John Levoi 12S Deluxe
You may think that the only really good Folk and Jumbo Guitars are made in America. If you read all our previous reviews, you may think I feel the same way. You would be wrong on both counts. There are some very good acoustic (and electric) guitars made in this country and I hope to review as many as possible in the future. The problem is that most good makers have waiting lists; many of them also live in relatively inaccessible parts of the country, and work mainly for people in that area and the few musicians who will travel halfway across the world for a good instrument. I would prefer to review instruments which you can obtain through your usual music shop, but I would not exclude a really good instrument because it was only available directly from the maker.
This is a fairly large 12-string with a 640 mm./25¼ in. scale. String spacing is 58 mm. at the bridge and 44 mm. at the nut.
These figures should tell you that the neck hardly tapers at all, and the fingerboard is considerably wider than the Guild. What you will not see from the figures is that the two strings of each pair are as close together as is practical. This, combined with the wide neck, makes it play rather like a classical guitar, and with the excellent action on my sample, one can almost forget that there are twice as many strings to hold. In fact, the major advantage of this guitar over other 12-strings is that it seems to have been designed particularly for playing finger style. It is sensitive, responsive, and fairly light for its size. All mechanical fittings (and, incidentally, the price includes all-metal Schaller machines) are solid and should not give any problems. I am tempted to say that the entire guitar has been made with the reliability and solidity of a tank.
The neck construction is unusual for a 12-string, there is no adjustable truss rod. Instead, depending on the model, there are one or two steel stiffeners bonded into the neck. In practice, the stability of necks made by this method depends on accuracy of internal construction and (critically) on the adhesive used to glue the stiffeners in place. As I have said before, the final test is time: this neck system is now several years old and it seems to give no more trouble than the adjustable rods. It is not quite as good as the Guild system of two adjustable rods, and it has a disadvantage: for the stiffeners to be effective, both they and the neck must be deeper than usual. The neck is fairly massive by American standards, but it is comfortably shaped and does not feel lumpy. Personally, I can accept a fairly thick neck on a guitar if the string action is very easy.
Typically for this maker, the guitar was supplied with the action already adjusted to the lowest possible without buzzing for average playing technique. Taking the worst-case string of the lowest and highest pairs, this was 2.4 mm. bass and 1.9 mm. treble. If anyone can get an acoustic action lower than this without fret buzz, I should like to know how it is done.
The slots in the nut are cut very low, and while this makes the instrument a delight to play, I think it has been overdone a little. While nothing actually buzzes, some strings have no margin for normal nut wear, and may start to hit the first fret soon. Fortunately, the nut is held in a deep slot with ebony on both sides, and it is an easy matter to raise it slightly with a shim. The nut, incidentally, is ivory, and the string slots are polished and near-perfectly spaced.
The accuracy of tuning at the 12th fret is probably as near as possible on a 12-string. In fact, of the top pair, one is slightly flat and the other equally sharp, showing that the limiting factor is the inevitable slight inaccuracy in the strings. Some of the string pairs do not quite agree with each other at the octave fret, but in most cases, the dominant string is right. The worst intonation occurs on the lowest strings and even this is so near that it might be correct with another set of the same strings.
The frets on this guitar are narrow and flat-topped. While they are in no way sharp, there is rather a lot of resistance to sliding up and down strings. If this doesn't suit you, the guitar can be supplied with wider frets.
Internal construction is as solid as the outside suggests; this is not the sort of guitar which is going to die on you in two or three years. It it not in any way clumsy inside, but there is just something about it which inspires confidence. There are certain bits of design, which as a guitar maker I could argue about, but the important factor is that this design is particularly free from mechanical troubles.
It is always difficult to describe tone. The bass tends towards Martin 12 strings, the treble sounds more like a good "flat-back" mandoline, and if there is a deficiency, it is a slight lack of warmth in the middle. The dynamics are very different from most American 12 strings, though they are perhaps more like Leo Kottke's "Bozo" guitars.
I find the instrument very suitable for playing with fingers and for light pick playing, but if you push it hard, it tends to clang a bit. Perhaps more playing should improve this.
This guitar does not compete — it stands on its own merits. John Levoi guitars are available in the London area from Stephen Delft, London E1, and from Potters Music, Croydon. Otherwise, contact John Levoi at (Contact Details), for details of your nearest stockist.
Retail Price £225.00
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