The North American Guitar Company is renowned for bringing guitars into the country that most of us could only dream of affording.
Of course, we love to review them because it’s rare that we get to touch something that valuable unless we were to dig into our own sides and grab a kidney. Yet TNAG is aware that there is, in the UK, a growing market for people who want boutique and luxury guitars, but at slightly more affordable prices.
This is why if you were to go on the website, among the names like Astrand, Gaffney and Kostal, you’d find Andrew White. Not that Mr White doesn’t offer guitars with eye-watering price-tags - guitars from his signature range start at around $7,000 and go up quickly once you start adding on the extras (believe us, we’ve been pricing up our dream model in the office and it quickly got out of hand).
But White, like more and more luthiers, realises the value in taking the designs from his signature range, that he has spent years of his life refining, and having them factory-made overseas, in this case Korea, to give more people the chance of playing his instrument.
And considering we have a guitar here that is a fraction of the cost of a White handmade model, we’re already onboard with that decision... we mean, it still has the same name on the headstock, and who’s going to be peering into your soundhole to check the ‘made in’ stamp on the sticker inside?
White’s signature range models have the C, E and F designations, while his production models, which are all named after gods, carry the marques Cybele, Eros and Freja - so it won’t be hard to work out which one to upgrade to if you fancy dishing out the extra cash a few years down the line.
We have a Freja on test here; a guitar that comes in somewhere between a dread and a jumbo. If you want a jumbo that’s fairly wieldy, then the Freja is a smart choice. This guitar fits to the body nicely when seated (which is where you’ll start playing it as it does not have a neck-side strap pin), and the satin finish on the comfortable C-shaped necks mean that your fretting hand will be racing around with no interruption.
There’s evidence of a custom maker’s touch on the necks too thanks to the one-piece construction and the rounded heel, while the Spanish cedar that’s been used is a thing of pockmarked beauty (something we longed for someone to say to us during our teenaged acne-ridden years).
The matching headstocks are understated and White’s logo similar, which we appreciate, especially as it also shows up laser-engraved on the back of the tuners. The tuner and machine head is black, which works better than gold on these guitars, and have an 18:1 ratio. They operated fine in my time with them, jumping around from standard to DADGAD, DADF#AD and variations there on.
The build quality is good. The nut was slightly sharp, which we felt occasionally when fingering chords in first position, and there are glue spots inside both guitars which are just slight reminders that, despite the flourishes, these are still factory-made, but we’ve seen worse-built guitars at much a higher price. It may sound picky, but the one thing that does jar is the Artec unit on the Freja - just an ugly bit of kit.
It’s large, and the controls look like they’ve either come off a Walkman or a Casio keyboard circa 1984. Something more discreet would have suited the overall aesthetic better.
The spruce/rosewood combo is an industry standard for a reason and seems well-suited to the resonant performance that this body shape provides. The cutaway and electric guitar-like neck shape and string spacing make it tempting to treat it like a fingerstyle guitar, but it’s a strummer through and through.
We suppose the question is, what does it do exceptionally well? The answer is: nothing particularly. But conversely, what does it do even slightly badly, and the answer is the same. It’s just... well, solid. It’s James Milner. Put it in any situation and it will do well. It has a lovely mix of mids and highs (the guitar, not James – though I’ve heard he has a lovely voice), and, as you’d expect from a guitar that’s aiming to appease fans of dreads and jumbos, a richly sonorous low end.
The bass notes carry nicely and have a good level of sustain, and there’s enough in the top to perform well melodically if you need to take that route in your performance. Yes, we spent much of our time sticking to the first position with it, but when we went down to DADGAD it did a fine job handling fingerpicking tunes and, thanks to the spacing and the lovely neck, some Trace Bundy/Justin King style lightning fast hammer-on/pull-off runs sounded pretty damn good too. It’s just that the Cybele does it all slightly better.
We think that the Freja represents great value for money - especially when you consider that Artec Edge Z unit has a four-band EQ and does a pretty stellar job of reproducing the acoustic tone of the guitar, while allowing for some scope to tune it to your particular taste. It’s loud, full of life and a great all- rounder. We’d take it as a dependable back-up or even as a ‘step-up’ guitar for someone looking for something gig-ready without breaking the four-figure barrier.