freeing the J15 from its hard case it’s clear that I’m dealing with a bit of a mixed bag. Like so many guitars in this price range, the J15 is constructed from a solid spruce top partnered with laminate mahogany back and sides. The spruce itself seems to be of a decent quality as far as I can tell, but a portion of the grain is always going to be masked with a coloured finish. A peek inside the soundhole reveals a fairly tidy job in terms of the actual woodwork, but there is some staining on the laminate back that looks at first to be a damp patch. On closer inspection it simply seems to be a case of some spilled glue or varnish, which is a shame as it spoils an otherwise decent level of construction. It should be noted however that I’ve tested a number of Nineboys guitars in the past and have never come across this inconsistency, so there is a good chance that this is a fairly rare occurrence.
The sunburst finish is a nice vintage touch that has been applied well, but from the pictures you should be able to tell that the hue on the back and sides of the guitar is a completely different shade than the classic orange found on the top. I found myself actually preferring the darker red purely on a personal level, and I can’t help but think the guitar might have looked a bit more interesting had this colour been used for the top as well. Regardless, quality of the finishing generally is good for the price, with the gloss managing not to feel as tacky and sticky as some of its rivals. Good stuff.
The mahogany neck is a nice, comfortable carve that compensates somewhat for the bulky body by being fairly slim and accessible. Chords are comfy in all positions, and lead passages flow well thanks to a full complement of consistently well-polished and fitted frets – a very good thing to see at this price. There’s also a couple of other nice premium touches, from the elegant and minimal cross inlays to the rosewood veneer on the face of the headstock and vintage-styled Grover tuners. The whole aesthetic is very well matched and manages to avoid the tacky, over-egged look of some other budget instruments.
Jumbo guitars aren’t always suitable for beginners. They’re large and bulky which can be tricky for younger players to get comfortable with, and the sound itself can be imposing and muddy. Thankfully, the latter element isn’t a problem for the J15, which boasts an impressively balanced and responsive tone that I found myself enjoying much more than I expected. Of course, it is a jumbo, and as such the basic tone is loud and very full, with plenty of low end oomph complementing the sharp high end and punchy mid-range. While some budget jumbos struggle with this powerful combination, the J15 manages to stay reasonably clear and balanced across the strings for chords and lead work alike.
Probably the single most important factor in this guitar’s tone comes from you, which is why I sometimes suggest for beginners to start with something a little more general-purpose, such as a dreadnought- or orchestra-sized body. But if you’re mindful of how you play, a jumbo can be a very rewarding guitar, and the J15 is a good example of just why that is. Playing fingerstyle with a softer attack produces a lovely warm, rounded tone that sounds almost jazzy if you attack the strings just right. Thumbing away at the lower strings whilst popping, snapping, or brushing the higher strings creates a really nice, dynamic spectrum of tones. Switching over to a pick on the other hand builds on that foundation by adding more highs and a greater mid-range push, bringing about that famous jumbo volume and projection. Inevitably there’s not as much harmonic complexity as you would find with an all-solid instrument, but for under £300 you’d really have to be very nitpicky to be disappointed with the J15’s basic tone.
I came away fairly impressed with the J15 overall. For the price this is a reliable entry-point to the world of jumbos that will reward players who put enough thought into the way they attack the strings and the type of music they want to play. Competition in this price range is fierce, and it’s that factor that makes some of the construction flaws a little frustrating. These flaws are generally only on a cosmetic level however and, crucially, the fretwork is up to scratch with many of the bigger brands. For those that plan to take their guitar outside the home the included hard case will also sweeten the deal considerably. From a visual standpoint too the J15 absolutely nails that rootsy vintage vibe, but the icing on the cake would be adopting the lovely finish on the back and sides on the top of the guitar, as well. All in all this is a fine instrument well worth consideration for beginners and experienced players alike, making up a valuable addition to Nineboys’ ever-growing repertoire.
Build Quality 4
Sound Quality 4
Value for Money 4
Model: J15 VS OS
Retail Price: £279
Made In: Indonesia
Body Size: Jumbo
Top: Solid Spruce
Back and Sides: Laminate mahogany
Tuners: Grover machine heads
Nut Width: 44mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Onboard Electronics: No
Strings Fitted: High quality USA
Gig bag / Case: Hardshell case