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Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret review

Two immaculate instruments that seize the moment for small-bodied acoustic guitars

  • £3475
Lowden WL-25
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Our Verdict

Unerring craft and an inspired build endow these petite acoustics with sumptuous tones, the WL-25 offering boutique, souped-up parlour tones for the ages, and the S-23 benefitting from a little more room, with a bigger voice that retains its top-end shimmer.

Pros

  • Great build and Lowden offers plenty of options.
  • Fingerstylists will love that neck and nut width.
  • Sweet tones and addictive playability.

Cons

  • If you need some boom you'll need bigger than the WL-25.

Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret: What is it?

The small-bodied acoustic guitar has enjoyed a renaissance in recent times. Whether players have been crying out for sofa-friendly six-string to noodle on or something with a little more sparkle to it to lift their fingerstyle, there has been no shortage of options on the market.

Those dipping their toes into the high-end acoustic guitar market – perhaps not so much looking for a couch body but for a special instrument for the studio and the stage – would do well to check in on Lowden Guitars. George Lowden's 12 Fret series might just have what they are looking for. 

Here we are going to look at the WL-25 and the S-23. These 12-fretters share a lot of the same build DNA and are exemplars of the craftsmanship that Lowden is famous for.

With the 'WL' in the WL-25's designation standing for 'Wee Lowden' you can expect a compact instrument. It's hardly toy-sized, more like a classical guitar, measuring just 335mm at its widest. It is between these extremes that you'll find the WL-25's rosewood bridge – instantly recognisable as a Lowden design, with its top-loading and bone split-saddle setup.

Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

When he has been on record talking about his 12 Fret series, Lowden has noted how the position of the bridge sits a little differently, slap bang in the middle of the soundboard, which has a knock-on effect on how he has to think about bracing, but in turn, rewards both luthier and player with an acoustically promising proposition.

After much experimentation, Lowden used what is described as ‘Dolphin Bracing’ for its 12-fretters, and for our two review models, this sits in support of a solid cedar top, with East Indian rosewood on the back and sides of the WL-25, while the S-23 has solid walnut on the back and sides, its body bound with sycamore. 

Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

We mentioned how similar the builds were, and that's something that extends to the necks, each comprising mahogany with splices of rosewood. The headstocks both have rosewood face plates and are equipped with gold-plated Gotoh 381 tuners with ebony buttons. Fingerboards are ebony and eschew fret markers but there are side-dot markers should you lose your positioning in the moment.

The S-23 comes in a little wider than the Wee Louden, with its S-type body measuring 374mm at its widest, 105mm at its deepest, with the WL-25 a svelte 100mm at its maximum rim depth.

At 24.8", the S-23 has a longer scale than the WL-25, which has a very approachable 24" scale. Nut widths are identical, however, each is 45mm wide and made of bone. 

Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Of course, when talking specs and Lowden acoustics, it is important to note that there are heaps of custom options available. These WL-25 and S-23 acoustics have no electronics but Lowden will happily fit a pickup and preamp, with LR Baggs Anthem and Highlander IP1/IP2 systems on the menu. 

Alternative tonewoods are available. The WL-22 is offered in a red cedar top, mahogany back and sides, or red cedar and walnut, while the WL-35 Adirondack (red spruce) top and cocobolo on the back and sides. There are similar options available for its S-bodied sibling too.

Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret: Performance and verdict

Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The finishes here are satin-smooth matte natural, with the clear pickguards giving the top a naked look. The build is flawless as you would expect, and there's a sense that these compact acoustics are saving the element of surprise for their tones.

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(Image credit: Lowden)

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A superb instrument, built for the stage, but with an endearing acoustic voice. If you're a performing musician, you must try one.

Taylor 612ce 12-fret
The 612ce is an unbelievably comfortable guitar to play. It just fits into your body and the fretting hand feels remarkably relaxed thanks to that slightly shorter scale. Staying up in first position provides a surprisingly loud and complex tone. 

Larrivée C-03R-TE Custom
With its dynamic tones, stunning build and one of the slinkiest setups we have ever played, the C-03R-TE is an acoustic that will win over players of any number of styles.

When you first pick up the WL-25, it feels like a slip of a thing, but once you fret a couple of chords, that neck profile feels remarkably grown-up. It's very much a full C profile, and superbly comfortable.

Of course, it makes the WL-25 seem a little neck-heavy as you adjust to its proportions but that's very much a temporary sensation as the 45mm nut opens up all kinds of fingerstyle possibilities.

Those possibilities benefit tremendously with an enthusiastic treble response that presents your chords with superb clarity. You might not have the booming bass and lower mids that a big box of wood might offer but it lacks no authority. This is a loud little acoustic.

Oftentimes, small-bodied acoustics and parlour guitars have been associated with cheapo hand-me-downs – the sort of guitars we inherit, we start on, and return to as a sort of six-string comfort blanket, or for casually jotting down musical ideas that we haven't quite realised yet. 

Five minutes with the WL-25 would change that perception; it elevates the format. The understated aesthetic that we are used to seeing from Lowden fits it perfectly. It's a serious tool.

Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The walnut and red cedar build of the S-23 is a tantalising prospect. There's a remarkable amount of depth, with a persistent sustain and a real effervescent when playing chords or single-note lines. 

Of course, there has to be a little extra oomph coming from that wider and deeper body, but however you attribute its tone magic, it is a sound that's truly magical. Does it sound better than the WL-25? Some players would argue so. It may well be more useful in different situations than the WL-25. 

But both are hard to put down. Both will challenge any preconceived notions of small-bodied acoustic guitars, and with Lowden, you've got options to spec one up how you like it.

MusicRadar verdict: Unerring craft and an inspired build endow these petite acoustics with sumptuous tones, the WL-25 offering boutique, souped-up parlour tones for the ages, and the S-23 benefitting from a little more room, with a bigger voice that retains its top-end shimmer.

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Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
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Lowden WL-25

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret: The web says

"Playing the WL-25 is a great experience and we found ourselves opting for quasi Renaissance fingerstyle before we even noticed... 

The S-23 shares many of the WL’s construction details, save that its back and sides are walnut, which – legend has it – has a tonal fingerprint that sits between the dark complexity of rosewood and the bright zing of maple. 

Instruments featuring walnut have inspired us in the past in these pages and so it came as no surprise to find that the S-23 sings with a beautifully bright, airy voice."
Guitarist

Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret: Hands-on demos

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Acoustic Centre

Lowden Guitars

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Lowden WL-25 and S-23 12-Fret: Specifications

Lowden S-23 12 Fret

Lowden s-23

Lowden S-23 12 Fret (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
  • PRICE: £3,475 (inc case)
  • ORIGIN: Northern Ireland
  • TYPE: S-type acoustic
  • TOP: Red cedar
  • BACK/SIDES: Walnut with sycamore bindings
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 105mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 374mm
  • NECK: Mahogany with rosewood splices
  • SCALE LENGTH: 630mm (24.8”)
  • TUNERS: Gotoh 381
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/45mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 18
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Rosewood w/ bone saddles/55.6mm
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.7/3.74
  • OPTIONS: Various pickups/minor build variations are available when ordering. See website for details
  • RANGE OPTIONS: The 12-fret S body size comes in a variety of body wood combos across the Lowden S range from the S-22 red cedar/mahogany (£3,365) and S-25 red cedar/Indian rosewood (£3,475) up to the S-35 Adirondack/Cocobolo (£5,975)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Yes
  • FINISH: Matt Natural

Lowden WL-25

Lowden WL-25

Lowden WL-25 (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)
  • PRICE: £3,475 (inc case)
  • ORIGIN: Northern Ireland
  • TYPE: Small body ‘Wee Lowden’
  • TOP: Red cedar
  • BACK/SIDES: East Indian rosewood
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 100mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 335mm
  • NECK: Mahogany with rosewood splices
  • SCALE LENGTH: 610mm (24”)
  • TUNERS: Gotoh 381
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/45mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 18
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Rosewood w/ bone saddle/56mm
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.6/3.5
  • OPTIONS: Various pickups/minor build variations are available when ordering. See website for details
  • RANGE OPTIONS: The 12-fret WL body size comes in a variety of body wood combos across the Lowden range from the WL-22 red cedar/mahogany (£3,365) and red cedar/walnut (£3,475) up to the WL-35 Adirondack/Cocobolo (£5,975)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Yes
  • FINISH: Matte Natural
  • CONTACT: Lowden Guitars