NUTS BRAZIL With a little help from this pair of hand-made

GBreview ACOUSTIC GUITARS
GBinfo
PATRICK JAMES
EGGLE ETOWAH
PRICE: £2,300
BUILT IN: UK
SCALE LENGTH: 632mm
(24.9 inches)
NUT WIDTH: 46mm (1.8 inches)
STRING SPACING AT NUT:
39.5mm (1.6 inches)
TOP: Solid Alaskan Sitka
spruce
BACK & SIDES: Solid East
Indian rosewood
NECK: Mahogany
FINGERBOARD: Ebony,
406mm radius (16 inches)
FRETS: 20 medium
BRIDGE: Ebony with Tusq
saddle and ivoroid pins
STRING SPACING AT BRIDGE: 56mm (2.2 inches)
MACHINEHEADS: Waverly,
nickel with ivoroid buttons
FINISH: Clear UV-cured
lacquer
WEIGHT: 1.6kg (3.5lbs)
CASE: Hiscox Liteflite hard
case included
LEFT HANDERS: Yes, no
extra charge
PATRICK JAMES
EGGLE ETOWAH
BRAZILIAN
PRICE: £3,800
BUILT IN: UK
SCALE LENGTH: 632mm
(24.9 inches)
NUT WIDTH: 46mm (1.8 inches)
STRING SPACING AT NUT: 39.5mm (1.6 inches)
TOP: Solid German spruce
BACK & SIDES: Solid
old-growth Brazilian
rosewood
NECK: Mahogany
FINGERBOARD: Ebony,
406mm radius (16 inches)
FRETS: 20 medium
BRIDGE: Ebony with Tusq
saddle and ivoroid pins
MACHINEHEADS: Waverly,
3-on-a-plate with ivoroid
buttons
FINISH: Clear UV-cured
lacquer
WEIGHT: 1.6kg (3.5lbs)
CASE: Hiscox Liteflite hard
case included
LEFT HANDERS: Yes, no
extra charge
Contact:
Patrick James Eggle
PHONE: 01691 661777
WEB: www.eggle.co.uk
PATRICK JAMES EGGLE ETOWAH & ETOWAH BRAZILIAN
BRAZIL
NUTS
With a little help from this pair of hand-made
acoustics, Paul Alcantara weighs up the pros
and cons of indian and brazilian rosewood
Named after Etowah, a
county in the US state of
Alabama – the name apparently
means ‘edible tree’ in the
Cherokee language – the guitars
reviewed here belong to a
tradition of American lutherie
that dates back to the mid-19th
century. Despite this, the man
who made them, Patrick James
Eggle, is every bit the
Englishman. He lived and
worked in North Carolina from
2003 to 2005, but has since
returned to the UK to
establish purpose-built
workshops in the
quintessentially English
town of Oswestry in
Shropshire.
At first glance, the
Etowah and the
Etowah Brazilian
appear more or less
identical. Both
feature a
000-sized body,
a 12-fret neck,
a slotted
headstock and
a pyramid
...
bridge. However, the use of Brazilian
rosewood for the Etowah Brazilian
model’s back and sides hikes the price
up by a staggering 65 percent. Here,
we compare the two instruments and
ask whether a body made from
‘Palosanto Brasileño’ can really make
a £1,500 difference.
BODY & NECK
Like the first 000-sized guitars that
Martin introduced in 1902, the
Etowah has its neck-to-body junction
at the 12th fret. As a result, the body is
around an inch longer than that of
the more commonly seen 14-fret 000s
that the C.F. Martin company debuted
in the early 1930s. Although the
14-fret model offers superior access to
the top end of the fingerboard, many
feel that the old-style 12-fret neck
design – particularly when played
fingerstyle – produces a tone that is
more evenly balanced between the
bass, mid-range and treble frequencies.
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the
beholder, but it might also be argued
that the 12-fretter’s rounded upper
bout creates a body outline more
aesthetically pleasing than that of the
➔
square shouldered 14-fret model.
April 2008
guitarbuyer
73
GBreview ACOUSTIC GUITARS
PATRICK JAMES EGGLE ETOWAH & ETOWAH BRAZILIAN
I WANT TO BE A BRAZILIONAIRE
WHY IS BRAZILIAN ROSEWOOD SO SOUGHT-AFTER?
■ Brazilian rosewood is viewed
by some as the ‘holy grail’ of
acoustic tonewoods, but why is
this the case?
Well, without question it is an
excellent tonewood – extremely
hard, dense and resonant, it
produces rich bass frequencies
and aids great definition.
However, it’s worth
remembering that the back and
sides make a relatively small
contribution to the overall
sound of an acoustic guitar,
with the top doing 90 percent
of the work. Premium-quality
East Indian rosewood also does
an excellent job.
Another reason for Brazilian
rosewood’s exalted status is its
association with the ‘golden
age’ of Martin guitars. Between
1909 and 1969, Martin almost
exclusively used Brazilian timber
for its rosewood models. A
shortage in trees large enough
to produce two-piece backs led
to the introduction of the D-35,
a Dreadnought guitar with a
three-piece back, in 1965. The
Brazilian government’s embargo
on the export of rosewood logs
(intended to promote industry
within the country by forcing
exporters to use Brazilian mills
to process the logs before they
went abroad) led Martin to
switch to East Indian rosewood
for all of its standard models
from 1969 onwards.
Finally, the 1992 CITES
ban on the trading of
newly harvested timber
has ironically made
Brazilian rosewood much
more desirable. One
experienced luthier
recently told us that
there’s no question that more
guitars are being made with
Brazilian rosewood now than in
1991, before the treaty came
into force. With stocks of
pre-1992 Brazilian rosewood
suitable for guitar building in
ever shortening supply, these
guitars are becoming ever more
rare and collectable.
Both review guitars are edge-bound
with beautifully figured curly koa
wood on the front and back, outlined
with some extremely delicate purfling
made up of multiple layers of black
and white fibre and red ‘bloodwood’.
Though there is no centre strip
between the two halves of the
bookmatched rosewood backs, there is
a V-shaped strip of koa at the base of
the guitars, where you would usually
find an endpin (Eggle will fit one on
request). Back on top of the guitars,
concentric rings of black and white
fibre frame a brightly coloured abalone
soundhole rosette. Both are flawlessly
finished in UV-cured lacquer.
The one-piece mahogany necks (the
neatly cut diamond-shaped volute at
the base of the headstock is purely
ornamental) have a flat-ish C-shaped
74
guitarbuyer April 2008
n Both ebony fretboards
are inlaid with mother
of pearl markers
n The Waverly tuners are
fitted with ivoroid buttons
profile that proves equally comfy
whether wrapping the thumb over
the fingerboard folkie-fashion, or
adopting the classical thumb
behind the neck position. The
satin finish on the back of the
necks feels smooth and
inviting beneath the left
hand, lending the guitars
a nicely ‘played-in’ feel.
For the neck joint,
Patrick Eggle employs a
bolt-on system similar to
that used by US guitar
builder Collings. “We
use a dry mortise and
tenon joint that is
held in place by a
pair of 6mm bolts,”
he says. “Only the
section of
fingerboard that
extends out over the
body is glued down.”
This system enables the
neck to be reset (an almost
n The neck’s satin
finish contrasts with
the body’s gloss lacquer
inevitable procedure at some point in
the life of a steel-string guitar) far
more easily than on an instrument
with a conventional glued-in neck.
The ebony fingerboards are inlaid
with slotted-square pearl markers and,
though they aren’t bound at the edges,
a decorative white fibre and
bloodwood purfling strip is set into a
1mm-wide channel that is positioned
1.5mm from the fingerboard’s edge.
This kind of subtle and beautifully
accomplished detail speaks volumes
about the standard of workmanship
on show here. There are undoubtedly
many more extravagantly decorated
guitars out there, and Eggle himself
does offer a variety of custom options,
such as abalone binding around the
top and intricate fret markers shaped
like falling leaves, should you want a
more showy instrument. But we think
the small details decorating these two
guitars, every one of them perfect
and precise, are all the more exquisite
➔
for their simplicity.
GBreview ACOUSTIC GUITARS
PATRICK JAMES EGGLE ETOWAH & ETOWAH BRAZILIAN
n A UV-cured lacquer
finish has been applied
to both guitars
n A tortoiseshell scratchplate
adjoins an abalone rosette
n This three-ply purfling
is inlaid into the ebony
fretboard itself
n A mortise and tenon
neck joint is held in place
by a pair of 6mm bolts
The bone nut is likewise perfectly
shaped and polished, with string slots
that are cut to just the right depth for
an effortless action in the lower
positions. (By contrast, numerous
factory-built guitars have a nut that is
left far too high in order to disguise
the buzzes and rattles that result from
an indifferent set up.) The standard of
fret work her is, of course, faultless.
The unbound slotted headstocks are
76
guitarbuyer April 2008
faced with ebony and inlaid with an
elaborate Art Nouveau-style ‘Patrick
James Eggle’ logo in abalone.
We noticed that strings one and six
make contact with the headstock face
as they run to their respective tuners.
While this is true of most slotted
headstock designs that I have come
across (both new and vintage) and is
unlikely to cause any serious tuning
problems, it’s still not ideal. Patrick
says that this will be amended on
slotted headstock instruments that
are built from this point on.
Where the two review guitars part
company is in the choice of tone
woods used. The Etowah (pictured
here) has an Alaskan Sitka spruce
top and an East Indian
rosewood back and sides,
while the Etowah
Brazilian (previous page)
is upgraded with a
German spruce top and
a Brazilian rosewood
back and sides. When it
comes to acoustic flattop
guitars, Brazilian
rosewood – known
variously as dalbergia
nigra, Rio rosewood,
jacaranda and
Palosanto
Brasileño – is
considered
second to none.
Sadly, it is also
classified under
the CITES
(Convention on
International Trade
in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora) agreement as a
species facing extinction, so that only
timber harvested prior to its listing on
June 11 1992 may be used in
commercial trade. However, Patrick
reassures us that all of the Brazilian
rosewood he uses is reclaimed,
‘old-growth’ timber. “In the past, it
was used in the building trade in
much the same as we use oak beams
here in the UK,” he explains.
HARDWARE & PARTS
Exquisitely crafted, the ebony
‘pyramid’ bridges – so named for the
decorative points at either end – are a
thing of real beauty. Having a smaller
‘footprint’ than that of the larger belly
bridge (and hence a correspondingly
smaller glueing area) they are probably
not suitable for anything heavier than
the light-gauge strings that are fitted.
While the Etowah Brazilian model
has a set of three-on-a-strip Waverly
machineheads, complete with a
bronze, hand-engraved baseplate, the
standard Etowah guitar makes do with
six individual nickel-plated Waverly
tuners. In both cases, these traditional
open-geared tuners are fitted with
sophisticated ivoroid buttons.
SOUNDS
Both of these Etowah acoustics have a
slightly wider-than-average string
spacing (39.5mm at the nut and
56mm at the bridge) that is ideal for
fingerstyle guitar. The neck-body joint
at the 12th-fret also moves the left
hand a little closer to the body, which
feels more comfortable, particularly
when you are sitting down. “The
longer body and shorter neck of a
12-fret guitar is less of a strain on the
➔
left shoulder,” Patrick agrees.
GBreview ACOUSTIC GUITARS
PATRICK JAMES EGGLE ETOWAH & ETOWAH BRAZILIAN
details
...
superb guitars
crafted to the
very highest
standard
■ The slotted headstocks are faced with
ebony and inlaid with an abalone logo
■ The ‘pyramid’ bridge has been carved from
ebony and fitted with a compensated saddle
■ These guitars are meticulously checked
before being signed off by Patrick Eggle
GBConclusion
GBopinion
PATRICK JAMES
EGGLE ETOWAH
& ETOWAH
BRAZILIAN
GOLD Stars
orld class build
W
quality
Outstanding tone
Brazilian rosewood
makes the Etowah
Brazilian even more
desirable
black marks
None
ideal for...
Fingerstyle players who
want (and can afford)
the very best
78
The Etowah’s scale length has
recently been reduced from 25.4 to
24.9 inches, which results in a lower
tension across the strings. “There is
now more movement in the strings
and therefore more amplitude,” Patrick
points out. “While it may not match
the power and drive of a longer scale
instrument, the guitar will feel more
responsive and friendly to play.”
Until the introduction of the
Dreadnought in 1931, the 000 was the
largest guitar size that the Martin
company offered, and though these
Eggle Etowahs have a voice that is less
aggressive than that of a dreadnought,
they still pack plenty of power. There’s
nothing in the least bit small about
the sound of either of these guitars.
This is a full-range, hi-fi acoustic
sound, and these guitars are
wonderfully responsive in terms of
both tone and dynamics.
The excellent balance between the
bass and treble strings allows the
individual notes that comprise a chord
to speak with real clarity and
definition, and, with a bottom end
that’s less boomy than a dreadnought
and a little smoother than an OM,
guitarbuyer April 2008
both of these guitars from Patrick
Eggle are a delight to play.
So now to the $10,000 question: in
a blindfold test, does the Brazilian
rosewood and German spruce
instrument actually sound any better
than its otherwise identical twin? The
answer – at least in the case of these
two review instruments – is an
unequivocal ‘yes’. Both guitars sound
great but the Etowah Brazilian has
that extra 10 percent. Presence,
authority, charisma – call it what you
like, this guitar has certainly got it.
Rather than eulogise over the
Etowah Brazilian’s undoubted virtues,
we suggest you get your hands on one.
But if you don’t intend to buy, be sure
to leave your wallet at home!
GBratings
XPATRICK JAMES EGGLE
ETOWAH & ETOWAH
BRAZILIAN
BODY & NECK
PLAYABILITY
SOUNDS
VALUE FOR MONEY
GBverdict
THE ETOWAH IS BRILLIANT, but
THE BRAZILIAN is EVEN BETTER
■ Like all of the Patrick
James Eggle guitars that we
have reviewed, these Etowahs
are built to the very highest
standard. Their many
intricate yet understated
details are utterly beguiling,
while the level of
craftsmanship on show is
right up there with the best
American manufacturers
but, from a UK perspective,
at a far better price.
While both review instruments
sound gorgeous, the Etowah
Brazilian scores the highest points
when it comes to tone, with an
even richer, even more expressive
sound than the standard Etowah,
a very impressive instrument in its
own right. If you buy the cheaper
guitar you certainly won’t be
disappointed, but – and for many
of us £1,500 is a very big ‘but’ – if
you can afford the Etowah
Brazilian model we think you’ll
find it’s well worth the premium.
Start saving your pennies! GB
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