Tested By Art Thompson
Canada's Godin Guitar Company recently rolled out two new models that are designed for distinctly different needs. The Freeway Classic, Godin's first double-cutaway solidbody in some years, is a fast-playing ax that can cover everything from blues to metal. The Montreal, on the other hand, is a jazz-oriented guitar that offers expanded tonal range courtesy of its dual humbuckers and L.R. Baggs saddle piezo/preamp system. I tested these instruments (both of which come with a padded Cordura nylon gig bag at no extra charge) using a variety of amps, including a Dr. Z Route 66, Ken Fischer-designed Komet head (through a Marshall 4x12), a vintage Fender Twin Reverb, a Mesa/Boogie Lonestar, and, for the Montreal's acoustic sounds, a Crate CA 120D and a Fishman Loudbox.
With its sleek styling and figured top, the Freeway Classic looks a lot like an expensive custom guitar. But you get a lot of bang for the buck here, because not only does the Freeway feature premium woods and rock-solid hardware, it's actually made on the North American continent. Godin was able to keep the weight down by gluing poplar wings to the silver-leaf maple body and reduce costs by capping the bod with a thin veneer of figured maple (Freeways in solid colors go for $475 retail). The neck-to-body joint easily passes the business card test (you can't slide one into the gap on either side), and the fit of the nut, the clean pickup routs, and the smooth contours on the body reflect the care and attention to detail that Godin puts into all its products. The 22 lightly polished, medium-jumbo frets are shaped well and uniformly seated, but their ends are fairly noticeable as you slide your hand along the neck.
The Freeway's Godin-made pickups are selected via a 5-way switch that allows you to access the pickups individually, as well as providing the neck/middle and middle/bridge combos. The fully adjustable tremolo bridge zeros on the body and sports a snug-fitting bushing for the push-in bar. The stock setup doesn't allow for any up-pitch tricks, but the trem maintains good tuning stability once the strings are broken in. However, even with three springs, the tremolo feels quite stiff. If you're the type who likes to work subtle bends into your playing, you'll probably need to adjust the trem to float, and doing so will also place the bar in a slightly lower and more convenient position.
The Freeway's slim, satin-finished neck is super easy to grip, and the low action and light-gauge strings make for almost effortless playing. The guitar also intonates properly and sounds in tune as you move around the neck. Played cleanly, the Freeway delivers a big, balanced sound with good definition. Positions 2 and 4 on the pickup selector offer chimey colors, and I like how all the pickups maintain their crisp response when the volume is turned down. The single-coil yields a twangy blues tone, and the neck unit is excellent for everything from jazzy comping to full-throttle SRV-style wailing.
The bridge pickup's fat bite works great for country licks (very tough sounding on the low strings through a loud, clean amp), and played through the maxed-out Drive channel on our Mesa/Boogie Lonestar, the tones cut through without mushiness or loss of focus. The Tone control is useful for obtaining more burnished tones from the neck pickup or sweetening the top-end bite when playing through a bright sounding amp, though it rolls off the treble quite radically toward the end of its rotation.
If I could wish for anything, it would be the ability to run the humbuckers in single-coil mode, but the Freeway delivers what's needed for most situations. If you're looking for an affordable guitar that plays well and can tear it up for blues, rock, fusion, or just about anything else you throw at it, you should take the Freeway Classic for a test drive.
Based on the popular Flat Five that Godin rolled out a few years ago, the Montreal is a jazz-oriented guitar that features a chambered body carved from a solid piece of mahogany and a cap of solid, carved mahogany. A handsome guitar that really shines in terms of construction and finish, the Montreal has attributes aplenty, including a nicely contoured top, excellent fretwork (with almost invisible ends), and a precisely fitting nut. The binding is expertly rendered (I spotted only one tiny spot of paint bleed), the routs for the preamp sliders and the sunken bridge are ultra clean, and the neck joint is as tight as a bank vault. Only the f holes show some roughness on their inner edges-I'm curious why Godin doesn't use binding on these areas. The front-loading, locking tuners provide enanced tuning stability and make restringing a breeze.
A good test for any acoustic-electric guitar is how it sounds acoustically, and the Montreal scores well, delivering a springy, resonant sound that's satisfying enough to capture with a microphone. The guitar sustains beautifully, and it sounds sweet and tuneful as you finger chords along its 22-fret neck. The Montreal's harmonic bloom is translated well by the dual-source pickup system, which allows you to obtain a very broad range of textures. The L. R. Baggs saddle transducers sound smooth and even compared to many piezo systems, and the 3-band EQ lets you tailor response quite effectively. By boosting the bass, cutting mids, and pulling down the highs a bit, it was easy to get acoustic-like tones from a Twin Reverb. Plugging into the rearmost input with a standard guitar cord combines the two pickup systems, which can be mixed in any proportion via the handy Blend knob.
This is cool for the player who uses one amp, and just wants to be able to go from, say, a rock tone to a faux-flat-top sound with the sweep of a knob.
Stereo mode is where the Montreal truly excels-especially when you split the pickups through dedicated electric and acoustic amps. For example, running the Godin humbuckers through a Dr. Z Route 66 and the Baggs pickups through a Fishman Loudbox or a Crate CA120 yielded a super expansive tone as the humbuckers' muscle combined with the more effervescent piezo sound to provide a truly wide-screen listening experience. You can run the Montreal's humbuckers in single-coil mode (in positions 2 and 4) for cleaner, airier textures-albeit with a slight increase in hum-or use them in full humbucker mode with heavier distortion to create more distinct electric and electro-acoustic sounds.
While the Montreal is probably overkill for the player who simply needs a good blues, jazz, or rock tone, it's ideal for those who enjoy straddling the line between the electric and acoustic worlds. In one situation, playing everything from funky jazz to rowdy Irish music, the Montreal allowed me to easily dial in the right tones for each song without the hassle of switching instruments. A guitar with dual personalities has a place in any working musician's arsenal, and with its exceptional quality and moderate price, the Montreal certainly rates as a top contender in that specialized arena.