Money is tight for us all, and last year Faith took the wraps - and quite a bit more - off the straightforward, clearly cost-effective 'Naked' range, of which we have an acoustic-only version of the Mercury Parlour on test here.
Last year saw Faith claim the Music Industries Association's Best Acoustic Guitar award for its Venus HiGloss model, voted for online on MusicRadar.com. Established in 2002, and designed by Patrick James Eggle, one of the UK's foremost modern acoustic guitar builders, it's this very grassroots recognition that has seen Faith move from being just another acoustic brand to one that is increasingly desirable.
With the Naked series the desire was to create real Faith guitars, made in the same Indonesian factory, by the same people, but simply more affordable. The only way Faith could achieve this was to strip off everything other than the essentials needed to make a resonant all-solid wood instrument.
So, there's no case and no body binding. There's a thinner abalone rosette and rosewood, instead of ebony, headstock fascia and fingerboard. Crucially, Patrick James Eggle's design of these guitars is still reflected in the attention to detail and clean build quality.
To many of us, ahem, more experienced guitar players, this 'value' aesthetic can often be a little too austere; we prefer to see binding and a gloss finish, offering more protection for the edges and a classier, or more classic, overall appearance.
But when we pulled the Mercury Parlour out, our preconceptions changed - we were immediately impressed by the lovely shape and excellent build quality. The finish is superb, with the same two- stage satin finish on the neck as the body, giving the neck a smooth, easy-to-play feel. On this model, the solid Engelmann spruce top seems unusually pale, yet that tells us it will invariably darken down a little with age and use.
For a parlour size, the diminutive Mercury, which is only 340mm (13.36 inches) across its lower bouts, has a deep body - 110mm (4.33 inches) at maximum tapering down to 96mm (3.78 inches) by the heel. Like the top, the Indonesian mahogany back and sides are solid, which more than compensates for a slightly anaemic colouration.
Highly impressive, however, is the comfortable C-shaped neck profile, and the perfect setup. The frets are very well seated on the rosewood 'board, and well finished, too, with no sign - or, more importantly, feel - of any sharp edges. A nice touch that catches the eye is the neat rosewood truss rod cover, rather than the usual plastic we see on most affordably priced instruments. Nope, our first impressions are remarkably positive: this one is immediately playable straight out of the box, with a good volume, projection and sustain.
Parlours can be tricky guitars to get right. Done correctly, the compact body should give quite a powerful, projecting tone, emphasising the midrange.
We warm up our ears with a Collings 0002H parlour, and are immediately impressed with the Faith, especially considering we're making a comparison between a £4,000 instrument and a £400 one. Okay, we have to be honest and say that while the Faith has a very pleasant, sweet tone when played softly, when you really begin to dig in it tends to become a little harsh on the treble side and slightly wiry.
The Collings, however, is always articulate when played hard or soft, with a beautiful bell-like high-end. That said, we're left with the impression that Faith has managed to create the feel and tone of a much more expensive instrument. It's actually quite rich sounding, yet not boomy, while the thin satin finish really enables the top to breathe freely, enhancing projection. It's an ideal guitar for singer- songwriters, fingerpickers, blues and ragtime styles.
If the idea behind this Faith was to create a highly affordable, cost-effective guitar, then it's an unqualified success. Okay, as we've said, it does verge on the austere side of the tracks aesthetically - but if you find that too difficult to digest, Faith has an impressively large range to choose from, with numerous versions of this body style.
But aside from the clean design and impressive attention to detail, this all-solid wood guitar sounds good and plays exceedingly well - especially at the price. If it's sound and playability that you value over unnecessary appointments, this is a very good place to start your search.
Of course, it's not stage-ready - which accounts in part for the low price - but again it comes in a full electro version in Faith's other ranges. As an alternative, you could always fit one of the new-generation soundhole pickups when you play out. Either way, we doubt you'll be disappointed going down this naturist route.