A modern small-body steel-string with a 12-fret neck, cedar top, and walnut back and sides.
by Teja Gerken
March 26, 2018
Lowden first introduced its small-body S models in 1992, and while the design has received various modifications over the years, the guitar has always had the same 14-fret neck configuration as other Lowden models. But luthier George Lowden is constantly looking for new ideas or ways to create variations on existing designs, and at this year’s Winter NAMM show, his company introduced a 12-fret version of the S model. We had a chance to check out one of the guitars that was shown at NAMM, an S-35 12-Fret, thanks to Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California.
12-fret S models are available in any of the wood combinations used in Lowden’s 35 series. Our demo guitar was built with a cedar top and walnut back and sides, a combination that Lowden has successfully used on many of its models. The quality of the instrument’s materials was spectacular, with beautiful, straight grain and even coloring on the top and stunning figure on the perfectly bookmatched walnut back. Like all Lowdens, the guitar has a five-piece neck design consisting of three mahogany pieces reinforced with two strips of rosewood. Naturally, the S-35 12-Fret also includes Lowden’s usual pinless, split-saddle bridge.
Modifying an existing 14-fret guitar design to work with a 12-fret neck involves moving the bridge (as well as the internal bracing) closer to the center of the lower bout. Not only is this typically a more efficient position from which to drive the top, in many cases it leads to better bass response and fuller tone than 14-fret neck designs. George Lowden has built many traditional classical guitars with 12-fret necks in his own private shop, outside of standard Lowden production, and is thus no stranger to the geometry of this design.
I have played several Lowden S models over the years (including an S-35M that I demoed here at Peghead Nation), but the S-35 12-Fret just might be my favorite. The guitar has an amazingly immediate response that reminds me of a great classical guitar, and overall its tone felt richer and more powerful, with a character that was more like that of Lowden’s larger guitars. Our demo guitar was set up with low action, which, combined with the short scale, made it incredibly easy to play. It was particularly rewarding when playing with a soft touch, where it took very little effort to achieve a complex tonality.
The 12-fret option is a great addition to Lowden’s line, and players who have been considering one of the company’s S models should definitely consider sacrificing two frets for a new Lowden tonality.
SPECS: S-size body with 12-fret neck. Western red cedar top. Walnut back and sides. Five-piece mahogany and rosewood neck. Ebony fingerboard. Rosewood bridge with split saddles. 630 mm. (24⁵¹/₆₄-inch scale. 45-mm. nut width. Gotoh 510 tuning machines. Made in Northern Ireland. $5,905 list. Lowdenguitars.com
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