So popular have acoustic guitars become in recent years that just about every musical instrument maker and distributor has tried to capture a slice of what has become a huge pie. This has had the happy result for players that competition is now intense, which has ramped up quality and compressed prices. Today, you can buy a really quite nicely made acoustic guitar with a solid top for a lot less than you could have paid for a fairly nasty laminated topped guitar a decade ago. The downside for the manufacturers and distributors, of course, is that they have to work out how to get their guitars into the shops and eventually into your hands.
Some guitarists like to play safe and stick to the brands they have heard of (not always the wisest move in this market, let it be said!) which encourages brands just starting out to offer features and quality at prices the 'big names' either can't or won't match. In quite a few cases, completely new brands have been created and some have become really successful, which is no doubt what the Belgian company that owns the internationally known Stagg brand must have been hoping for when it created the James Neligan range of solid topped acoustics.
For this review, we were loaned two models, the Deveron ACFI and the Lismore-PFI, both of which are electro-acoustics models.
Deveron ACFI (see above image)
The first JN up for review is the ACFI which is a guitar taken from the Deveron range of instruments. This range consists of three main body shapes: Dreadnought, Auditorium and Parlour, all of which are available as electro and non-electro models. The guitar supplied for review was an electro-acoustic with an Auditorium body shape.
Like the rest of the Deveron range, this instrument features a solid mahogany top coupled with mahogany back and sides, which have been bound together using a black binding.
The neck on this model is also mahogany and bears a rosewood fingerboard. The neck features 20 frets and has maple dotted fretmarkers, which is a nice stylistic touch.
The rather tidy looking headstock holds die cast nickel machine heads with a black satin finish, which, again, adds a very nice touch to the overall look of the instrument. The pre-amp on this model is a Fishman ISYS, which includes an onboard tuner - good to see a top brand like Fishman having been chosen. The nut and saddle are both nubone compensated and the bridge shares the same wood as the fretboard - rosewood.
Not to beat about the bush, the Deveron ACFI has a surprisingly good acoustic sound for the money. We found it be a very warm sounding instrument with a nice amount of volume when needed. Strumming out some simple open chords produced a tone with a decent amount of body and plenty of character. Fingerpicked arpeggios sounded great too, with a nice healthy, balanced sound. The playability wasn't bad either. Plugged in, the Fishman pre-amp proved itself to be a worthy addition to the package, providing a nice clean signal which tracked the playing very well.
The tuner is also a very useful function to have too. Build quality was pretty good, although perhaps not the tidiest I have come across with guitars in this price bracket. Whether that matters in the long run is a moot point. Most players, especially in this price range, are looking for sound and playability and the James Neligan Deveron scores very well in those departments.
The Lismore range consists of four main body shapes: Dreadnought, Auditorium, Mini-Jumbo and Parlour and, again, they are available as electro and non-electro models. This time round we had a Parlour body shape, reflecting the huge growth of interest in Parlour sized guitars in the past few years.
Like the rest of the Lismore range, this instrument features a solid spruce top coupled with a mahogany back and sides, which have been bound together using a wood binding.
The neck on this model is also mahogany and has an oval 'C' shape, satin-finished, which has just 18 frets in its rosewood fingerboard and short strip tab inlays, which I must say add a very nice touch.
For the LIS-PFI, the guitar's designers have opted for a slotted headstock with open gear nickel machine heads, much like the kind you'll find on a classical guitar. The headstock features a veneer including the J.N. initials displayed proudly across the top. On this model the electronics consist of an under-saddle Fishman Pick up and a PSY 401 Fishman EQ with built-in chromatic tuner - again, a very welcome choice.
Initial impressions of the LIS-PFI were good. Open chords sounded nice and full and despite the diminutive dimensions of the instrument, it surprised us all with how well it filled the room.
The playability was OK, although the action was a tad on the high side, making it a little difficult to negotiate passages that were more technically demanding. As we never tire of saying - always negotiate a set-up in the price when you buy a guitar! With that said though, this is a Parlour type guitar and as such the short scale may very well not be suitable for every player. The LIS-PFI provided a decent balance between the bass and treble registers and plugging the guitar in proved the pre-amp to be well up to the task of reproducing the acoustic characteristics of the instrument.
If I wanted to be picky, I'd say the build quality wasn't of the very highest but as we talked this one over at GI Towers, the point kept being made - does it really matter? We're not talking about tops splitting or necks bending - we're talking about small finishing details that are cosmetic and won't affect the sound or playability of the instrument. All the same, this is a fiercely competitive market so you need to make your own decisions here.
In summary, there's a lot to like about these James Neligan guitars. They offer a lot of bang for your buck, especially in terms of the tone and quality of sound that they are capable of producing and especially bearing in mind the quality touches like the use of Fishman electronics and Tusq components. Well worth checking out.