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Godin 5th Avenue Guitar

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With the plethora of electrified hollowbody axes available today-flattops with piezos, acoustic archtops with piezos or magnetic pickups, semi-hollowbodies, et al.-Godin’s “’50s-style” 5th Avenue acoustic archtop comes across as a fairly shocking anachronism. This is especially true within its student-friendly price bracket ($625 list), a niche that has in recent years seen a flux of Asia-made ES-335 and ES-175 copies. I picked the guitar up at its Winter NAMM debut in January and searched for a stereo input until I got the point-this is an ax primed for un-amplified rhythm picking.

In a vague way, the 5th Avenue calls to mind an inexpensive guitar from the time before inexpensive guitars existed in their own highly competitive and quality-demanding market. Laminate Harmony and Silvertone archtops are the instruments I’m thinking of, but those pieces were marred by all sorts of material and production snafus-cheap binding that would easily warp, mystery-wood construction, poor fretwork and other department-store-ax mishaps.

With the 5th Avenue, Godin, a still-slept-on Canadian manufacturer whose instruments cost much less than they should, cuts corners some with materials (Canadian wood laminate) and construction (one wood for the top and body) but not with craftsmanship. Manufactured in North America, the 5th Avenue recalls the Silvertone less than it does the original acoustic archtop, the Gibson L-5. (Don’t get your hopes up that much; a real L-5 is still worth your eBay bucks. Old archtops like those from Gibson’s Kalamazoo line are probably a better comparison.) Other Godin guitars are played by John McLaughlin and Lionel Loueke, so the company’s jazz cred is intact. Let’s see how the company fared with its first all-acoustic archtop design.

The top and sides of the 5th Avenue are made of a Canadian Wild Cherry laminate. Conventional archtop design would suggest some combination like a spruce top and maple sides, but the Wild Cherry is surprisingly dynamic-in fact, as a tone wood it achieves the versatility Godin aimed for in this model. (The company had done some homework: Godin owns the Arts & Lutherie and Seagull lines, companies that utilize all-over Wild Cherry construction in their dreadnought designs.)

Judging from the company’s PR spiel, Godin wanted the 5th Avenue to appeal to jazzbos on a budget as well as players who work in rock-infused Americana. (This might seem strange, but the lineage of L-5 players extends back to the early Nashville scene: Maybelle Carter used an L-5 religiously with the Carter Family.) Sonically, the 5th Avenue boasts the brightness of spruce and maple on single-note solo lines and high-voiced comping while exhibiting the darker, more complex overtones of mahogany in the lows and mids where folkies strum hard.

The guitar projects well, too: While engaging in four-on-the-floor, Eddie Lang-era accompaniment, it fills the room and then some, though I don’t know if it’d do well with a big band without being mic’d (of course, I’m not sure how the L-5 supposedly did either). The trapeze tailpiece and high-sitting-though very easily adjustable-rosewood bridge allow the sound to resonate through the f-holes and the top itself; the 16-inch body, with its molded arched top and back, is compact and comfortable. Electric solidbody guitarists who want something acoustic that’s more comfortable than a dreadnought should check it out.

The neck is made of Silver Leaf maple, a mahogany-like wood, and has a high-gloss finish, a shallow, fast shape and a rosewood fingerboard. The guitar’s 24.84-inch scale length shouldn’t surprise anyone, and the vintage-style tuning pegs are functional and sharp-looking.

While it can be misleading to judge guitars on gut impressions alone (nowadays every guitar seems to play well even if it sounds like hell), the 5th Avenue doesn’t feel like a budget instrument. Perhaps even more disparate from its feel is the guitar’s look: While also available in black and a cognac burst, JazzTimes’ demo model came in the natural finish-a scarcer complexion for ’40s-era L-5s. The cream binding beautifully complements this shade, as does the floating tortoiseshell pickguard and its matching truss-rod cover. Only the glossy headstock with its modern Godin and 5th Avenue logos betray the vintage vibe, but even then, it’s a fine aesthetic analogy for this affordable updated classic.

Originally Published