James can’t play on broken strings, but hopefully he won’t have to with his brand new signature model from Farida. Alun Lower investigates…
Signature models can be a point of great contention between guitarists. Where some see an ideal opportunity to get a uniquely configured instrument based on the requirements of their heroes, others see a quick cash-and-grab that need only put a barely-legible scribble on the front (or back) of the headstock to justify its existence and bag a few more sales. Farida has taken a more unique approach to the whole concept, working with a variety of UK-based artists to create signature instruments limited to just 25 pieces each, intended to be snapped up by a mere handful of eager fans. Following on from the likes of Frank Turner, Sam Halliday (Two Door Cinema Club) and Matthew Murphy (The Wombats), James Morrison is the latest artist to step up to the plate with a gorgeous, vintage-inspired number evoking the spirit of Robert Johnson and Morrison’s own vintage Gibsons. So is this exclusive club of 25 one you should be clamouring to be a part of, or is this a case of style over substance?
First impressions upon opening up the (included) Farida-branded hardcase are very positive indeed, with that gorgeous vintage sunburst finish immediately drawing the eye. The woods used are the usual suspects of solid spruce for the top combined with solid mahogany back and sides. The woods soak in the ‘burst beautifully and have very pleasing grains. There are, however, a few rough spots to be found across the surface. This would have been expected on a mid-range instrument, but we’re looking at a guitar that’s knocking at the door of a grand.
Moving over to the neck, there’s a bit of transparent build-up around the heel that comes with cheaper satin/matt finishes. The binding is also a little uneven, with slightly wobbly lines. Those gripes aside, the contour of the neck is very comfortable and the quality of the fretwork very high, much more in line with my expectations of a guitar in this price range. The rich, dark rosewood is offset beautifully by a set of Gibson-esque trapezoid inlays; fashioned from abalone, no less. James Morrison also contributed a “peace” headstock logo to proceedings; a nice personal touch that reminds you that you’re dealing with a limited edition, artist-endorsed guitar.
The body is compact but substantial in a very classic way, offering great balance on the lap and a comfortable resting position for your picking hand. A subtle, yet classy abalone rosette completes the look along with a pyramid-style rosewood bridge and tortoiseshell pickguard. The soundhole is also interrupted by the inclusion of a Fishman Rare Earth pickup – a great choice of pickup favoured by Morrison himself and also featuring on many of Farida’s other models, too.
Overall, I really like the R52’s aesthetic. It’s classic Gibson mixed with modern flair and some unique (but not ostentatious) personalisations, and it’s exactly the kind of guitar I could picture myself buying. Although already a good guitar, if those few niggles were sorted out with the finishing, this guitar would be taken up a notch.
A first strum of the R52 yields a classic spruce/mahogany tone that works extremely well with OM-style guitars. Morrison himself is predominantly a fingerpicker and this guitar is clearly aimed to get the very best out of that style of playing. Brushing the strings briskly with your fingernails delivers a bright, articulate attack that is countered and controlled just as you’d hope for, with crisp highs and a punchy mid-range honk that fits into almost any musical environment. A softer approach mellows the guitar out nicely, but it was here that I felt the lower strings lost a little bit of their definition as the crisp high end of those upper strings took centre stage. That’s not uncommon with these kinds of guitars, but worth noting depending on your own particular approach.
Projection and clarity are also very good, but the experience is improved further by the excellent playability, which makes all manner of playing styles very easy to accomplish, and decent fret access giving you enough room to stretch your legs (er, hands). They may be slightly behind some of the major players in this price range, but the way the guitar actually plays is certainly comfortable and rewarding enough.
Seeing as Mr. Morrison tends to sell a gig ticket or two every now and then, it should come as no surprise that the R52 is well-equipped for live use, with the Fishman Rare Earth turning in a particularly fine performance. There’s excellent string-to-string balance and a good amount of the guitar’s acoustic tone is conveyed accurately. The unit does an admirable job of translating your attack and technique, with good dynamics and a particularly nice high end sparkle – ideal considering the orchestra stylings of the guitar itself. Feedback resistance is also very good, remaining calm and controlled under some very high volume levels. We’d be happy to take this guitar out of its case and play it live straight away – put it that way!
The Farida James Morrison R52 is a mix of lovely design ideas, feature combinations and alluring vintage aesthetics, but it is marred a little by some average finishing and execution. There is some extremely compelling competition out there, with the likes of Yamaha’s AC3M, Martin’s Road Series, Taylor’s 200 Series and Breedlove’s Stage Series all offering spectacular value for money and impeccable workmanship, with the Yamaha in particular offering an extremely impressive electronics package. The exclusivity of the James Morrison R52 and the blend of old and new, hankering for a bygone era, is certainly an interesting and exciting prospect.
The R52 is a great guitar that partners classic tone combinations with solid electronics and a gloriously vintage vibe that has been put together with an undeniably talented eye for design. James Morrison fans will undoubtedly love it and the playability of the guitar will be more than good enough for most. But for anyone that cares not for the limited edition nature of the instrument and simply wants a great guitar for just shy of a grand, you should check out some alternatives before parting with your hard-earned – although remember, this is a highly limited, signature artist edition guitar for £900… Alun Lower
Model: James Morrison R52
Retail Price: £899
Body Size: OM
Made In: China
Top: Solid Spruce
Back and Sides: Solid Mahogany
Scale Length: 650mm
Onboard Electronics: Yes
Strings Fitted: High Quality USA
Gig Bag / Case: Hardcase
Pro: Limited edition signature model for under £1,000 is very appealing, plus all-solid woods
Cons: A little bit more attention to detail for some of the finishing would take this guitar up a notch
Overall: Great vintage vibe with this guitar, equipped with great electronics and a lot of appeal
Contact Details: Dawsons Music