When a big guitar company offers to make
somebody a signature model guitar, it’s usually
bells-and-whistles time: custom inlays, fancy
bindings, exotic woods and finishes, and crazy
electronics. Typically, the sky’s the limit, and
a lot of folks in that situation go nuts. Glenn
Frey went the opposite of nuts with his new
signature model from Takamine, and ended up
with a remarkably playable, terrific-sounding,
extremely functional instrument.
Not that it isn’t a lovely guitar: clean and
simple, often equal understated elegance—
and there’s something wonderful about letting
a guitar speak so gently for itself. Glenn Frey
doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody
about his chops, or his skill as a songwriter, so
why not simply replicate the axe that, to quote
Takamine’s Web site, “wrote rock ‘n roll?”
I have to confess to a bit of shock when I
opened the case; I was expecting something
artsier. But after it slipped into tune and I
started to play, I was amazed. This thing
sounds rich and full, the bass is warm without being mushy, and the treble is clear but
never grating. And it plays like butter.
There’s Gotta be a Story Here
In 2008, Glenn Frey approached Takamine
with an unusual request; basically, he wanted
them to clone his old Takamine EF360S,
which he got in 1994. They had already
been considering a Glenn Frey Signature
model, so the request was very timely. The
only difference between his 1994 guitar and
the new model is that the new back is solid
rosewood rather than laminated, and there
is a graceful little GF logo on the headstock.
The pickup system is what really made
Takamine famous. In fact, those proprietary
electronics haven’t changed much since
Frey got the original. The pickup itself is
built into the top, and the onboard preamp,
though upgraded, is still basically the same
as it was on Frey’s 1994 EF360S.
I got to talk with Frey between cities on a
recent leg of the Eagles’ North American
tour. He’s clearly very excited about the guitar, very proud of it, and it’s proving to be as
great on stage as his original, which he affectionately calls his Number One. “It’s warm,”
he says, “but especially for playing live it’s
important to have a guitar with a distinct
high end and not too many overtones in the
low and mid ranges. That’s a great sound for
sitting in your living room, but a live sound
engineer has to squash it. For mixing live, it’s
better to have a guitar that’s perfect mid-to-top, because you can always add lows. That
switches the posture from defensive mixing—
taking something away from the guitar—to
adding to it in order to fill a few things out.”
The process of cloning a guitar is complicated and tedious, but fascinating. Frey
said, “Some designers and engineers from
Takamine took my Number One for a couple
days and made extensive measurements
of every part of the guitar, from the thickness of the top and exact placement of the
braces, to the thickness of the finish—
everything about it.” After making copious notes,
they returned to the factory to make two
prototypes: one exactly like the original with
a laminated back, and one with a solid back.
Frey decided he liked the solid back best, so
that became the Glenn Frey model.
Regarding the almost Spartan simplicity of
the instrument, Frey said it was important
to him to keep the guitar affordable as well
as extremely functional. The key for him was
sound and usefulness. He explained that,
“the finish and inlay and bells and whistles
don’t have anything to do with that. We
took a pretty straightforward approach to it;
the only thing it has is the little ‘GF’ on the
headstock. I’ve had ten or twelve of these in
my hands, and they all sounded great and
needed very little set up.”
The Nitty Gritty
Possibly the most amazing thing about
Takamine guitars is their incredible consistency. Frey’s description of the EF360GFs he’s
played—warm, perfect mid-to-top without a
lot of overtones in the lows, sounds and plays
great—accurately describe this guitar, too.
That’s part of their promise: if you play one
EF360GF, you’ve played them all. Takamine guitars are the choice of countless touring bands
simply because they offer few surprises—in a
really good way. For somebody who lives and
dies by the axe, that’s extremely important.
That doesn’t mean this guitar isn’t fun to
play or lacks personality. The neck is comfortable, much like a Les Paul neck, actually.
At 1-11/16” wide and just a little chubby,
it’s good for chord strumming or for singer-songwriter-type fingerstyle playing, though
after tackling some intricate fingerstyle pieces, I found myself wanting a wider fretboard
and string spacing.
One advantage to having a guitar so balanced on the high-to-mid side is how well it
fares in an ensemble setting. It can be heard
clearly through the mix, making it ideal for
Eagles-style rhythm duties, or even Bluegrass-style flatpickin’. Having spent most of my
gigging life as a solo guitarist, I found the
lack of oomph in the lows a bit disconcerting;
with my trio, where bass is somebody else’s
responsibility, it was much more satisfying.
The electronics are the other key to Takamine’s
success. The built-in pickup and onboard
preamp sounded great through any amp or
PA I played through; it’s practically soundman-from-hell proof. There’s a 3-band EQ, Volume
control and a tuner right under your nose,
making it effortless to tweak your sound on
the fly. The tuner responds almost fast enough
to be more useful than frustrating. Battery
changes are convenient and lightning quick.
I did a little experimental recording with the
EF360GF and a Zoom H4 hand-held recorder,
using the built in stereo mics (at 24bit 96K).
The clarity of the mids and highs was just
stunning, and you could hear every detail.
The highs sparkled, while the mids offered
oomph without any nasal unpleasantness.
The lows were warm without being muddy.
This guitar really shines when you’re strumming big chords, and it positively glows when
dropped into DADGAD. I look forward to
hearing Frey’s guitar mixed into future CDs.
The Final Mojo
The EF360GF is a remarkable instrument,
and Glenn Frey has every reason to be
proud of it. Takamine is now going through
the same cloning process with his Number
One 12-string, and if this guitar is any indication, that one should be equally remarkable.
At a reasonable price point, the playability,
onboard electronics and terrific sound make
this guitar a fantastic value.
you play a lot of gigs and need
a rock-solid, great playing and
most of what you do is
intensive and intricate solo
Click here to watch a video
review of the Takamine