Concert-sized and dreadnought acoustic guitars offer an orchestral range of tones in solo performance, but their rich bass can muddy up a band’s sound or require being EQ’d out of an ensemble recording. One reason I have played and recorded with a parlor-sized Art & Lutherie Ami for years is its ability to surgically cut through bass, drums, keyboards, and electric guitars. The company has discontinued the Ami, but has fortunately replaced it with the similar-sized and improved Roadhouse model.
Art & Lutherie is a division of Godin Guitars, a Canadian company set in the same forest that provides much of the wood for their instruments. This allows them to offer the Roadhouse at a price well below what you might expect for an instrument with a solid spruce top and laminated wild cherry back and sides, Unpacking the Roadhouse, I discovered it immediately raises the Ami’s game thanks to better tuners and a built-in pickup. I was also impressed by the appearance: The matte-black finish with a little grain showing through implies business, while the pearloid pickguard adds a touch of showmanship. Though it exudes all the cool of a pawnshop prize, there was nothing cheap about the way the Roadhouse played. As with many Godin acoustic products, it offered the fingering ease of a well-set-up electric guitar: low action with no buzz or fretting out.
Despite the low action, the instrument rang out in a way that belied its size. As with most parlor guitars, the Roadhouse’s sound is focused in the midrange, but far from honky. You might miss some of the sweet high-end of a much more expensive vintage version, but the frequencies were very even within the instrument’s range. When jamming acoustically with another guitarist playing a dreadnought, the differentiation of the Roadhouse tone helped single-note solos be heard.
Plugging into the Fishman Sonitone saddle pickup, the first thing I noticed was that the input jack is positioned on the body rather than in the strap button. This feature allowed me to lean the guitar against an amp without having to unplug. The Fishman’s soundhole Tone control adjusted the sonic character from musicbox sparkle through jazz-box dark, while the Volume knob maintained consistent tone at any output level.
Running the Roadhouse through a few effects pedals into a Fender Blues Junior or a ZT Lunchbox Junior helped me achieve some of Daniel Lanois’ moody acoustic textures. Through a DAW and full-range KRK Rokit 5 speakers, the guitar also put out much more bass than was evident acoustically.
No matter what kind of music you play, there is probably a place for an Art & Lutherie Roadhouse in your arsenal, whether to provide an original acoustic foundation or as added texture. Its unique sound, exceptional playability, and ultra-reasonable price make this guitar a winner.
PRICE $449 street
NUT WIDTH 1.72"
NECK Silver leaf maple
TUNERS Open-gear 18:1 with antique brass finish
BODY Wild cherry back & sides, solid spruce top
BRIDGE Rosewood, Tusq saddle
ELECTRONICS Fishman Sonitone
CONTROLS Volume, Tone
KUDOS Terrific playability. Character-filled sound.