By Adam Perlmutter
Now a leading name in acoustic-electric guitars, Takamine started out five decades ago as a quintet of luthiers building nylon-string guitars in a small shop at the base of Japan’s central Alps. Eventually, the company added steel-string guitars to its line and acquired international distribution, but perhaps one of the biggest developments in its history was the introduction of the innovative Palathetic pickup system in 1979. Available only on a Takamine guitar, the system features six individual piezo transducers under the bridge plate and produces an unprecedentedly lifelike amplified sound.
The Palathetic proved so popular over the years that it was not unheard of for a guitarist to gut a Takamine for its electronics and place the liberated circuit in a favorite old Martin or Gibson. Takamine continues to install the Palathetic, its original design intact, in a full line of steel- and nylon-string acoustic electric guitars that incorporate such advances as ergonomically asymmetrical neck profiles, split saddles for improved intonation, and bi-channel truss rods for optimal neck stability. All of these features can be found on the new Pro Series TNV360SC, an opulent guitar that represents the pinnacle of the company’s line and is one of the limited-production models made in Takamine’s Japanese specialty shop.
Like all guitars made in the specialty shop, the TNV360SC is made from a selection of fine tonewoods, including a solid bear-claw spruce soundboard (so named as the figuring looks as if it had been produced by swipes from a bear), a mahogany neck, solid Indian rosewood back and sides, and an ebony fingerboard and bridge. My review model boasted especially nice specimens. The top was finely grained and subtly figured, while the back and sides were a warm, dark chocolate hue.
The TNV360SC is a handsome guitar. An elegant abalone border on the soundboard and rosette and snowflake inlays on the fretboard reference the embellishments found on a Martin D-42. Other appointments include ivoroid neck and body binding, heel cap, and end strip; a marquetry back strip incorporating red, white, blue, and black bits; a vintage-style tortoise pickguard; and a rosewood headstock cap with the script Takamine logo.
The TNV360SC is built with CNC machinery and put together by a skilled ensemble of luthiers with hand tools, and the craftsmanship on my example was unimpeachable. The 20 nickel-silver frets were perfectly seated and hand polished, and the nut and saddles (one for the high E and B strings and another for the lower four) were perfectly notched. Not a single imperfection could be found on the polyurethane finish, which was buffed to a luxurious gloss. Inside, the body showed no evidence of the hide glue with which the bracing and kerfing were carefully adhered.
When I first removed the TNV360SC from its plush hardshell case, I was surprised by its heft: 5.7 pounds—a bit weightier than the flattop and archtop acoustics to which I’m accustomed. But the Takamine is nicely balanced between neck and body and comfortable to hold whether seated or standing.
It’s easy to zip around on the TNV360SC’s medium-sized neck, with its 644-millimeter (25.35-inch) scale length and 45-millimeter (1.77-inch) nut. The factory-set action is perfect—nice and low, but not so much that there is unwanted buzzing. I played for a straight half-hour, in all positions and with an assortment of fingerings, and experienced not much in the way of fret-hand strain.
According to Takamine literature, the soundboard of the TNV360SC is “individually voiced to maximize its power and dynamic range,” and the guitar did indeed have a robustly booming voice, with a taut bass and a crystalline treble. When subjected to some boom-chuck strumming patterns and bluegrass-type single note solos, the guitar responded authoritatively.
With its relatively wide nut, the TNV360SC offers ample room for fingerpicking, and although dreadnoughts sometimes perform lukewarmly in this capacity, it sounds brilliant and responsive for some fingerstyle improvisations in DADGAD and open G, slackened tunings in which the bass retains its power and snappiness.
In addition to the Palathetic pickup, my TNV360SC was equipped with a more recent Takamine innovation: a CTP-2 CoolTube preamp, powered by a 12AU7 vacuum tube and four AA batteries (hence the guitar’s relative heft). Mounted to the guitar’s left shoulder, this assemblage features a sliding volume control and three-band equalizer, the mid control of which has a separate knob for fine-tuning the frequencies between 200Hz and 8.5kHz, as well as a handy digital tuner.
Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic, the Palathetic-and-CoolTube combo sounds excellent, rich and organic when set flat, with a bit of extra warmth added by mixing in power from the tube—all without the tubbiness and feedback characteristic of some acoustic pickups. In other words, the TNV360SC is a real benchmark of a luxurious modern acoustic-electric dreadnought.
LIST PRICE: $3,799.99
Takamine Guitars, takamine.com
Photo: Massimo Gammacurta
In Good Hands: Takamine product manager David Gonzale fields questions about the TNV360SC
Does the bear-claw figure in the Sitka have any sonic effects?
It’s primarily aesthetic. However, there is a common belief that the bear-claw figuring adds a certain degree of extra stiffens to the top, giving it a stronger fundamental sound. But each one is unique, so the sound ultimately depends on the properties of the individual top.
What kind of player did Takamine have in mind when designing this guitar?
The player who wants a traditional-looking instrument with modern performance features.
How much of the guitar is made by CNC versus by hand?
The bulk of the CNC work is done in the early stages of the process, when making the raw parts. The top braces are shaped by hand, the binding and inlay work is all done by hand, the neck is fitted to the body by hand. Machinery might make certain functions more efficient, but ultimately it takes the touch of the human hand to make it a musical instrument and to give the guitar its soul.