Wechter TO-8418 Review

AG 224 August 2011 Cover

by Stevie Coyle

While he's not exactly a household name, Abe Wechter has been in the guitar business for more than 30 years. He is probably best known for the high-end custom guitars he has built for such luminaries as John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Earl Klugh, Steve Howe, and Jonas Hellborg. Since 2000, he has had an offshore operation in China, where he builds a variety of models, including a dreadnought, grand auditorium, Nashville high-strung guitar, travel guitar, solid-body electric, lap-style resonator, and his signature double-cutaway Pathmaker acoustic-electric guitar. Wechter recently introduced a line of Martin-inspired models, including the guitar we requested for review: the TO-8418, a 12-fret 000 with a wide neck (17/8 inches at the nut) and slotted headstock.

Solid Woods, Wide Fingerboard

From a distance (or through graduated bifocals) the casual observer would be hard pressed to distinguish the TO-8418 from its Nazareth-born ancestor; only the V-shaped notch in the center of the headstock and gold-tone tuners would tip off most of us to the fact that this is not a Martin. Once in hand, that upscale vibe continues. The TO-8418 is wonderfully lightweight—almost always a good sign, bespeaking solid woods rather than laminates—and the neck and body are both gloss-finished. The primary visual clues that this not a high-end guitar are the unbeveled edge of the pickguard and the plain-black back stripe.

The TO-8418’s back, sides, and neck are built with solid mahogany; the fingerboard and pyramid bridge are rosewood, and the top of our review instrument was a very handsome—if somewhat heavily cross-grained—solid spruce. Needless to say, all-solid-wood construction in this price range is a welcome surprise. In true 12-fret 000 fashion, it’s a long-scale (25.5 inch) guitar, and in the nut-width department, at 17/8 inches, it’s about as wide a fingerboard as you’ll find on a steel-string guitar. But comfort and playability are all in the particular relationship of player proportions to instrument proportions, so you can’t assume that a player with small hands or short reach will be unhappy with a wide-fingerboard guitar.

The only fault we could find was a very slight accumulation in the finish on the foot of the heel.

Sweetness Abounds

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool 12-fret, small-bodied guitar fan, and for many years I’ve owned and played the daylights out of a rather high-end 000. But even by my très-snooty standards this Wechter sounds a whole lot better than I expected, considering the price tag. With a list price of $869 and a street figure closer to $650, it’s a real eye-opener.

The TO-8418 is a very, very satisfying play. It’s loud and clear, and delivers in style what its 000 forebears were designed for: the long 12-fret 000 body helps restore some of the boomy bass presumably lost in guitars with smaller-than-dreadnought dimensions. With its overall sweet timbral balance and precise treble articulation—as well as its wide fingerboard—it will surprise no one that the Wechter TO-8414 suggests a fingerstyle approach over a flatpicked one. And the Wechter is indeed a worthy fingerpicking machine. It’s a long-scale, so I didn’t hesitate to try several alternate tunings and found the overtone stack to be especially impressive in tunings like D A D G A D, open D, and open G. Good old standard tuning provided lovely surprises at nearly every turn as well: articulation and clarity were very good, with perhaps just a slightly undesirable slenderness in the upper registers. But as in the alternate tunings, sweetness prevailed.

The Wechter’s playability is excellent, which comes as no surprise, since Wechter applies the computerized Plek neck- and fret-adjustment process to all its guitars (plek.com). The instrument we reviewed was set up rather on the low side, but even though I couldn’t apply as much right-hand attack as I’d normally like, in order to really activate the top, it was abundantly clear that this guitar could easily handle the slightly higher setup that might typically appeal to flatpickers and strummers.

Since more of us than ever are recording ourselves these days, especially for YouTube postings, I tried recording the TO-8418 under several different circumstances. I did three passes: one into a first-generation Edirol R-09, a second into a Blue Snowball USB mic in cardioid mode straight-on 12 inches from the 18th fret, and lastly into a pair of modded Oktava MK-012’s two inches above the 14th fret through a John Hardy preamp into ProTools. Predictably, the fidelity of the recordings was variable in precisely the ways you’d expect, but in each case, the essential 12-fret 000 sound came shining through in style. There’s a slight tubby characteristic of this body style that can be easily steered around in recording by decreasing proximity to the soundhole and staying off-axis to it.

Affordable Vintage Fingerpicker

The Wechter TO-8418 is a worthy Martin-tribute guitar at an astonishingly modest price. It’s a spectacular choice for fingerpickers ready to take a step up from their first guitars, and experienced players will shake their heads in wonder at how much guitar $650 can buy nowadays.

SPECS: 12-fret 000 body with slotted peghead. Solid spruce top with scalloped X-bracing. Solid mahogany back, sides, and neck. Rosewood fingerboard and pyramid bridge. Bone nut and saddle. 25.5-inch scale. 17/8-inch nut width. 2.285-inch string spacing at saddle. Gloss urethane body finish. Satin urethane neck finish. Open-back chrome butterbean-style tuners. D’Addario EXP16 light-gauge phosphor-bronze strings. Made in China.

PRICE: $869 list/$649 street.

MAKER: Wechter Guitars: (260) 407-3836; wechterguitars.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar August 2011

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