RainSong Shorty SG Review

AG 234 June 2012

by Adam Levy

“If it sounds good, it is good.” So goes the quote by legendary jazz composer Duke Ellington. I decided to keep Ellington’s maxim in mind as I took the RainSong Shorty SG out of its case and strummed it for the first time. Which is not to say that I expected to find anything less than a finely crafted instrument. It’s just that I’m a traditionalist. I like my guitars made of wood. (Sitka spruce tops in particular, with mahogany backs and sides.) The Shorty, on the other hand, is made entirely of graphite and composite materials—there’s not a splinter of wood to be found anywhere. An old-schooler such as myself might be tempted to ask, “Does this sound like wood?” The real question here, however, is, “Does this sound good?” It does. But that’s really no surprise. RainSong has been building graphite guitars since the 1990s, refining its design and manufacturing processes year after year, and it can lay claim to the longest running continuous production of graphite guitars.

Carbon-Fiber Advantages

The structural advantages inherent to carbon fiber are undeniable. The material is virtually impervious to changes in temperature or humidity, making it well suited for instruments that are subjected to a lot of traveling, or whose home base sees a broad range of weather. Another advantage is that graphite allows design and construction choices that aren’t possible with wood. For example, the RainSong Shorty is built without traditional bracing, instead featuring what the company calls “projection tuned layering,” a process that uses strategic layers of the carbon-cloth material to enhance top vibration while ensuring proper stability.

No-Frills Elegance

The look of the Shorty is appealing, especially if you like your guitars in shades of black. The soundboard is made of RainSong’s all-graphite “unidirectional carbon,” which resembles tightly grained wood. The back and sides are a carbon/glass hybrid, cast in a broad tweed pattern that will be familiar to anyone who has handled a RainSong guitar. A simple white-black-white pinstripe rosette encircles the soundhole. The bridge pins are black Tusq, inlaid with large mother-of-pearl dots. The nut and compensated saddle are also Tusq, in a bone-like shade of white. The neck and headstock are graphite, with a tweed-like look tighter than that of the body. The unbound fingerboard is made of a composite material, with no dots or other markers on its face. Small white dots mark the usual locations along the top side of the fingerboard. Looking the Shorty over, it’s clear that this is a well-crafted guitar. The finish is uniformly consistent, the frets flawlessly dressed, and the factory setup offers comfortable action along with reliable intonation.

Orchestra Body, Short-Scale Neck

RainSong used its orchestra model template for the Shorty’s body. Though not exactly small, it is the most petite body size the company offers—with a depth of 4.125 inches and a lower-bout width of 15.25 inches. The Shorty has a substantial cutaway, facilitating playability beyond the 12th fret and even up into the upper extremes of its 18-fret fingerboard.

The Shorty is available with two finish options, one of which we checked out on the SG, a high-gloss urethane finish (the other finish option, SFT, is RainSong’s satinesque “fine texture” coat). While RainSong has offered the same body used on the Shorty for many years, this is the company’s first model with a 12-fret neck and a short scale. This affects the instrument in two significant ways. First, it moves the bridge toward the center of the lower bout, which—according to RainSong—results in “improved sonic energy transmission from the strings to the soundboard and enhanced bass response.” Secondly, it puts the entire fingerboard within easier reach, for a more intimate playing experience.

I found the Shorty’s neck to be on the comfortable side of stout. RainSong calls this its NS shape, and it is essentially a short-scale, 12-fret version of the com­pany’s N2 neck—which has a modified U profile and a relatively flat 20-inch fingerboard radius. I had no trouble playing barre chords in any position, and found that my Shubb capo could easily be clamped anywhere along the fingerboard. Even though a graphite neck is unlikely to warp or bow, the Shorty includes an adjustable truss rod, which allows you to set the neck relief to your preference.

Sturdy Featherweight

One of the first things I noticed as I eased the Shorty out of its TKL hard-shell case is that this guitar weighs next to nothing. Played while sitting, my leg barely noticed that the guitar was there. Likewise, while standing with the guitar strapped on, my shoulder barely registered the pull of the strap. And yet there’s something about this guitar that feels sturdy. If a wooden guitar were this wispy, I would be inclined to coddle it, whereas I’m not afraid to dig in and strum the daylights out of the RainSong. For a few moments, I did just that, and the guitar sounded clear and relatively uncompressed despite my over-muscling. As I eased back down into a more normal playing volume, I found the guitar’s tonal sweet spot. Frequencies are well balanced across the sonic spectrum, and there’s a nice sense of string-to-string separation within chord voicings. Next, I set down my plectrum and tried some quiet fingerpicking. The Shorty sounded just as rich even with the lightest touch, and here I really appreciated the slow decay of the notes. Chords rang out longer than I’ve experienced on any other acoustic instrument. This might be particularly attractive for solo acoustic instrumentalists, who could use the added hang time for new textures in their compositions and arrangements.

Fishman Onboard Electronics

The Shorty’s inherent tonal flavors are well served by the Fishman Matrix pickup and Prefix Plus-T onboard preamp system. Two small rubberized knobs control Volume and Notch (a narrow-band filter that helps eliminate feedback). Five sliders offer more tone-tweaking options—Bass, Treble, Brilliance (to boost or cut high frequencies), and two semiparametric Contour controls for EQ. I recorded a guitar track directly to GarageBand and found the Prefix Plus-T’s parameters flexible, though not extreme. Wherever I set the sliders, the RainSong’s personality came through. I had similar results when plugging into my early-’60s Fender Princeton (not an “acoustic” amplifier per se, but my go-to amp for most gigs). The tones could easily be adjusted to complement the characteristics of different rooms and varied musical contexts.

Woodless Warmth

A graphite guitar may not appeal to ardent purists, but the Shorty’s easy-to-grab neck, lean OM-size physique, and characteristically punchy 12-fret tones make it one of the most warm-blooded guitars in the RainSong catalog. On top of that, the guitar is visually elegant—and the versatile Fishman Prefix Plus-T onboard preamp system makes it a totally gig-ready instrument.

SPECS: 12-fret orchestra model. Unidirectional carbon-fiber top. Carbon/glass-fiber hybrid back and sides. Composite neck and fingerboard. Bolt-on neck heel with glued-to-the-body fingerboard. Adjustable truss rod. Composite bridge. Tusq nut and saddle. 24.875-inch scale. 1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 1/4-inch string spacing at the saddle. High-gloss polyurethane finish. Chrome-plated 18:1 Gotoh tuners. Fishman Prefix Plus-T electronics with built-in tuner. Light-gauge Elixir Nanoweb strings. Made in USA.

PRICE: $2,532 list/$1,899 street.

MAKER: RainSong Graphite Guitars: (800) 788-5828;rainsong.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar June 2012

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