Founded in 1962 in Sakashita, Japan, at the base of the mountain that gave the company its name, Takamine was noticed in the early seventies for its well- priced replicas of Martin and Guild guitars.
Ironically, a commercial tie-up with Kaman, the company behind electro-acoustic pioneers Ovation, meant that, by the late seventies, after Takamine had developed its own Palathetic pickup system, Kaman effectively had commercial interest in the two main electro-acoustic guitar brands of the day. In further irony, it was Takamine's traditionally-made guitars that had longer- lasting appeal over Ovation's plastic bowl-backed guitars.
After 25 years of guitar making, Takamine started its annual Limited Edition guitars in 1987 and, this year, celebrating 50 years honing its craft, we have more. Here, we look at the none-more-black LTD 2012 'Michi'.
Takamine explains the series: "Guided by the theme of 'Michi', the Japanese concept of a path or a course to follow over a distance, the 2012 Limited Edition Series commemorates the course of Takamine's 50-year history. Each guitar features a stunning growing vine motif that symbolizes Takamine's long and vital life, and this unique design will never be duplicated again."
"The 'Michi', in its all black gloss livery, is quite breathtaking"
After opening the arched-top brown leather-effect hardcase of the LTD 2012 'Michi', you are greeted with a small certificate of authenticity validating the not-to-be- repeated design themes, a triangular pendant in a gold logo'd pouch, a branded duster, headstock sticker and case- carrying shoulder strap. The 'Michi', in its all black gloss livery, is quite breathtaking.
Here, you have a properly inlaid scratchplate, which has a deep and lustrous look, as does the whole finish of the spruce- topped rosewood body. The inlays feature subtle details of red berry fruits, veined leaves and a small songbird. It's tasteful and not outrageous.
The fingerboard inlays are far more detailed than the on the Takamine EG50TH (it's affordable sister model), with veins and narrow limbs stretching from the eighth to 15th fret. There are gold-coloured details aplenty on the purfling and rosette, while the gold-effect headstock logo is prominent and framed by gold-plated tuners, contrasted by a black rosewood headstock facing.
The solid black finish, of course, hides any outer view of the scalloped X-braced solid spruce top, or the rosewood back. The fingerboard here is ebony and the set-up is good: the nut and saddle are bone and, overall, the level of craftsmanship exudes quality.
Mind you, the black gloss finish shows up all fingerprints, and it almost seems too posh to play. You also get a top-of-the- line Takamine endpin jack socket and there is a matching gold-plated strap button offset at the heel. Perhaps a matching black heel cap would look smarter still.
Vibrant and alive, there's an exciting balance between this acoustic's depth and warmth of projection and roundness in the top end. It's a luxuriant sound, but, then, you'd expect that. It's sonorous, wide, engulfing and prominent.
"There's an exciting balance between this acoustic's depth and warmth of projection and roundness in the top end"
Plugging in, the Takamine Palathetic pickup and Cool Tube preamp create a nicely detailed tone. You can mix in more warmth from the 12AU7 dual triode valve, and the harmonic content of the sound takes on more vibrancy.
The mid-range is selectable from 250Hz to 4.5kHz. You can then cut or boost at whatever frequency suits, while the bass and treble sliders quickly tailor the sound - your personalised 'voice'.
It's a very flexible and intuitive system, though it does add physical weight to the guitar and, acoustically, the timbre is so dynamic, you would surely want to mic this guitar whenever you could.
Once upon a time, Takamine was top of the heap in terms of electro-acoustic performance. Today, things are very different, with all sorts of pickup systems and electros right across the price range. Limited editions also proliferate today - annual, seasonal, etc - which certainly wasn't the case back in 1987.
What hasn't changed, though, is Takamine's dedication to quality in terms of build and electronics - a major reason why we still see so many on stages large and small.
The 'Michi' reminds us, if needed, of the sumptuous quality of Takamine's high-end instruments. It's a guitar that holds its own, 50 years on, in the vastly expanded world of the modern-production electro-acoustic.