SEAGULL > 25th Anniversary CW Flame Maple EQ / Mahogany Spruce
LIST PRICES: $869.00
WEBSITE: SEAGULL GUITARS
Finding an affordable acoustic guitar that plays/sounds/looks great is like finding that elusive bargain bottle of wine that tastes/looks/feels transcendental but doesn’t give you that pounding headache. When you find that guitar, or the $7.00 bottle of red, you buy it. A Limited Edition Seagull 25th Anniversary guitar may be that guitar.
Robert Godin’s goal with Seagull has always been to “take the essential components of the best hand-crafted guitars (such as solid tops, resonance, solid intonation and beauty) and build these features into guitars that working musicians can afford.” In keeping with this philosophy, Seagull offers two 25th Anniversary guitars: The Mahogany Spruce HG (my favorite) and the Flame Maple CW EQ. Each includes a commemorative certificate and 25th anniversary headstock logo. Both acoustics are lovingly crafted, feature select solid woods and, unbelievably, list at $869. Street is $599. That’s about 1/3 to 1/2 of what manufacturers are charging for some of my favorite guitars. Is there a noticeable difference? Let’s explore.
Let’s start with the TRIC (thermally regulated instrument case); it weighs 3.65 pounds, insulates against climate changes (which comes in handy considering Seagulls are made by our Canadian neighbors in the frosty Quebec region), and I suspect you could throw your beloved Seagull off a cliff in this case and it’s going to be in tune and scratch free when you get to your gig (Don’t try this at home). Also, the TRIC hugs the guitar close enough that it will make it in most airplane overhead bins. I loved it, and wish I had a couple of my own. The TRIC is not included with these Seagulls, but that’s an upgrade you should grab.
I don’t know if Seagull spent extra time setting up these guitars because they were going to be reviewed, but straight out of the case they arrived playing comfortably with intonation dead-on and frets smooth. Go to any music store and test drive a dozen acoustics of all brands, and you’ll find that many play like you’re driving an old truck with bad alignment. These Seagulls arrived good to go.
The Seagull’s intonation impressed me; without intonation, tone is nothing. Seagull utilizes every trick in the book to ensure stability and intonation. The necks are a single piece of Mahogany cut at a 45 degree angle; they glue the headstock on with the grain reversed, creating incredibly stable necks. Their tapered headstock provides straight string pull, which minimizes the neck-twisting effect. Seagull’s double-action truss rod bends in both directions, which provides better control over the neck–whether it’s under-bowed or over-bowed. The Seagull neck attaches to the body with a clean wood-to-wood connection. There is no glue to impede the vibration between the heel of the neck and the guitar’s body (Taylor does this as well). Finally, Seagull makes its tuners on the smaller side (which I like–less likely to be knocked out), with very cool, bone-like caps. These tuners look great, appear to be durable, and you can actually tune your guitar with them. All of these factors together really do make for a more accurate tuning and stability.
Both the Mahogany Spruce HG and the Flame Maple feature “artist’s bracing.” All Seagull guitars have scalloped bracing, but the “artist” series spends more time hand-scalloping to bring out complexities of the guitar’s natural voice. Artist bracing is also made from Adirondack Spruce which is actually very strong yet much lighter than other woods…meaning that the top can vibrate even more freely.
Another feature that helps the Seagull sing is the “Custom Polished” finish. Seagull avoids sound killing poly finishes; instead they lean more toward the traditional French polish of the 19th century, which allows the top to breathe and vibrate. Natural ingredients lead to a natural sound.
Rather than making a single 25th Anniversary acoustic, Seagull created two very different guitars to meet the needs of very different players; the Mahogany Spruce HG is for the discerning acoustic player who can appreciate the nuances of a uniquely voiced guitar. As the name suggests, it features solid Honduras Mahogany back and sides and a pressure-tested spruce top with a bell shaped body that feels very Gibson-ish. This is a great guitar, warm and well balanced with great intonation. I played the review sample sent to American Songwriter on a session right out of the box, and it did not disappoint–even under playback scrutiny. Is there a difference between the Mahogany Spruce HG and some of its more expensive, American cousins? Yes, there’s a difference, but you could not argue that one sounds three times better than the other…although one does cost three times as much. I imagine that a few years of banging on this guitar will improve its tone as that spruce top opens with age. The Mahogany Spruce already feels like an old friend.
Created with the stage musician in mind, the Flame Maple CW EQ comes equipped with an L.R. Baggs micro e.q. Because these electronics don’t come cheap, and Seagull wanted to keep the price equal on both of their Anniversary models, they had to cut the cost a bit on some of this guitar’s other features. Although the same pressure-tested spruce top is used, the maple sides are laminated. However, having laminated sides isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In Seagull’s case their lamination consists of 3 layers of real hard wood (not plywood) and is actually more rigid & less prone to cracking when installing electronics. The tone & nature of the Flame Maple (higher frequencies) make the guitar sound a bit more thin and brittle compared to the Mahogany. This probably will not affect the plugged-in tone very much; the pickup worked well, but it left me a little cold when playing it at home. The Maple’s body is a bit smaller than a typical Dreadnought-size guitar and features a cutaway. Seagull made it narrower in the upper bout to “discourage unwanted boominess.” Again, this added to its thin tone, which lacked the personality of the warm, full Mahogany Spruce. The Flame Maple just wasn’t me. Maybe I just prefer reds to blonds. However, for a working musician looking for something to plug in and cut through the mix live or in studio, this one’s fine…but definitely overshadowed by its beautiful Mahogany sister.
During the last ten years, the whole high-end guitar craze has grown out of control. It’s one thing to spend 10k on a 1950 D18, but it’s inconceivable that guitar makers are charging these exorbitant prices for guitars that roll off their lines every week. I’ve never played a Seagull before, but I was impressed by this Pepsi challenge. Here’s a first-class instrument that a working musician–or a kid with a paper route and a lot of patience–can afford and enjoy for a lifetime.