Takamine EF-450 SMSG

September 1, 2004

Takamine is well known for its affordable, great-sounding acoustic guitars. However, the company also makes a variety of gorgeous high-end models—one of the nicest of which is the new EF-450 SMSG ($2,732 retail/$1,899 street). This classy looking guitar features maple construction, a solid Sitka spruce top, and a beautiful two-tone sunburst finish that really shows off the delicious figuring and grain patterns in the woods—especially the impressively flamed, solid-maple back.

Decorated with neatly set diamond snowflake inlays, the bound ebony fingerboard sports 14 frets clear of the body. Lightly polished and sporting carefully shaped crowns and smooth, beveled ends, the frets feel excellent under the light gauge phosphor-bronze strings. A precise fitting and correctly slotted nut guides the strings to the gold-plated die-cast tuners, which turn with a buttery smoothness, pulling the EF-450 up to pitch with zero fuss.

The cosmetics on this guitar aren’t lavish, but the tasteful abalone rosette and the five-ply bindings on the top and back look sweet and are installed with impeccable attention to detail. I couldn’t spot a flaw anywhere, and the careful construction extends to the interior as well, where beautifully shaped and sanded braces, neat brace-to-kerfing joints, and an absence of glue drips or seepage are the order. Add a flawless, glass-smooth polyurethane finish, and the EF-450 scores top marks for build quality.

The EF-450 is equipped with Takamine’s ultra-hip Cool Tube preamp, which uses a 12AU7 (a low-gain cousin to the 12AX7) that you can actually see when looking into the soundhole. Designed to add warmth and richness to the signal from the under-saddle pickup, the Cool Tube also features a chromatic tuner (which doubles as a slide-out holder for the four AA batteries that power the electronics for up to 25 hours) and an auxiliary input jack for use with a soundhole pickup or internal mic of your choice. The onboard tuner is very convenient, and its accuracy was confirmed by a reference quality Korg MT-1200 Master Tune.

The EF-450 is a big-sounding guitar with a crisp, balanced response. The maple construction provides for clear, detailed highs and a tight, round bottom that doesn’t become tubby when you strum hard. The two-piece compensated bridge provides accurate intonation when comparing fingered notes and harmonics at the 12th fret, however, the B string played a little flat above the tenth fret. Not that you’re likely to be doing a lot of chording this high up on the neck (particularly since there’s no cutaway), but this guitar should visit the guitar doc for an intonation tweak.

Plugged into a Fishman Loudbox acoustic amp, and with the Cool Tube knob turned to three o’clock or higher, the EF-450 sounds so rich and meaty that it’s hard to believe a piezo pickup is involved. Turn the Cool Tube control down (which takes the tube out of the signal path) and the telltale quackiness becomes noticeable. The Cool Tube circuit adds so much vibe that I can’t imagine why anyone would want to bypass it entirely, but for players who may actually want more piezo bite, Takamine gives you the ability to get it. Courtesy of the 3-band EQ and the sweepable midrange control—which can put a notch anywhere from 200Hz to 8.5kHz—you’ve got a lot of tone control at your fingertips. But again, the Cool Tube circuit takes so much of the struggle out of trying to nail a happening tone through an amp or P.A., you’ll likely find yourself having to make only minor adjustments to these controls to obtain a satisfying tone. The Cool Tube electronics are very quiet too, thanks primarily to the fact that the tube does not add an appreciable amount of gain, but, rather, is used to roll off unwanted high-frequency components and slow down the response of the piezo in order to give the guitar’s spruce top time to “catch up.”

With its superb playability and outstanding performance in both the acoustic and amplified realms, the EF-450 is an excellent choice for players who want a top-notch guitar for live or studio work. Perhaps the most vintage looking instrument that Takamine has made to date, this lovely guitar has a lot to offer solo fingerstylists, singer-songwriters, folk or bluegrass pickers, or those who simply need a loud, punchy guitar for strumming with a band.

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