The finer things in life don’t always have to come with a price tag to match. Alun Lower find out that class can come cheap…
It’s a fun little guessing game we guitar reviewers like to have when a new box arrives. We all love to speculate and see how close our analytical eyes can be when it comes to estimating the value and specifications of a shiny new guitar. More often than not, I’d say I get it mostly right. A little inaccuracy here or there is to be expected, but rarely have I been so wildly off the mark as with the R65 CW. In this instance my first guess would probably have been around double the figure that was eventually revealed. The simple fact is that this is a gorgeous-looking guitar, making me all the more excited to find out whether the playability and tone can impress on an equal level. As for Kremona itself – likely it’s a name you won’t have come across before. Nevertheless the brand is built on provenance and history, founded in 1924 by one Dimitar Georgiev and his two brothers, not long after completing an apprenticeship under the tutelage of the ‘Markneukirchen masters’. Take into consideration that our beloved C. F. Martin originated from this same region and you start to get an idea of the pedigree that comes along with such a claim.
On a purely cosmetic level, it has to be said that Kremona has set the R65 CW some rather lofty standards. A solid spruce top is pretty much a given but the laminated walnut back and sides make for a visually arresting change from the swathes of flat, uninspiring mahogany substitutes we see on so many guitars these days. At a casual glance you might actually be forgiven for thinking it was solid walnut, such is the quality of the workmanship. Indeed, the quality of the gloss polyurethane finish is also extremely high considering the price point, leaving very little build up around the neck joint and managing not to feel tacky and cheap to the touch. The solid African mahogany neck, too, appears to be of a good standard with a tight, even grain and lovely golden hue. Topped with a rosewood fingerboard and 19 really rather well-finished frets, it’s a lovely package that sets a solid foundation for a quality budget instrument.
Kremona also deserve praise for managing to avoid the temptation that seems to befall other budget guitars by not letting a single strip of abalone (or cheap equivalent) anywhere near the R65. The binding, purfling and rosette have instead taken a much more attractive and contemporary wooden look that is really quite refreshing to behold. There’s even a walnut laminate over the face of the headstock, which also remains free of any branding whatsoever.
Back on the more practical side of the guitar’s construction there is also the bone nut and saddle to consider (nestled safely in a rosewood bridge), along with a set of reliable and sturdy Gebr. Van Gent gold-plated machineheads. For extra versatility there is also a Fishman Classic 3 preamp with Sonicore pickup. As you might expect on a guitar in this price bracket the system is fairly simple, but for your money you still get an easy to read chromatic tuner, three-band EQ, volume, and phase switch.
The whole package comes across as very smartly designed and thoughtfully put together; a small miracle for unfamiliar brands in this kind of price range. Indeed, the only thin I can really think of as “missing” is the lack of a strap button on the neck, but given most classical players’ tendency to play sitting down, this is a minor gripe at best. In this reviewer’s opinion there isn’t an awful lot more that you could ask from a budget instrument, and so all that remains is to see if the guitar’s tone can match it’s impressive looks.
Light, comfortable and well balanced, the RC65 is a natural fit when first held in a playing position and the sound that comes out of it matches that feeling in many ways. There’s a certain airyness to the tone that is very pleasing to the ears, remaining clear and balanced on one’s early, tentative strums. The lower strings in particular sound very well spaced, sounding independent from one another and defined in their attack but quite happily blending in as one when required. “Articulate” is the word that most readily springs to mind and that’s a very good thing!
Thumbing a few lead lines over the nylon strings is a good test of a guitar’s natural harmonics, and for such a reasonably priced instrument the RC65 delivers admirably. There’s a natural reverb that flows soothingly from the body, resonating gently with your ribs and decaying very nicely without muddying up the overall tone. Naturally, the laminated nature of the guitar means you’re not going to get anywhere near the complexity of tone of a higher-end model, but the one benefit is that projection is really rather good. The smoothness of the frets aids playability admirably and ensures that every nuance of your playing is translated. Every variation in attack is distinct and vibrato sings out very nicely across the strings, just as you’d want it to. Intonation is also impeccable up and down the neck, and while I did have a bit of an issue with tuning stability, I’m happy to put that down to the freshness of the strings over any potential issues with the build.
Plug into an amplifier and much of the RC65’s pleasing tone is carried across to the live stage. Inevitably, the sound is a little standard in the way that most budget guitars are, but really this can’t be seen as too much of a complaint. Electronics are always something that can be improved, after all. The fact of the matter is though that the Fishman does a perfectly acceptable job that will be more than enough for any beginner or intermediate players coasting around the £400 mark when it comes to budget.
For a brand that I have never come across before in the past, Kremona has made an exceptional first impression here; so much so that I now find myself wishing that their catalogue catered towards steel-string enthusiasts, too. There’s a keen eye for design at work here that knows what makes a sophisticated, modern instrument that doesn’t skimp out on the traditional values that make nylon-strung guitars such a joy to play. The RC65 CW in my opinion offers exceptional value for money and should be investigated further by all but the most picky of classical enthusiasts. The only real downside is the somewhat ordinary plugged-in tones on offer, and if I were to suggest an alternative for those that require a little but more in this department; Yamaha, in particular, has enjoyed deserved praise with their NCX/NTX series instruments. Regardless, Kremona are certainly a very welcome new arrival to the UK guitar scene and one you should expect to hear more of in the very near future.
National Resophonic Style 1 Tricone
Model: RC65 CW
Retail Price: £369.99
Body Size: Classical
Made In: Bulgaria
Top: Solid spruce
Back and Sides: Laminated walnut
Neck: African mahogany
Tuners: Gold-plate machines, amber buttons
Neck width at nut: 52mm
Scale Length: 65cm
Electronics: Fishman Classic 3
Strings Fitted: High quality USA
Left Handers: Yes
Gig Bag/Case Included: Padded case
ACOUSTIC TEST RESULTS
Pros: Great value instrument with a handsome appearance and solid top
Cons: The Kremona offers a basic plugged in tone
Overall: A new brand that is going to shape things up electro-classical-wis