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Despite the fact that Martin, for example, has been making folk-size acoustics for over a century, it’s only in relatively recent years that this kind of medium-bodied flat-top has become a mainstream product for most manufacturers, in particular those in the sub-£500 bracket we’re dealing with here.
Historically, cheaper examples have tended to be sidelined as beginner or young players’ instruments, not to be taken terribly seriously. If, as in this test, you then factor in a cutaway and an electro system, their increasing availability is an even more recent trend. After all, cutaways on acoustics (archtop jazzers excepted) were few and far between until the 1980s, so too dedicated pickup systems, notwithstanding the pioneering work of Ovation and Barcus-Berry during the sixties.
So, why the burgeoning choice and increasing popularity of cutaway folk electros? Well, maybe everyone desperately wanted to come up with alternatives to the ubiquitous dreadnought and jumbo. But it’s reasonable to propose that, helped by the late eighties ‘unplugged’ phenomenon and the emergence of so-called ‘travel’ acoustics, people became more aware that smaller-bodied flat-tops could deliver surprisingly robust sounds and, importantly, were far more comfortable to handle than the big-box jobs.
They also tended to be better voiced for fingerstyle. Another persuasive factor not to be overlooked is the development, during the early eighties, of purpose-designed cutaway stage electros, most influentially from Washburn and its Festival Series and Yamaha with its APXs.
Clearly, the industry has gradually recognised that if these, and others, can be a success then there’s no reason why similar adaptations couldn’t be applied to more traditional designs. All our test instruments fall firmly within the folk genre, with bodies between 15-inch and 15.5-inches wide, but there are significant spec variations.
Three of the guitars - the Crafter, Faith and Freshman - have long OM-type scale lengths, while the Recording King’s is a shorter 000-style. The Crafter and Recording King - especially the latter - offer wider fingerstyle necks, while the other two are slimmer and more strum-orientated, with narrower bridge string spacings too.
Preamps are all different: a familiar Fishman Classic 4 on the Recording King; Shadow’s SH863 on the Faith; and tuner-equipped systems on the other two, a Baggs-designed LR-T Pro for the Crafter, and Fishman’s brand new Aero Blend on the Freshman.
The three dearer models boast all-solid-wood construction, though the Crafter’s back and sides are laminated. Surprisingly, China doesn’t wholly rule the roost. The Recording King and Freshman hail from there, but the Crafter is Korean and the Faith is made in Indonesia.