LAG T400J12CE Review

AG 241 January 2013 Cover

Posted by Adam Perlmutter

It's been three decades since French luthier Michel Lâg-Chavarria starting making guitars, and while his instruments enjoy popularity in Europe, they’ve only recently found their way into the US market. Distributed by Korg USA, the LÂG line includes the Tramontane line of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars, which encompass a range of body styles and tonewood selections. All of these guitars, which are designed in France and built in China, have an elegantly Spartan appearance with discerningly restrained ornamentation. We checked out the T400J12CE, a smart 12-string cutaway jumbo with onboard electronics.

Quality Tonewoods, Modern Design

The T400J12CE is built with an excellent selection of timbers. Solid Sitka spruce was used for the soundboard; Indonesian rosewood for the back, sides, fingerboard, bridge, headstock overlay, and heelcap; and mahogany for the three-piece neck. Our review model boasts nice specimens of all these woods. The spruce has a consistently fine grain; the rosewood has a lovely swirled effect, especially on the headstock; and the mahogany has a warm, reddish-brown coloring.

Like all Tramontane models, the T400J12CE has cool aesthetic elements that set it apart from the typical budget guitar. The headstock is flared, like that of an elegant old archtop, its overlay arranged in two levels and the LÂG logo classily inlaid in maple. The rosewood-and-maple body bindings are rounded, lending a distinctive appearance while adding to player comfort. A simple rosewood- and-maple rosette is embellished with a mark of provenance, an Occitan cross, which is also embossed on the casing of each tuner. The tuners have tulip-shaped buttons, like the ones used on some ’50s Gibsons, and are black, as is all of the other hardware, including the nut, saddle, and bridge pins. Overall, our T400J12CE was solidly built, with just a few slightly rough fret surfaces that led to a bit of a scratchy sound when bending strings—but a simple fret mill performed by a luthier could easily take care of this.

Accurate Intonation, Easy Playability

For the uninitiated, a 12-string guitar has six courses (pairs of two strings); the bottom four courses include a standard-tuned string plus a string an octave above it and the top two courses have unison strings. With all those unisons and octaves, it can be tedious to tune a 12-string, but the T400J12CE’s smooth high-performance tuners and accurate onboard digital tuner make the process a little less painful. Twelve-strings are also notorious for having wonky intonation even when tuned perfectly. This is not a problem on the T400J12CE, though.

The T400J12CE, with its satin-finished, medium-profile neck and comfortable low action, played extremely well and was devoid of unwanted buzzing. Given the extra tension, a 12-string can feel cumbersome to a player accustomed to six-string guitars, but it was effortless to fret chords and single-note lines up and down the neck of the T400J12CE, and the shallow neck heel makes it inviting to visit the highest regions.

Comfortable in Many Styles

Open strings sound particularly robust on a 12-string, so I subjected the T400J12CE to chords that use fretted notes and open strings, sliding up and down the neck using an open E shape on strings five through three. The guitar had a nice, bright sound and an appreciable midrange, though not as much bass and power as might be expected from a jumbo guitar. There was a decent amount of sustain, and the notes all rang together with accord.

Given how good the intonation was, it was only natural to try some more colorful chords on the T400J12CE. Closed and extended voicings sounded clear and true; those that included open strings were especially vibrant.

I next played through some transcriptions of Lead Belly songs and of Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of "Hear My Train A-Comin’." The T400J12CE responded capably enough in these blues contexts, though the sound was perhaps a bit too shiny—a little grit would have been desirable here. It was fun to try a pair of popular selections by big rock acts, Led Zeppelin’s "Over the Hills and Far Away" and Pink Floyd’s "Wish You Were Here," on the guitar, which did a good job of reproducing the sounds heard on the original recordings.

Shadow Electronics

The T400J12CE’s electronics package includes a Shadow Nanoflex undersaddle pickup controlled by a StudioLÂG Plus preamp in the side of the guitar. Powered by two CR2032 batteries, the preamp includes a tuner, volume and tone controls, and a rotary selector that toggles between five preset sounds: Natural Folk, Mellow Mids, Studio Mid-Cut, Fingerstyle, and Mellow Jazz.

I plugged the T400J12CE into a Fender Acoustasonic amp and tried switching between the five settings. The sounds didn’t seem entirely connected to their names, but they would nonetheless be useful for tailoring the guitar’s sound to get the best sound from a particular amplifier or in a given venue. With these settings disengaged, the guitar had a natural basic sound and the electronics were fairly quiet. But when I tried to address the guitar’s shortcomings in the low-end by jacking up the bass frequencies, I got some feedback that couldn’t completely be eliminated by muting the strings or changing my position relative to the amp.

Affordable, Stylish 12-String

For a six-string guitarist, it can be a great creative diversion to delve into 12-string territory. And with its outstanding playability and good sound—not to mention handsome looks—LÂG’s T400J12CE offers a perfect solution for players wanting to branch out in this way without shelling out a lot of cash.

SPECS: Solid Sitka spruce top. Indonesian rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck with Indonesian rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Hybrid neck joint. 25.5-inch scale. 1 7/8-inch nut width. 2 7/32-inch string spacing at saddle. High-gloss finish on body, satin finish on neck. Satin black tuners. Shadow Nanoflex piezo pickup with StudioLÂg Plus preamp. Elixir strings (.010—.047). Made in China.

PRICE: $975 list/$799 street.

MAKER: LÂG: (631) 390-8737; usa.lagguitars.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar January 2013

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