With a solid reputation for building fine guitars on a budget, Alun Lower discovers that with the new Takamine G Series, sometimes beauty really is only skin deep…
Offering something genuinely new in the competitive mid-priced sector is no mean feat. Every so often, however, something comes along that makes us sit up and take notice, sometimes even making guitars costing almost twice as much blush with embarrassment. Takamine reckons it has got the formula right with its new G Series acoustics, which start with all manner of different shapes and styles starting at around £149 to £200 all the way up to the more glamorous jumbo model that sits before us here. We all know that the likes of Sigma and Yamaha are making the mid-priced sector extremely competitive at the moment, but Takamine has an illustrious reputation in its own right, and certainly knows a thing or two about producing fine guitars on a budget. Based on pure speculation alone, the GJ72CE should, in theory, be a bit of a no-brainer from the start.
First impressions out of the box are unfortunately more than a little mixed. You can tell straight from the first second that this guitar has been soaked head to toe in a fairly thick gloss lacquer. Seeing a lot of build up at the neck is never a particularly encouraging sign when you’re being asked to fork out over £500. While it’s generally just a cosmetic preference to many, the fact is that the finish on this example feels rather tacky, giving a distinctly average-feeling playing experience right from the start. There is also a bit of confusion with the spec, as both the website and supplied documentation from Takamine suggest this model has a mahogany neck, where hopefully the images will show we’ve clearly got a maple neck instead. Not necessarily a bad thing of course, but still something to note.
Elsewhere on the guitar we’ve got a solid spruce top accompanied by an attractive, albeit laminated, flamed maple back and sides. While laminated construction isn’t exactly uncommon in this price range (indeed, the likes of Taylor, Ibanez and Yamaha use it to no real detriment), it still seems a little bit of a compromise and smacks of aesthetics taking greater priority over tone. We’ll find out a bit later on whether this actually has any impact on the character of the guitar, though. Other details include an abalone rosette, a synthetic bone saddle sat in a rosewood bridge, an abalone “reversed mountain” inlay on the twelfth fret, and a rosewood veneer over the face of the headstock to keep the look in line with the choice of fingerboard material. The frets have been polished and fitted to a decent standard, feeling reasonably smooth and thankfully resulting in very little of that irritating scratching sound when employing a spot of vibrato. A set of gold tuners with pearloid buttons completes the look.
The final feature of note is the onboard Takamine TK-40D preamp and undersaddlepickup, which offers a built-in tuner and three-band EQ along with gain, mid contour, notch filter and even an EQ bypass switch. It’s a pretty impressive looking unit and immediately in my mind becomes one of the more appealing features of the guitar as a whole. Unfortunately, there is one very frustrating drawback in my opinion, and that’s the positioning of the unit itself. Where most preamps are set on the upper bout in an easy to reach position, the TK-40D on this guitar seems to have been positioned very high up, making the display almost impossible to see from a regular playing position. To tune the guitar I found myself craning my head over to the side, which for me quickly turned from a quirk into a genuine annoyance. It’s a small point, perhaps, but just seems to be a bit of a daft design decision that needn’t have been a problem in the first place.
After a decidedly mixed dissection of the GJ72’s construction, I was really looking forward to seeing if the tone of the guitar could make up for my earlier grievances. Frustratingly, though, the guitar puts in a fairly average performance sonically as well. The jumbo sound is there in spades, but even on brand new strings the low-end sounds a touch muddy to my ears, the higher strings somewhat overpowered by the volume of the lower strings. This isn’t a new problem to me and is something I’ve seen on budget-priced jumbos in the past, but at the £500 mark it becomes much harder to justify. Fingerpicking and playing lead passages with a pick alleviates the problem somewhat as you’re in more direct control of the volume of each string and can compensate your attack appropriately, but going for massive strummed chords just isn’t on par with other guitars in this price range.
The GJ72’s saving grace comes in the form of the TK-40D preamp, which puts in a solid performance well suited to live use. The tone shaping options mean that you can prime the guitar for most types of live set-ups, but you might need to play around for a while to find the best settings for your particular arrangement. It’s not a miracle worker though and sadly doesn’t do quite enough to make up for the guitar’s acoustic tone.
All in all, I think it’s clear to see that I’ve struggled a little with the GJ72, having dealt with some impressive features but getting frustrated with the lack of refinement. It’s not a bad guitar overall but sits in a distinctly average middle ground that just doesn’t compete with some of the stellar guitars you can find for £500. Takamine is a name I have a lot of respect for, and certainly there are other guitars in the company’s line-up which outperform this particular example. Elegant, stylish and big on performance – these are the principles I would most associate with the Takamine guitars I have tried in the past. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the GJ72 falls short of those expectations and I would suggest trying this guitar only if you are especially keen on a jumbo with a well-spec’d electronics package, buying predominantly for live use. In this sense the GJ72 does indeed have some compelling features that may well outstrip its flaws. For others though, better alternatives are available. Alun Lower
Retail Price: £515
Body Size: Jumbo
Made In: China
Top: Solid spruce
Back and Sides: Laminated, flamed maple (matching the maple neck)
Neck: Mahogany (although it looks like maple to us)
Tuners: Gold die-cast with pearl buttons
Nut Width: 42.8mm
Scale Length: 25.4”
Onboard Electronics: TK-40D preamps
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag/Case Included: No
Pros: A great onboard electronics package that will suit live players very well indeed
Cons: A lack of attention to detail on some aspects means it falls short of what we’d usually think of a Takamine
Overall: If you want a jumbo with a well-spec’d pickup, great; but for others seek an alternative
Contact Details: Takamine Guitars