Of all the brands who have revolutionised the quality of affordable guitars, Crafter is among the most notable; where once anything less than about £400 would buy you an unplayable warped necked monster with an action you could drive a bus under, you can now get good, playable instrument for prices ordinary people can afford – and along with the likes of Tanglewood, Vintage and Simon & Patrick, Crafter has been a big part of that.
The name hasn't been famous here for long, but the company has been trading with a good reputation in the South Korean market since 1972, initially under the name Sunguem, and now over 60,000 guitars emerge blinking into the South East Asian sunlight. Most of them can be considered excellent budget instruments, but at over £1,000, this one demands to be considered among a higher class.
Let's not mince words here; this guitar is covered in bling. It's shiny, sparkly, in your face and ostentatious, and if understated is your thing, well honey, this ain't it. The German spruce top has perhaps the most cross silking we've ever seen, and with the high gloss finish, it veritably sparkles.
The top is bound with rosewood, and features a broad band of abalone purfling. The back and sides, which are of rosewood, feature coachlining and a centre stripe. Even the rosewood bridge has been dipped in the abalone pot, with little motifs and abalone heads to the bridge pins.
The key features are the soundhole and the neck; the former, which Crafter describes as a "ring of fire", features abalone flames inlaid into the rosewood, and while intended to continue the dragon motif, could just as easily adorn an old school hot-rod. The mahogany neck has a rosewood fingerboard which, rather than being bound, has a pinstripe of pale wood set in from the edge, and perhaps more notably, an enormous dragon snaking his way up, presumably having eaten the tree of life which was their previously.
The peghead, which proudly wears a set of Gotoh tuners, is emblazoned with yet more abalone above the standard Crafter logo. In short, it's hard to think of a place Crafter could have decorated with abalone which they haven't; this is a guitar which demands your attention. It's also very nicely put together; perfectly dressed frets and immaculately executed inlays are the order of the day here.
A sniff of the soundhole, rather than the more usual woody waft or overpowering glue stench, smells rather like the electronics workshops my dad used to haunt as a younger man; perhaps this is explained by the L.R. Baggs LR-T Premium rig, which features their Element undersaddle pickup, a soundboard sensor pickup, and a head unit with all the bells and whistles (providing bells and whistles beyond a tuner, three-band EQ, presence control, phase shift and notch filter have not been quietly invented; it doesn't make tea for you or anything).
Overall, the looks are love it or hate it; for all our appreciation of glittering Nashville beauties, this was almost too in-your-face for our liking. It certainly needs to be good to live up to the price tag, the decor and the electronics.
Thankfully it is really good. Crafter has made their reputation through guitars which scare the living daylights out of things three times their price, and tonally, this will do the same thing to much more expensive guitars. The grand auditorium shape is small enough to be accessible (though your reviewer's status as a registered gorilla hybrid may render this advice moot for smaller players), and the slightly wider neck and string spacing at the nut make it a picker's delight.
Spruce and rosewood guitars are supposed to sound a certain way, and this one really does; it's wonderful. Played gently, the top end shimmers and glistens wonderfully with a crystalline brightness that never strays into shrill or glassy. The midrange and bass are as you would expect: focussed and tight, with plenty of projection and power. String-to-string balance is perfect; you can do what you like and nothing shouts unpleasantly unless you make a horrible mistake.
Dig in a bit more, and the bottom end almost seems to tighten up even more; there's not much you can do to overdrive the top of this guitar, and it stayed clear avoiding muddiness even when played really hard. There's an indescribable quality to the tone; it just feels three dimensional in a way most guitars can only aspire to. Even palm muted, the tone is characterful and alive. Plugging in reveals that the L.R. Baggs, while not quite in the league of some of the really fancy systems, does a solid job, reproducing the tone capably and recognisably, with the notch filter ensuring feeback stays under control even at some pretty high volumes.
You can't ignore the looks of this guitar; if you love it, you really love it, and if you don't, you probably won't go near it. That's a shame for those who don't love it, because it's a really fine instrument tonally – good enough to win out over some guitars costing three times as much. If there was a version with a good deal less bling, and presumably a lower price tag to match, it would be a category killer, but would you even pick it up? At least here, the presence of Solomon's entire storehouse of abalone gets your attention. Try it – if you don't, you're missing out.
Value for Money: