In the middle of the Great Depression, the Montgomery Ward department store began selling Recording King guitars and banjos. These high-quality models, built by companies like Gibson and Kay, made it possible for ordinary musicians and hobbyists with bad financial luck to afford decent instruments.
Seventy years later, many guitarists are feeling the effects of the recent economic recession. So it is fortunate that a new series of Recording King guitars is offered by the Music Link, which also distributes sensibly priced instruments under the Loar and Johnson names. Recording King guitars are conceived of in the United States by luthier Greg Rich and his design team. The instruments are made in China, but set up and inspected back in the US.
We auditioned Recording King’s latest model, the RD-327, a handsome dreadnought patterned after a top-of-the-line pre-war Martin and retailing for a tiny fraction of one.
Premium Tonewoods and Vintage Styling
The RD-327 is made from premium solid tonewoods usually found on much more expensive guitars: an AAA Adirondack spruce top (considered to have greater resonance than the more commonly used Sitka spruce), East Indian rosewood back and sides, a one-piece mahogany neck, ebony fretboard and bridge, and a rosewood headstock overlay.
Ornamentation on the guitar is fancy but tasteful. The purfling and rosette are abalone, with matching bridge pin and end pin abalone dots, while the peghead features an ornate mother-of-pearl and abalone torch inlay—complemented by gold vintage-style Grover open-gear tuners with butterbean buttons—and the fretboard is dusted with snowflake inlays from the first to 17th frets. Grained ivoroid binding on the neck and body, as well as on the heel cap, completes the vintage appearance.
Our review model of the RD-327 boasted some especially attractive tonewoods. The spruce top had an appealingly wide grain with some subtle bearclaw markings here and there, while the dark rosewood back and sides were marked with complex figuring. Overall, our RD-237 had good construction. The frets were cleanly seated and smoothly polished, the inlays and bindings tidy and flush, the bone nut and saddle cleanly cut. The instrument’s coating of nitrocellulose lacquer—a somewhat unusual finish for a guitar in this price range—was evenly applied and just shiny enough.
The guitar wasn’t without some minor gripes regarding the craftsmanship: more time could have been spent on sanding the forward-shifted X braces inside, and there were some glue gobs occasionally dotting the kerfing. Also, the tortoise pickguard was lifting a bit at the edges, perhaps due to an inadequate gluing job.
Modern Playability and Bright Sound
Early dreadnought-sized guitars can have huge necks, while some found on more modern instruments are a bit skimpy. The comfortable V-shaped neck on the RD-327 split the difference between these two extremes. The action was comfortable straight out of the box, and it was easy to play chords and single-note lines alike all along the length of the 25.4" scale length neck. In addition, the 1.75" nut kept things from feeling cramped. I played the guitar for about 30 continuous minutes and didn’t experience much in the way of fret-hand fatigue.
The RD-327 had a bright sound with an appealing natural reverb especially apparent on the higher strings. The sustain was decent, too. Gently strumming the guitar in an assortment of meters, rhythms, and tunings, I found it to be well-balanced. When attacked more forcefully, though, the RD-327 sounded slightly anemic, lacking the powerful bass associated with dreadnought guitars, the model of course named after a type of 20th-century battleship. But I could see this as an asset when recording, as a guitar’s pronounced bass can easily weigh down a track.
Given the RD-327’s vintage-looking but high performance machine heads, it was easy to get into an assortment of alternate tunings—open G, double drop-D, and DADGAD. In each, the lowest notes on the fifth and sixth strings only suffered minimally due to the instrument’s bass response. The guitar was equally responsive when chords were strummed or arpeggiated with a flatpick in these three tunings, and while the sound on all was slightly compressed, it would likely open up over time, as is typical on an all-solid-wood guitar.
It felt great to fingerpick on the RD-327, given its generously wide nut, but the guitar did not sound as good as it did when strummed. While the balance was adequate enough, the guitar was lacking in projection when subjected to some basic Travis picking, a few Renaissance pieces, and some old country blues licks. But then again, dreadnoughts, with their relatively large bodies, are designed to be robustly strummed, and perhaps a smaller bodied Recording King like the ROC-26 or ROS-626 would be better suited to fingerpicking.
Recording King’s RD-327 is a surprisingly inexpensive interpretation of a pre-war dreadnought. With its intricate inlay work, the guitar offers vintage opulence at a fraction of the price of a top-of-the-line old model or a new American-made instrument. While the guitar has a traditional V-shaped neck, it feels more comfortable than that on the average 70-year-old guitar. And although the RD-327 is somewhat lacking in low end, it would be a great recording instrument, one whose sound will likely improve as it is over the years.
you want a vintage-looking dreadnought with all solid woods at an affordable price.
you’re looking for a dreadnought with a powerful bass response or you don’t care for fancy ornamentation.
1940 Recording King archtop by Gibson
Recording King Tricone (after 2007)
Singer songwriter Caitlin Canty writes and plays her songs with a 1930s Recording King guitar
Recording King is a musical instrumentsbrand currently owned by The Music Link Corporation, based in Hayward, California, which also produces other musical instrument lines.
Range of products commercialised under the Recording King brand are acoustic and resonator guitars, and banjos. Their guitars are designed in America, manufactured overseas and sold worldwide.
Recording King started as a house brand for Montgomery Ward in the 1930s. Legendary guitarist John Fahey played a 1939 model. The original guitar was similar to the Gibson Advanced Jumbo, discontinued in 1939. The brand was revived in 2007 by The Music Link in Hayward, CA. Current Recording King products use vintage designs and replicas of pre-World War II parts.
Musicians who use Recording King guitars include Christian Letts of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Justin Townes Earle, John Fahey, Mark Spencer of Son Volt, Will Kimbrough, Lizzy Long, Caitlin Canty, Jonathan Devoto of The Matches, Rob McCoury and Buster Scruggs.
- ^ abc"RECORDING KING - The Music Link Corporation - Serial Number: 85014031". trademark registration, TradeMarkia.com.
- ^ abc"A Piece of History with Every Model". RecordingKing.com. Archived from the original on 2012-06-08.
Note: recent version of the equivalent page became short and possibly uncertain:
- "About Us". RecordingKing.com. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- ^ ab"International Distributors". RecordingKing.com. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
- ^Damian Fanelli (Jan 21, 2012). "NAMM 2012: Recording King Updates Jubilee Series Slope Shoulder Guitars". Guitar World.
- ^Adam Perlmutter. "Recording King ROS-626 Review". Acoustic Guitar (March 2009). Archived from the original on 2013-01-26.
Note: recent version of the page has no review.
- ^"Recording King Introduces the RO-310 Acoustic Guitar". Premier Guitar. September 25, 2012.
- ^Simone Solondz. "Fahey's Recording King Reborn". Acoustic Guitar (October 2001).
- ^Federico Sheppard. "The Resurrection of the Recording King - John Fahey's 1939 Ray Whitley Recording King". ParachoDelNorte.com. Paracho, Michocan, Mexico: Paracho del Norte.
- ^Evans, Steve; Middlebrook, Ron (2002-11-01). Cowboy Guitars. Centerstream Publications. p. 1927. ISBN . Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- ^"Artists". RecordingKing.com. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
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By Greg Olwell
People were playing lots of music during the Great Depression and circumstances were such that guitar makers like Gibson, Stella, Regal, and others responded to this demand by creating bargain brands that were often cost-cutting versions of their brand-name instruments. Many of these guitars were built quickly and on the cheap to help make them affordable and were sold through department stores. The original Recording King line was available at Montgomery Ward and was built by either Gibson or Regal. In many instances, the surviving guitars from this era have fantastic vibes, with great looks and sounds that range from good to unbeatable.
Today’s revived Recording King brand celebrates the spirit of some of these Dust Bowl-era beauties with its Dirty 30s line. Since launching several years ago, the series has sold over 30,000 guitars and to celebrate this milestone, Recording King has released a limited-edition Deluxe series, available in dreadnought, 000, and single-0 sizes.
I received the Deluxe Single 0 for review. It shares the same woods and electronics as its Dirty 30s Series 11 counterparts, but with a few key differences. Each guitar in the limited-edition Deluxe series features slightly different bracing and tuners, and a finish whose shading gives it a more vintage-correct look.
Small But Mighty
As a single-0-sized guitar, the Recording King is small—measuring just 14 inches across the lower bout, making it close to a true parlor-sized guitar—and is fitted with a slender long-scale neck. Thanks in part to the 12-fret body and 25.4-inch scale-length neck, it has a nicely full sound for such a small guitar, and its size makes it very comfortable to play sitting or standing. I could see this body style really working well for people with smaller bodies and hands. The neck is quite svelte, and because I’m a six-foot-tall meatball, it took my fretting hand a little while to adjust.
The Deluxe has a solid Sitka spruce top and solid African mahogany back and sides. African mahogany, or khaya, is not a true mahogany, but it’s close enough to have been a popular substitution for many years, much like its botanical cousin, sapele. Ivory-colored accents on the tuner buttons, neck heel, bridge pins, and binding contrast nicely with the dark sunburst top and brown-stained neck, back, and sides, which help give this guitar a prewar look.
While the Single 0 veers off from the prewar budget-brand scheme in its clean construction and modern ergonomics, the only sticking point I had was a literal one: The nut slot for the third string was a little too tight and gave off a tell-tale ping when tuning. Given this guitar’s bluesy vibe, I found myself jumping from standard to open tunings, and if I were to keep it, I’d have a repair tech gently sand the nut for smoother tuning.
As the San Francisco Bay area was sheltering in place during my test time, I was only able to try the guitar out at home, but after a few weeks together, I would have no hesitations about gigging with this guitar. To check out the pickup, I played through a Henriksen The Bud amp and a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro. Plugging straight in, with the amps set flat, I got a tone that was better than usable—it was desirable. The amplified Deluxe sounded clear and more faithful to its acoustic sound than I’m used to hearing from other pickup-equipped guitars. The onboard tone control was good for taking some of the top end off when I wanted a slightly darker sound for picking.
Acoustically, the Recording King has an appealing, balanced tone, with shades of boxiness—in a cool, vintage-y way—and the tone improved noticeably during my testing, growing a little richer and deeper after the initial break-in period. The acoustic output was pretty substantial, though that’s not this guitar’s forte. Instead, it’s more of a parlor that delivers a respectable return of tone and volume.
Few other guitars offer all solid wood and electronics for this price, and I’d be quick to recommend the Recording King Dirty 30s Deluxe Single 0 to anyone wanting a guitar that’s well-built and sounds worthy for under $500. It has a vintage, bargain-priced look with modern playability and I can really see this guitar appealing strongly to people on the smaller end of the spectrum who are into old timey music. But no matter what size you are, if you’re a player looking for a comfortable companion for the couch or the stage that returns a lot on your dollar, the Single 0 is definitely worthy of your consideration.
Recording King Dirty 30s Deluxe Single 0
BODY 12-fret; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped Sitka spruce X-bracing; African mahogany back and sides; ivory-black-ivory binding top and back; small ring rosette, matte sunburst finish
NECK 25.4″ scale mahogany neck with C profile; 1-11/16″ bone nut; two-way truss rod; 20-fret padauk fingerboard with ivory plastic dot position-markers; black peghead overlay, open-back tuners with ivory buttons
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OTHER Fishman Sonitone onboard preamp and undersaddle pickup; padauk straight-shaped bridge with compensated bone saddle; ivory plastic bridge pins and endpin
MADE IN China
PRICE $449.99 street
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The Recording King name has been around since the early 1930s; a period that is fondly remembered as the "Golden Age" of musical craftsmanship when some of the world's most influential and coveted fretted acoustic guitars were conceived. Starting life as a house brand for department store chain Montgomery Ward, the Recording King line was later discontinued in 1939 — with the name dormant for more than six decades.
Brought back to life in 2007 by the California-based Music Link Corporation, Recording King's current instrument range captures the spirit of its '30s roots and promises "the look, feel and sound of the classic models, with impeccable workmanship and enhancements for contemporary players."
Here at Andertons, we're proud to be stocking Recording King acoustic guitars, resonators and lap steel guitars. Ranging from entry-level to professional models; Recording King caters for players of all levels and experience. Browse the full range below!
More LessSours: https://www.andertons.co.uk/brands/recording-king
Acoustic recording king
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