Published On: Tue, Dec 9th, 2014

Gear of the Year 2014 – Acoustic Guitars

After rounding up the electric guitars of 2014 we continue our roundup of what we consider to be the best gear for guitarists (and bassists) released this year. In this instalment we take a two-page look at our favourite acoustics of 2014. Let’s begin with those under £1000…

Freshman SongoTSB

Great sound, good looks – and affordable too
Price: £399
Contact: Access All Areas – 01355228028 –

Freshman’s Songwriter Series is all about solid woods, and in the case of the SongoTSB that means Canadian sitka spruce and mahogany. It’s an orchestra model with a sweetly minimal matte finish in sunburst all over, including the back and the neck (you can get a natural version, too), plus all-wood binding and herringbone trim; at under £400, that’s seriously impressive. It’s even got a bone nut and saddle.

Playability is great. The neck is a nice palm-filling shape and the action on our review model was tip-top. The sound impressed us, too. It’s pretty big and chimey for a guitar of this compact size and also genuinely responsive, so you don’t need to hammer at it to get the top moving, and shifting your picking hand from bridge towards neck produces a fine range of colours.

It’s perhaps a touch barky to make an ideal high-volume strummer, but that’s partly a smaller-body mahogany thing, and a lighter rhythm touch gives excellent results.

It’s at fingerpicking that the Songo really excels. It’s crisp and articulate, with a solid bass, a Martin-like feathery quality to the treble and a nice strong midrange – and what it might lack in sonorous refinement it makes up for with rootsy and bluesy country charm. Freshman isn’t the only company manufacturing affordable, all-solid wood acoustics in the Far East with bone bits and cool tuners, but it can’t be said that anybody is doing it better.

Click here for the full review

Aria 501

Highly Recommended
Simplicity and tradition
Contact: Aria UK 01483 238720

Aria’s 500 series guitars are all about the important stuff: decent woods and traditional designs, no cutaways, and no electronics. Like the Freshman this Aria breaks the half-grand barrier in terms of price.

It’s an all-solid sitka/mahogany orchestra model guitar (there’s also a rosewood version, the 505), and it’s decorated with handsome herringbone purfling. This time, though we get a gloss body finish with a satin neck, and cream plastic binding instead of wood. It also has a nut width of just under 1.75″, which is good news for fingerpickers, and the picture is completed by a bone saddle and open-geared chrome machineheads.

The 501 is really big and open-sounding for a brand-new instrument, and especially so for a folk-sized guitar. This guitar impressed us both with what it puts out and the level at which it does it. It’s eager, bright and balanced, strums very nicely and thumbpicks very well indeed, with plenty of instant response and a likeable woody character.

These guitars mark something of a return to form for Aria, and while you can get cheaper folk-size models, on the whole we think the price of this one is definitely reflected in the sound.

Breedlove Discovery Dreadnought

Highly Recommended

Super-affordable rhythm/flatpicker
Contact: Rosetti 01376 550033

A spin on a classic theme, the Discovery is more rounded and less boxy than a regular dread and this gives it an old-school look, almost like a cross between a dread and jumbo. It’s a got a solid sitka top and laminated sapele back and sides, a gloss body, a satin-finished neck, open-geared tuners, and a pinless bridge with a modernised shape to go with the contemporary headstock.

Its most obvious sonic characteristic is, well… loudness. You should expect a good amount of volume from any dreadnought, but this one can really belt it out. Played hard the Discovery generates a chiming, punchy and very defined sound that’s exhilarating to play, but when you soften the attack the tone mellows and sweetens without losing any focus.

Breedlove has also built in an impressive degree of snap and definition that really delivers the goods when picking out the bass notes for bluegrass-style rhythm work.

The midrange isn’t too recessed and the treble has plenty of airiness. It can become a tad brash when pushed very hard, but sitka spruce will mellow over time. It isn’t a great all-rounder – the crisp attack that makes it such an effective rhythm instrument is a bit of a handful when you attempt delicate fingerstyle work – but so long as you’re aware of this guitar’s strengths and weaknesses, it won’t disappoint… especially not at this price

Click here for the full review

Click here to continue to Part 2

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Gear of the Year 2014 – Acoustic Guitars Part 2

We carry on our roundup of the best acoustic guitars of 2014 - now we're looking at those over £1000.......