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EMERALD GUITARS SYNERGY X7 ARTISAN

Written by Bill on November 30, 2017 – 1:13 pm -

It’s been a little over a year since I took possession of my Synergy X7 Artisan harp guitar from Emerald Guitars. In that time, I’ve had the chance to play it in a variety of situations, both in live performance and recording, and I’d like to share my thoughts.

MY CRITERIA: I live in the land of the sun… HOT in the summer and DRY in the winter! I average over 150 shows a year and I needed a working instrument that was tough and durable and would deliver every night. Arizona’s climate can wreck havoc on wooden instruments. Summers can hit the 115 + mark and the humidity level can drop to as low as 5% in the winter. Composite instruments have been around for a while and I’ve been watching and playing what’s out there for years. I wanted an instrument that could endure the climate of Arizona, was compact enough for airline travel and that would deliver good tone and be comfortable to hold and play. Carbon fiber is much more resilient in dealing with these issues and it makes perfect sense as a building material for stringed instruments. A crucial concern was needing something small enough to carry on planes. The oversize/overweight airline freight charges are outrageous and I get extremely nervous when I have to hand over one of my prized instruments to the baggage handlers.  The ability to carry on the smaller Synergy harp guitar gives me much better peace of mind, when flying.

THE COMPANY: The first time I discovered Emerald Guitars, I was immediately blown away by the creativity and uniqueness of the instrument models the company offered:  double-necks, baritones, fan-fret necks, 7 and 8-string, short-scale 12-strings, 18-strings and the elusive harp guitar!  It was clear that this was a company that was not only embracing modern technology in composite instrument construction, but was also able to unleash radical designs that could not be achieved through conventional wooden building techniques.  The flexibility of the carbon fiber molding process seemed to be only limited by one’s imagination.  I remember one of the first things Alistair said when talking about what I wanted to build.  He said, “If you can think of it, chances are we can build it.” Just take a look at some of the custom-builds on his web site.

THE DECISION TO BUY: My biggest apprehension on purchasing the instrument was not being able to get my hands on one first, as they were made in Ireland.  At that time, a dealer in Utah had a program where you paid a fee to have one shipped to you to check out for a week.  After the week, you received a FedEx call tag to send it to the next person.  The instrument leap-frogged across the USA for customers to check out, first-hand.  Brilliant idea! After I had my time with it, I knew I had to have one. 

MY INSTRUMENT: I ended up going with a custom Synergy Artisan X7. My other harp guitar has six sub basses and I found I sometimes wanted one more low note for certain songs.  Alistair was able to add a 7th sub bass string along with installing traditional string posts near the sub bass tuning machines.  His factory models do not have these string posts. My logic for adding them was to provide more string sound transmitting into the instrument.  Alistair did point out that he encountered issues of sympathetic vibrations from the string windings on the tuning machine string posts shafts on a few instruments. This was mostly due to a funky string, not the instrument itself. The string posts provide a break angle to help alleviate encountering this issue as well as help transfer more string vibration into the instrument. I also went with Dunlop jumbo fret wire on the finger board as I like big, tall frets. The Gotoh 510 black tuners have a 18:1 ratio and a very smooth feel.

Upon receiving the instrument, I was immediately drawn to the clean lines of the body design and cool angles of the harp arm and neck joint.  It’s very futuristic looking and the body contours fit perfectly when holding and playing it.  The attention to detail in the finish is amazing and it looks as smooth as glass.  The weight is surprising light and the strap doesn’t wear into your shoulder after playing for long periods of time.  It feels about the size of an electric guitar and comes with a high quality, plush-lined, foam-padded cordura nylon gig bag, with back pack straps and an accessory pouch to hold your supplies.  It’s the perfect size for airline travel and I’ve had no problems getting it in the overhead bins when flying. If you’d like to know more details on the specs of the instrument, please check out this Youtube video I did.

THE SOUND: When comparing composite guitars to wooden guitars they each have a distinct sound, with each having their own individuality in terms of tone.  For what the Synergy offers, it’s fits the bill for what I need it to do.  It has good volume when played unplugged but really shines when amplified. It’s compact and perfect for fly gigs. There’s an even balance across the guitar strings when both strumming chords and picking single note lines.  The tone is bell-like across all areas of the neck.  The sub bass strings have a piano-like attack, when plucked and they sustain, beautifully.

PLAYABILITY/ACTION: Every manufacturer purposely sets the string height high off the neck by not filing the nut slots deep enough and setting the bridge saddle height high.  It’s not a defect, it’s just that factories can’t predict a players’ playing style nor the climate of where the instruments destination ends up being.  Regardless of what instrument you purchase it’s a good idea to spend a little extra to have the instrument set up to your playing preferences. The Synergy came with Graphtec compensated saddles.  These ‘one-size-fits-all’ compensated saddles are better than a non-compensated saddle but they still need dialed in, depending on the performers playing style.  A reputable local luthier should be able to handle this. I love the shorter scale neck.  It makes things much easier when reaching for long chord stretches and the shape and feel of the neck is very comfortable.  I had my local repair guy file the nut slots down a bit and reduce the height of the saddle.  The stainless-steel frets were perfect on the instrument and there was no need for any additional fretwork.

PICKUPS: I went back and forth with pickup systems and finally settled on two magnetics.  I use a Sunrise S1 magnetic on the guitar side and an Flatpup magnetic made by, Elmar Zeilhofer, on the sub bass strings,  Both pickups run through a LR Baggs iMix preamp.  I find the magnetic pickups work in a variety of situations, especially when at the mercy of different house sound engineers.  You really have to try hard to make a magnetic pickup sound bad.  Due to the magnetics only ‘hearing’ the strings and not the instrument body, it allows me to get plenty of volume onstage without the feedback issues that under-the-saddle, transducers and microphones can produce. Because I use magnetic pickups, I use nickel-wound strings on the guitar and sub bass side.  The windings of 80/20 bronze and phosphor-bronze strings do not have any magnetic content and therefore the magnetic pickups only ‘hear’ the steel core of these types of strings. Hence, players often complain that their tone sound thin when using a magnetic pickup with regular bronze or phosphor bronze strings.   Nickel-wound strings have a nickel wrap around a steel core and there is more magnetic mass for the pickup to hear, therefore you get more signal, sound and tone.  If you use a magnetic pickup you may want to explore this further. The trade-off is that you don’t get as loud of an unplugged tone that you get from the warmth of 80/20 and phosphor strings but you can make up for that loss through amplification and tone-shaping from a pre-amp, when plugged in.

CONS: I can’t think of anything negative about the instrument other than I wish I would have ordered a wider fingerboard.  I’ve got big hands and fingers and it’s a little tricky sometimes navigating clean execution of some chord fingerings, but not a deal breaker.

PROS: If you’re looking for a dependable, durable instrument that can weather the elements, take the abuse from full-time gigging and deliver exceptional tone night after night, you need an Emerald guitar.  If you’ve got a unique design idea that you’d love to see come to life, you need an Emerald guitar. Contact Alistair Hay today to custom design your next instrument.

Bill Dutcher is a Phoenix-based, independent recording artists and working musician who performs as a solo-acoustic artist, along with fronting the BD3 (Bill Dutcher Trio). Bill also plays in several side projects and specializing in 6 and 12-string guitar, Hawaiian guitar, mandolin and harp guitar.

Photos:  Mike Smith – MNR Imaging

 

#emeraldguitars #alistairhay #harpguitars #synergyx7 #elmarzeilhofer #flatpup #sixtusguitarpickups #mnrimaging #mikesmith


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