Recording King RAJ-126 Review
In the 1930s, Gibson introduced a body style that would become known as the slope-shoulder dreadnought, used on models like the J-45, Advanced Jumbo, Roy Smeck, and others. Originally a simple and affordable guitar, the J-45 especially has become a standard guitar for players such as Bob Dylan and Jorma Kaukonen.
These days, vintage and US-made reissue slope-shoulder guitars generally cost thousands of dollars—not exactly within reach of many players. Recording King, a reincarnation of the Depression-era Montgomery Ward brand, has addressed this problem in a line of new Chinese-made guitars with vintage American styling. We checked out the RAJ-126, an all-solid-wood guitar that borrows features from different early slope-shoulder designs, including the longer scale length found on Gibson’s Advanced Jumbo (Recording King also offers slope-shoulder guitars with short scales, such as the RAJ-16).
Cool Vintage Styling
Built from woods usually reserved for costlier guitars (an AA-grade solid Sitka spruce top with a hint of bearclaw figuring and African mahogany back and sides) the RAJ-126 boasts tastefully vintage styling. The sunburst finish on the soundboard graduates from a rich dark brown at the edges to a warm amber in the center, while the back, sides, and neck are stained dark brown. The neck is mahogany and the fingerboard and bridge are rosewood. Ornamentation is streamlined, with three-ply créme-black-créme body binding that is echoed in the rosette, along with a créme heel cap, end strip, and neck binding. The back strip and headstock cap are solid black, the latter embellished with the Recording King logo in an old-fashioned pearl script. The open-gear, three-per- plate tuners have ivory buttons, and the tuners have been lightly aged, which is a little incongruous since the rest of the guitar is so shiny.
Overall the RAJ-126 feels solidly built, but the dark stain on the neck appears to have been unevenly applied and there is evidence of excess glue where the fingerboard meets the soundhole. However, the polyester finish is nice and thin—not the heavy coating often seen in this type of finish, but more like nitro-cellulose lacquer with its characteristic breathability.
Rich, Full-Body Sound
Early slope-shoulder guitars tend to have impressively chunky necks, so I was pleasantly surprised by the RAJ-126’s comfortable svelteness. Not too skimpy, but with a silky low action, the neck feels just right for playing barre chords and single-note lines in all positions. Neck profiles are obviously a matter of personal preference and sometimes the subject of contentious debate among guitarists, but the RAJ-126’s neck should appeal to a wide variety of players.
I strummed a few open chords on the RAJ-126 and was impressed by its warm, earthy voice. There was a crispness and separation between the notes of each chord, and a robust low end, owing perhaps to the longer scale length. Single-note lines sounded authoritative on the guitar. And while many fingerstyle players prefer a 13⁄4-inch nut, the 111⁄16-inch nut was accommodating to fingerpicking, which sounded just as good as flatpicking on this guitar.
Dylan recorded so much great music on a slope-shoulder guitar that it seemed appropriate to try some of his songs on the RAJ-126. First I played the “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with its open chords in G major strummed in 3/4 time. The guitar responded nicely, with a satisfying low end and general roundness—a sound it retained for the closed chords in A major of “Lay Lady Lay” and, when capoed at the seventh fret, the bass-note/strum accompaniment to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It also had a bit more headroom than I would expect on a guitar of its size.
Moving the capo down to the fourth fret, I tried the fingerpicking patterns of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” and the notes, based on open chord shapes, rang together beautifully; I didn’t have to dig in too hard to get a smooth, full sound. Next I tuned to open D to play “Shelter from the Storm” (which Dylan originally recorded in open-E tuning), using the open strings against a moving bass line to etch out the chord progression. The RAJ-126 lost none of its sturdiness or warmth in this tuning, and the notes mingled together with rich overtones.
When subjected to a range of other styles, from fingerstyle blues to ragtime and chord-melody-style jazz, the RAJ-126 behaved just as agreeably, with great character and presence, not to mention easy playability. It might not be the most finely crafted guitar, but these attributes, along with the all-solid construction, retro styling, and affordable price, make it easy to overlook any anomalies in what would be a terrific instrument for a beginner or seasoned guitarist—a very cool sonic and aesthetic alternative to the typical budget import.
SPECS: Slope-shoulder dreadnought body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid African mahogany back and sides. Scalloped X-bracing. Mahogany neck. Dovetail neck joint. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Bone nut and saddle. 25.4-inch scale. 111⁄16-inch nut width. 23⁄16-inch string spacing at saddle. Gloss sunburst polyester finish. Golden Age tuning machines. D’Addario phosphor-bronze light strings. Made in China.
PRICE: $934 list/$699 street.
MAKER: Recording King: recordingking.com.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar February 2013