Recording King RD-316 Review

AG 232 April 2012 Cover

by Jason Borisoff

The Recording King name will ring a few bells for those interested in guitar history. It was the brand name used by Montgomery Ward in the 1930s, and guitars built under this name were manufactured by Gibson. Today, the brand has been revitalized by California-based Music Link, and for a number of years the company has been producing vintage replicas of acoustic guitars in virtually all standard body sizes as well as vintage-style banjos, resonator guitars, and lap steels.

The RD-316 we received for review draws its inspiration from a vintage Martin D-18 mahogany dreadnought. Its features include prewar-style construction, nitrocellulose finish, and bone nut and saddle. Most notable, considering the guitar’s price, are the solid mahogany back and sides and solid Adirondack spruce stop. Adirondack is the stiffest variety of spruce available, and it responds well to aggressive playing, a plus for bluegrass dreadnoughts that need to punch through the mix.

Plain and Simple

As you might expect from an all-solid-wood guitar that retails for under $1,000, the RD-316’s appearance and appointments aren't its biggest selling points. The Adirondack top has uneven grain, and the plain black-striped binding does little to dress it up. The African mahogany back and sides, on the other hand, are made from gorgeous pieces of wood, complemented nicely by the tortoiseshell purfling. The headstock is Martinesque in shape, and the chrome Grover open-back tuners look sharp and work great. The headstock volute is a nice, vintage-style addition, and the ebony fingerboard is sharp, even, and sleek. A look inside the guitar revealed a few rough cuts and glue globs, and the guitar’s finish is a bit on the thick side, but the frets are installed nicely, with no rough edges.

The RD-316 arrived set up with very low action, which I would raise considerably. For those who prefer an instrument that is easy to play, this is a plus; the guitar plays very fast and smooth. But if you play aggressively, as I do, the stock action is too low and doesn’t hold up to heavy-handed picking. The feel of the neck is very similar to most Martins I’ve played, so it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who is used to the feel of a D-18. The first string occasionally slipped off the side of the fingerboard in spots when I played leads, probably due to steeply angled frets, but after a few minutes I was able to adapt to avoid this.

Dark and Dry Tones

The sound of this guitar is much darker than I was expecting, more like a rosewood dreadnought, but drier. The bass notes growl nicely with lots of sustain. The RD-316 responds nicely to a gentle but firm pick attack, and the high strings ring out rich and round with bell-like tones. I really enjoyed playing this guitar up the neck; it doesn’t peter out in the high end like some guitars do. The volume is well balanced between strings, and although it doesn’t have the bright complexity in the highs that some mahogany dreadnoughts of its type do, I really enjoyed the emphasis on the midrange. The long sustain and fatness of tone lends itself to slow, bluesy melodies and Appalachian waltzes.

When I really had to dig in to keep up with some picking friends, the guitar began fretting out. With the low action, the guitar does not respond well to aggressive picking, and a lot of tone and volume is lost in the frets. However, I’m certain that a setup with higher action would make this guitar a serious bluegrass cannon.

Budget Pro Solution

With an Adirondack spruce top that puts it in a league with upper-end instruments easily four times its price, the RD-316 is a great solution for budget pickers who dream of a dreadnought with high-end woods, as well as players who want a formidable instrument they feel good about bringing to a festival. Additionally, with its great sounds and vintage-like feel, it wouldn’t surprise me if this guitar would find its way into the hands of more experienced pickers.

SPECS: Dreadnought body. Solid Adirondack spruce top. Solid African mahogany back and sides. One-piece mahogany neck. Ebony bridge and fingerboard. Bone nut and saddle. Forward shifted X-bracing. 25.4-inch scale. 1 11/16-inch nut width. 2 1/4-inch string spacing at the saddle. Nitrocellulose finish. Vintage-style Grover openback tuners. Made in China.

PRICE: $1,066 list/$799 street.

MAKER: Recording King recordingking.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar April 2012

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