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Pilgrim Acoustic 6 String Guitar

Article from Music UK, January 1983

A British handmade acoustic for £195? — The Pilgrim made us suspicious - we checked it ruthlessly.

Professional quality acoustic guitars never come cheap. While it's still possible to buy an electric instrument for under £200 and find it good enough to use in a professional capacity, the complexities of acoustic guitar construction and the need for expensive materials conspire to make really fine acoustics an awkward financial proposition — Barclaycards notwithstanding! Among cheaper instruments the problem is usually a combination of the use of laminated woods for tops (which tend to prevent a guitar maturing in its tonal qualities amongst other things) and tonal freaks which just sound poor when the instrument is recorded or listened to by an attuned player. There are a few acoustics which break these rules but by far and away the majority of acoustic guitars selling for below £200 in the U.K. are not really designed for pro use although many of them are perfectly reasonable instruments in their place.

When I first set eyes on the British-made Pilgrim roundback guitar on the stand of Keith Hand, the instrument's distributor, I had a strange feeling about this guitar — it looked a bit too good for the price he was quoting for it — especially so as the Pilgrim is hand-made. It was impossible to really play the guitar in the exhibition hall where Keith was showing it, so there and then I asked to see a sample.

Some while later the Pilgrim arrived, the guitar Keith had sent me having, in the intervening period, been exhibited at the NAMM show in the U.S.A., the London Trade Show and, in between times, been around several other players as a sample. I don't know if you have any idea what exhibitions do to guitars (especially acoustics!) but this one could well have arrived in a coffin rather than a case and I wouldn't have been surprised!

I took the Pilgrim from its case and strummed a chord. No, I'm not going to tell you that it was still in tune (have a heart!) but the sound was beautiful, despite the strings having corroded from countless sweaty mitts having bashed out their riffs and licks on it. Still, for a guitar with such worn strings, it sounded great. Keith has a secret weapon here, apparently. He fits those American-made Vinci strings (which he also distributes, by the way). This particular set had been on since July - and I was trying the guitar in late November! Needless to say I'll be trying a set on my own acoustic very soon!

But back to the Pilgrim. This is a round-backed guitar with the back moulded from fibreglass. The guitar's top is a solid spruce job and the neck is mahogany with a maple inset in a wide strip. The headstock has been faced with what looks like a rosewood veneer and it carries either Gotoh or Schaller machine heads. Personally I'd be happy with either brand — they're both excellent.

The nut on my sample Pilgrim was very well cut, the rosewood fingerboard fretted with extremely comfortably profiled frets and was inset with abalone. A strange feature is the way in which the fingerboard extends down over the soundhole so that a D sharp can be played on the top string and an extra note can also be wrung from the B string — although who plays acoustics that high up I'm not sure)

Constructional quality of the sample Pilgrim was really first class — superb for the money, in fact. The back provides for a fine access to the top frets via the guitar's single cutaway and the join between the fibreglass back and the spruce of the top is bound in a white strip, presumably for strength? The Pilgrim is decorated with a form of herringbone purfling which runs round the top, and the rosewood bridge features a real bone saddle (I think it was bone, anyway!) and two further abalone dot inlays.

Overall the guitar looks very well made indeed, and despite its previous hard life, the sample I had was in excellent condition with no signs of warping on the neck or splits on the fibreglass/wood joins. So, thus far we have a handmade, single cutaway guitar with good woods mated to a fibreglass back. How does it play? What does it sound like?

Playing the Pilgrim is a treat. This isn't one of those acoustics which seem to make a virtue out of being hard to play — rather it has one of the most playable necks I've come across on an acoustic, really well profiled with a slight radius on the fingerboard and the overall dimensions not feeling at all out of place, even to someone like me who plays mostly electric solid guitars. The fretting is immensely comfortable and the whole instrument just encourages you to pick it up and play with it — it's lovely!

"Playing the Pilgrim is a treat."

Soundwise, though it comes as a shock. The obvious comparison with this Pilgrim is one of the Ovation range or one of those Ovation copies which one sees from time time. Well this sounds like neither. The tone is far fuller than that of most Ovations I've had experience of and yet it has an excellent treble response and remarkable balance across the strings. Really, the Pilgrim doesn't sound like a 'cheap Ovation' at all — it has a sound of its own, and frankly, it's closer to that of a top grade all wood guitar than a fibre-glass backed one by my reckoning.

By the time I'd got round to testing this guitar I'd completely forgotten its price. At a guess I'd have said maybe £300, possibly more. I phoned Keith Hand to check. £195 including VAT?! It took a while for the price to sink in! This guitar is under-priced by something in excess of £100, and I am as shocked by the good sound as how well made it is at the price.

While accepting that acoustic guitars are very much a matter of personal taste (there's no amp to change your sound, no pickups to select, no coils to tap etc.) we showed this guitar to several acoustic players of various styles and unanimously they reckoned its value as being far and away above the recommended retail price.

So, for the very first time since we began the scheme, we feel confident enough about the sheer quality and value combined of an acoustic guitar to award it our MUSIC U.K. STAR BUY AWARD to the PILGRIM 6 string. Accordingly, when you see one of these guitars in your local retailer's it will be carrying our special swing ticket showing that it has impressed us as being an unbeatable combination of quality and value.

We've never before awarded this prize to any acoustic guitar to award our MUSIC U.K. because, however good some of the instruments we've seen before have been, they have never quite combined the two aspects of ultra-high quality and low price. The PILGRIM meets those criteria and we would wholeheartedly recommend that any reader looking for a high quality acoustic guitar at a bargain price checks this one out. Of course, as with all things, the sound and feel of an instrument is a matter of personal taste but we are certain that nothing else we have tried in this field offers such a superb combination of quality in all areas and excellent value for money.

Congratulations, therefore, to the Midlands-based maker of this excellent instrument. We certainly never imagined that we'd be making this award to an acoustic guitar anything like so soon as we have but, really, the Pilgrim is a remarkable instrument.

As with all MUSIC U.K. STAR BUY winning instruments, you can take it as read that this guitar has been subjected to exhaustive tests by our staff who have all agreed that it represents something so far above the average balance of quality and price that merely giving it a glowing review wouldn't be sufficient to do it justice — it deserves far more than that, if only to draw musicians' attention to it. In our opinion it's fantastic so do try and get your hands on a sample soon. Readers wishing to find out more about where they can try a Pilgrim should contact Keith Hand Musical Supplies Ltd. at (Contact Details).

(RRP £195 inc. VAT)

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Tubby Drums Microphone System

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Gary Moore

Publisher: Music UK - Folly Publications

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Music UK - Jan 1983

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Pilgrim > Acoustic

Gear Tags:

Acoustic Guitar

Review by Gary Cooper

Previous article in this issue:

> Tubby Drums Microphone Syste...

Next article in this issue:

> Gary Moore

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