Eko And Takamine Guitars
CHARACTER STRING: two electroacoustics/bugs/compare/review... RESTORE
PROBLEM: a) You are on a desert island with an acoustic guitar, assorted items of electronics but no microphone. The cannibalistic natives worship the sky... a passing 'plane ditched several records two years ago and this is all the inhabitants know of music. Describe how you would produce an amplification system that could be heard across the island and preserve the delicate tone of your instrument.
Both Eko and Takamine came up with the same solution — a piezo pickup mounted under the bridge. But they could hardly be accused of cheating since the results are almost completely different.
The Eko is Italian made, a strong-willed bull of a guitar with a spruce top left as a fairly heavy brown and an angular imitation tortoiseshell scratchplate that wraps itself around the sound hole. It's not so much cheap as brash. The back and sides have a distinct "wardrobe" flavour, the wood is flawed and knotted, and the Eko and position marker inlays along the neck verge on ugly.
The image isn't helped by an unattractive brass saddle and when you actually get to play the guitar, the feel of the thick, blockish neck is slow and spongey. I have to say it's an ungainly instrument and after playing it for a couple of hours I wasn't too inspired to go back again for a fiddle.
But it is "honest" since the sound also lives up to the hot-blooded macho, Italian approach. It's a young, boomy, brassy guitar, very much larger than life with plenty of guts if you hit it hard enough. And it does need to be thumped to get the best results. Light twanging barely stirs it from its slumbers and the bottom E is watery compared to the rest of the strings.
The Takamine is Japanese and another animal altogether. Much lighter in sound, feel and touch, it needs careful and respectful handling. It has a beautiful even grained two-piece spruce top and a plain semi-matt black scratchplate. Unlike the Eko there's a cutaway to reach the higher frets and this time the construction speaks of a far finer craftsmanship.
The ebony fingerboard is matched by an ebony bridge with a white plastic saddle though it looks as if the nut could be bone. Elsewhere on the headstock Takamine have fitted some smooth but unnamed machine heads and a rosewood veneer. The inlays are a sparkling Abalone.
It also feels beautiful, boasting a medium width neck that keeps the same profile from top to bottom along with a gentle camber to the fingerboard. The back is well rounded and the action of this model was set so comfortably low, you could have been playing feathers.
Mind you it was fitted with a surprisingly light set of strings but they seemed to suit the Takamine very well, bringing out plenty of warm, full bodied bass and preserving a sparkle at the top end.
Hit the strings too hard and they soon choked up, but push the accelerator down a fraction and it introduced a slight metallic tingle as the light strings just started to buzz against the frets. That's an effect which calls for an expert piece of setting up if it's not to be overdone.
The irony is that when you come to plug the two combatants into an amp, the Takamine has more to lose. It's sweet, delicate tone is difficult to preserve, whereas the Eko actually benefits from the piezo pickup, which prunes out the boominess in the bottom strings and helps even up discrepancies around the upper registers.
The Eko does without a tone control, there's just one volume knob up by the neck and a jack socket on the side where an electric guitar's would be. The Takamine has sliders for volume, bass and treble, again set by the neck, but the jack socket is mounted invisibly inside the metal strap button at the base.
To my ears the piezo pickup concentrated too heavily on the Takamine's top strings but that could be solved by tweaking down the treble slider. In fact those controls made the Takamine far more versatile than the Eko, allowing for softer classical or jazzier playing.
Electrically the Takamine still sounded superior at the end of the day despite some of its subtleties being lost along the way. It would take a very good microphone in the hands of an expert studio engineer to capture them all.
Strangely the Eko came out sounding a better instrument than when it went in, but both suffered from that peculiar stillness that seems to afflict amplified acoustics. It's almost as if the amplifier freezes the strings, taking the movement out of the sound. That's why it always helps to add a touch of echo, reverb or chorus to electro-acoustics to breathe some life back into them.
Problem b) If you didn't manage to solve problem (a), what would you recommend for dessert?
Takamine £279, Eko £114
Enquiries: Rose Morris, (Contact Details).