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Old 07-15-2019, 11:00 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Default NGD Post!* The search for a grail guitar turns into:* Operation Celtic Nightfire! *

Part 1– The Story
For some reason, this post reminds me of an exchange between the main character and a villain on an episode of “Kung Fu” I saw a billion years ago. I don’t remember the exact exchange, but it went something like this….

A villain saw Caine sitting at a table in a café, and recognized the Shaolin markings on his arms. He approached Caine and inquired as to how and why a Shaolin monk was sitting at this café. Caine looked at him and asked him if wanted to hear the truth or a story, and the villain replied “Whichever is more interesting.

Caine then replied…”Once upon a time there was a dragon….”

I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked and remember that small fragment.

Anyway, sometime last year, I had pulled back the reins on my participation on AGF as I was focusing primarily on my electric playing, and was very satisfied with the acoustic guitars I had; which at the time was a Journey Overhead (my travel guitar), a Blackbird El Capitain (my primary acoustic), and a Ziricote Emerald X20-12.

I must have read the email from Kevin in July of 2018 announcing the new models, including the X30, a jumbo sized guitar, so around August or so of 2018 I jumped back in to AGF and began researching info on the new X30. One of my ultimate dream guitars was/is a Gibson J200 which is famous jumbo, and for me that is an iconic instrument. But since I’d moved away from wood acoustic guitars, I didn’t think I would ever own one. So when I saw that Emerald was making a jumbo, I was excited at the possibilities.

I fired off an email on 9/25/18 to Emerald Sales asking if Emerald still did not do custom fretboard inlays, as I was all of a sudden a bit hellbent on creating a Gibson J200 “replica” in carbon fiber, and a vintage looking one at that. For me, at least in my mind, there were 5 things that helped define the iconic look of a J200:
1) obviously the jumbo body type
2) the end of the fretboard embellishment in a crown or point shape
3) the bound fretboard
4) the crown fretboard inlays
5) the “mustache” bridge

I sent that email to Sales because on my first Emerald (X20-12 Ziricote) I had asked for fretboard inlays and was told at the time that more or less Emeralds signature look was the clean, blackfretboard. Of the 5 things that in my mind define a J200, I knew the end of fretboard embellishment could be done and the body type might be close enough to look like a J200, so if I could get the inlays and binding and mustache bridge, I’d have my dream guitar in carbon fiber! Of course a cool vintage burst would also not be terribly difficult, and although is not really a defining feature of a J200, but is how I would want this CF J200 to look.

As luck would have it, Kevin was on his honeymoon and the man himself Alistair was in charge of answering emails. ;-) He was intrigued by the idea of comparing his X30 with a Gibson J200 and was very confident in how favorably the X30 would stack up against the giant icon of the acoustic world. He also really didn’t want to do the inlays, because they don’t do those in house and would need to send the guitar out, an still felt that the clean black fretboard was their signature look and it was difficult to do inlays with their fretboard material.

With that being said, Emerald has done some guitars with designs on the fretboard (such as the famous “Zoso” guitar and a few others), but I believe these were painted. Alistair said he would experiment using gold leaf on the fretboard as markers (a really innovative idea), and after a week or so and a few attempts he said he would not want to go that route as it was not up the standards he expected. In the end, Alistair said he would consider doing the fretboard inlays because it was an integral part of the project, but not the crown ones. Additionally, the fretboard binding could not be done and I don’t think he was keen about trying to paint the binding on. Also, the “mustache” bridge would not work. I was trying to be as respectful as possible as the last thing a small company wants to do is create a replica of a Gibson guitar (LOL…play AUTHENTIC!).

It was becoming clear to me that there were a few too many compromises in the vision that I had, and I thought much about it over a weekend and on 10/8, sent an email saying I was sorry, but the project as originally envisioned just couldn’t proceed. I cannot state enough though about how accommodating Alistair was in trying to make this project work, there was just a few things that either couldn’t be done (within a reasonable price) or done at all (maybe due to fear of copyright infringement etc.).

But over that weekend, as bummed as I was to not get my dream J200 in carbon fiber, I switched gears and came up with another idea!

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:42 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:01 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Part 2 – The Story cont.

Operation Celtic Nightfire!! For this new version of the vision (see what I did there!), I asked for a burst paint scheme that would resemble looking at a campfire at night. I had several pictures that I provided and a few alternatives, but my thought was yellow bursting into orange then red before fading out black around the edges. I wanted to evoke the feeling of looking at smoldering campfire. Since Alistair had given me the greenlight initially on adding inlays, I thought I would do something a little unique, and after looking various designs (I’m a big Abalone fan), Alistair sent me some pictures of some cool inlays from a site that sells inlays, but I wasn’t fond of them, but found some Gold Mother-of-Pearl Celtic knots that looked really cool, and I thought those would really honor the origin of the guitar. I thought this “campfire” burst would look really great with gold MOP Celtic knot fret markers and gold tuners. I originally spec’ed it with a quilted maple veneer as some of the sample pictures I sent had that, but Alistair recommended a flamed maple, so I went with that. I decided to keep the fretboard end modification as well, and on 10/11/18 made my first payment! Operation Celtic Nightfire was underway!! I actually put that name (Celtic Nightfire) in the email that I sent to Alistair and Kevin!

At the beginning of March, I saw that someone had a customization done to their Emerald which was having a small piece of carbon fiber added to accommodate a D’addario sound hole tuner. I thought this a great idea, as I have those installed on 2 of my other acoustics and like them. I sent Kevin an email and on March 4th he added that to my order.

I was so stoked to see my guitar in the 5/20 shipping video! One thing to note here, I did send Kevin an email after I saw the shipping video, as I noted that my fretboard customization did not happen (the little crown at the fretboard end). Emerald was very apologetic and immediately refunded my money for that customization, which I was fine with.* That design element was really a part of the J200 vision, and I was ok with getting some $ back. I think I would have been cool to have it on this build, but mistakes can happen, not a big deal. Also I knew that the inlays were a big ask of them as well as a risk, so I was not really bummed about the fretboard modification. It would have been a deal breaker on the first build though. As I mentioned and is discussed on several other threads so I won’t go into the details here, there was a series of unfortunate events which kept my guitar out of my hands and at the Emerald factory, for almost a month and half after appearing the shipping video. Celtic Nightfire was finally delivered on 7/6/19! Woohoo!!

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:19 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:06 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Part 3 – The Review
Ok, now that you’ve heard the story of Operation Celtic Nightfire….so how do I like the new guitar? I love it, I really do! Let me talk about the looks first, as you can tell from my story, the looks were very important to me, and I know that is not true for everyone, but that is what floats my boat. If you think I’m vein, it’s ok…I think I was born without the gene to make me worry much about what other people think….which reminds me of a mug I saw… “I play guitar because I like it, not because I’m good at it”. ;-)

These are my opinions, of which everyone’s is different, and of course since it is my guitar I could be biased, such is life.

Appearance:
First, I’ve got to say that the vintage nightfire burst with the flamed maple that Alistair picked just looks absolutely fantastic to me. I feel Emerald really nailed what I was trying to accomplish. I am so in love with the “look”. Apparently they liked that combo so much (flamed maple and my vintage type burst pattern), they patterned the June Select Series after my build, but using quilted maple instead. Although that makes mine a tad less unique, kind of cool that the folks at Emerald seemed to like it. I know on this forum, there was a split with some folks liking the vintage Nightfire burst look, and others not so much. And to be honest, my guitar IMHO looks better than the select series. And then of course….the highly controversial fret inlays look amazing. When I look close up, I can’t even see how they were put in (they come as a square/rectangle) and must be “dropped in” to a corresponding rectangle cut out of the fretboard. A really wonderful job with those, and I’ve got to say that gold Mother-Of-Pearl was the right choice, they simply look stunning. Despite Alistair mentioning it in the shipping video that I twisted his arm (just a bit of good natured funning there in the video), I did offer Alistair an “out” letting him know that if he did this for me and it came out amazing and I was posting pics, probably a lot of people would bug him for these, but he said we could proceed. Of course, gold tuners and an amber/gold carbon fiber weave for the rest of the guitar round out the cosmetic side. Something else I didn’t expect….my X20-12 has a black/grey carbon fiber weave pattern, but they used an amber/gold color on this build to match it better with the top. I’m really blown away by how cool the amber/gold carbon fiber weave looks. Now I “get it” when people talk about the colored carbon fiber looking so cool. It’s literally 3D, and really a wonderful surprise. You really just can’t appreciate it in photos, but really must be seen with your own eyes. Was not expecting that to look so gorgeous. They absolutely killed the presentation for this one.
Todd in Chicago Rating: 5 out of 5

Playability:
I really like it. For some reason, it feels more like an electric guitar than an acoustic. Doing “electric guitar” bends, hammer-on’s and pull-off’s is not difficult, actually very easy.. I’m not sure what to attribute that to, but it almost feels like there is less tension on the strings, and the action is right where I like it (fairly low). Previously my #1 main guitar was my Blackbird El Capitan, and both the Emerald and Blackbird are both spec’ed to a 25.5” scale length, so not too sure why they may feel different. There does seem to be a 2/16” difference (measured using the G string) with the El Capitan being longer. The El Capitan feels (and sounds, but more on that later) like a traditional wood guitar; the Emerald feels extremely playable, as I mentioned almost like an electric guitar. Also, I feel that the neck is phenomenal!! Since I’m used to playing the El Capitan, the Emerald neck feels a little “thin” to me, in a very good way. Again this could lend itself to feeling more like an electric. The Emerald nut width is 48.5mm and the El Cap nut width is 44.45; maybe that has some effect? I will say that if you need access to the upper frets, I think it is still difficult even with the generous heel and cutouts. But what in Hades am I doing playing a Judas Priest solo that requires bending the B string at the 22nd fret on an acoustic guitar anyway? So, I will not deduct points for that. For my “real” acoustic playing, I probably don’t go past the 12th fret.
Todd in Chicago Rating: 5 out of 5

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:07 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Sound:
So this is an interesting one. Overall, I really enjoy the tone. Since I already have an Emerald X20-12, I would say it is not markedly different, maybe more deep bass power as one could expect. If you are familiar with Emerald guitars, I can say it sounds like an Emerald. ;-) What I thought was interesting, is that it does not seem as loud to me as I thought it would. I figured the large size of the guitar would really make it loud. Now, keep in mind, there have been many very good discussions on “loudness” on this forum, what it is and how it is perceived, and how without specialized equipment it is very to figure this stuff out. What I will tell you, is that my Blackbird El Capitan has a traditional soundhole and *seems* to sound louder than the X30; and my wife seems to think the same. It could simply be that the El Cap has a higher frequency that makes it sound louder or something, I really don’t know. I will try later this week to post some sound samples. I initially thought I was going to give this a 4 out of 5; however I started writing this epic post about a week ago and I (of course), play the X30 every day. And I’ve changed my mind and am going to give it a 5 here as well. It’s my post and I can d**n well do as I please….LOL. Also, it’s not like I need this to be louder than my El Cap, and it is by no means a quiet guitar, just a difference from what I was expecting.
Todd in Chicago rating: 5 out of 5

Quality:
Again, maybe I had the luck of the Irish (couldn’t resist) and got a good sample, because to me the quality is very high. Please keep in mind, I’m not the type of person who installs pickups, removes nutz and saddles, so maybe there are quality problems in those areas, I just wouldn’t know. I also think part of this is expectations. This is not an inexpensive guitar, and someone may expect it to be 100% flawless, but it’s also not super expensive (compared to a McPherson wood guitar at $10k for example). From what I can tell, my sample is 99% flawless (somewhat arbitrary percentage based on my emotional connection). There are a few (2 or 3) extremely minor flaws in the finish that can only be seen in “AGF inspection mode”, but not enough to step down my rating, and these are very small and cosmetic only. The inlays were done really beautifully, not sure how they made them so seamless. They come in a square or rectangle and the “spots” in the Celtic knots need to be filled in with black epoxy. No wonder Alistair would never want to do these again! But I’m glad he did them here, they are simply stunning. None of the flaws that I have found impact the quality of the sound, or the playability of the instrument. And one of the 3 minor flaws may have been caused by shipping. As you may recall from earlier in this post, I had upgraded to the new clip on tuner shelf, which comes with the actual tuner as well. Emerald ships the guitar with the tuner clipped on. IMHO, I would recommend they not do this. In my case, the tuner became disconnected from the shelf during shipping and was rattling around on the inside of the guitar when I received it. No problem really, no one is going to see the inside of the guitar. However, I found the battery had broken away from the tuner and was found underneath the guitar in the Hiscox case, where for all I know it may have been rubbing against the back of the guitar for several thousand miles.. This may have caused one of the finish flaws I discovered on the back. If the tuner had not fallen in the guitar, and instead rattled around on the top of the guitar, the potential effects could have been far worse. I’ve already mentioned this to Emerald in a different posting on AGF and will send Sales a follow-up email. This tuner shelf I think is a rather new feature for them, and I hope they see this problem and resolve it, but I’m not going to dock them for this one.
Todd in Chicago rating: 5 out of 5

Other:
I don’t know if I’m aware of any other company that works with its customers like Emerald does. First, I think part of that is because they are a small company, and second is that it’s something that they’ve focused on, and it was not by accident. Most of the time people who buy Emerald guitars, aren’t just Emerald customers., they are Emerald FANS. Most businesses would KILL to have fans of their products (and some do…I mean have fans…not the killing part), Alistair and co. have quite the model going. Also by innovating with new models such as the Kestrel and X30, new features (for example the tuning shelf) and how they integrate some of the best veneer in the industry into their carbon fiber guitars, and the ability to “customize” a fair amount of the guitar build almost make them have no rivals. If all you want is a carbon fiber instrument, you have several companies to choose from. To get all the things I mentioned above, I think there is only Emerald. The whole process of working through the details for my build was pretty amazing, both with Alistair and Kevin. Of course, I received the new version of the Emerald mug, and the credit card usb thingy with the pics on it. I mean….that is pretty magically unique. Maybe it’s just an inexpensive piece of pottery and a cheap usb mem stick, but I think it represents a much larger and broader customer experience, “Surprise and Delight”. And to me, those little touches make Emerald unique. All of these things I mentioned amount to a mountain of goodness, but I am still going to deduct a point on this one. From ordering to receiving, this guitar was just shy of 9 months. The initial estimate was 4-5 months, so it just about doubled. The delays on this particular build as well as a few other guitars is well documented in other threads. What I will say IMHO what was lacking was a sort of transparency and a missed opportunity for better communication. My date kept slipping, and instead of receiving a proactive communication to find out the delay, I had to reach out to find there was yet another delay, or to obtain that information from members of this forum. This also amounts to committed dates not being met. Also, some of the delays were cause by key resources at a small company unexpectedly becoming unavailable, and for lack of parts. For example, if you’re a company that makes carbon fiber guitars, if you ever run out of carbon fiber and stop making guitars, you’ll probably want to see how you can prevent that from happening again. ;-) I’m sure that these are things that Alistair is already working on or has solved, as I’m sure he want’s to continue to have not just customers, but fans. Just a little missed opportunity on my particular build, YMMV. Additionally, the end of fretboard modification was missed on my build, in the end, I was fine with that, but that could have been a dealbreaker for someone. Lastly, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that people absolutely LOVE the shipping videos. They are fun, interesting, and you get to see a slew of very cool instruments and sometimes even find out more about Emeralds process, and how they continue to make changes to improve. To have the owner of a company take the time to show off the work of the proud Emerald employee’s and owner, I think is a cool thing. My recommendation however, is don’t show a guitar in a shipping video in which it is indicated that these are being shipped out……that really isn’t ready to ship. I think my guitar shipped out a month and a half AFTER appearing in a shipping video. Speaking from personal experience, this just creates unnecessary angst/stress/sake drinking (as if I needed some other excuse). One last item, well worth the upgrade charge in my opinion to get the soundhole tuner shelf installed at the factory.
Todd in Chicago rating: 4 out of 5

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:53 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:08 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Part 4 – The pix
I know Emerald takes glamour shots in their studio and provides them to new owners on USB card, that is an incredibly awesome thing, and a magical part of Emerald ownership. In my only other Emerald purchase, I actually liked the photos I took a little bit better. Actually, someone commented on a photo of my X20-12 that I posted at the time that they thought that was the best photo of an Emerald that wasn’t taken by Emerald. However, I must say that the photos they took of this build are, again IMHO just outstanding. I’ll see if I can get some better photos. I did take some with the sun shining on the guitar, and because the guitar is so vibrant, it kind of blew the colors out. So, I’ll keep trying but for now the glamour photos are really, really nice. Enjoy.

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:55 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:09 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Last pics....
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:11 AM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Part 5 – Conclusion
Easily said and without question, this guitar is gold. It’s voicing is unique and different from my El Cap. I think as a fun experiment, I’ll try putting the same exact set of strings on both of them and see how they sound. On my El Cap, I’m a fan of the Cleartone Metal Hybrid, so maybe in the near future I’ll get two sets and put a fresh set on each for a comparison. For now of course, this will remain my #1 guitar and sit on a stand, and the El Cap is being placed on the wall next to the X20-12. The playability of the X30 is really fantastic, it truly feels really good. Despite the delays, missed opportunity for better communication, and missed modification on the fretboard, I can say this guitar was worth the wait. For me, it is stunningly beautiful, and a joy to play. Peace out….

Todd in Chicago

Last edited by TheChicagoTodd; 07-15-2019 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 07-15-2019, 11:29 AM
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kramster kramster is offline
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As in most men's magazines (guitar of course) I went straight to the photos..Nice!!
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Emerald: X-20, Center hole X-10 (Maple) and X-7 (redwood), Amicus, Paduak X7,X10, & X30, Spalted Chen Chen X 10,
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Old 07-15-2019, 12:24 PM
GuitarLuva GuitarLuva is offline
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Congratulations I think the guitar is gorgeous. As for volume, you should be able to get a little more with a bone saddle and nickel strings if that's what you are after. I also find it hard to describe the X30 voice. In the end I just said it sounds like an X30 and nothing I ever played in my life sounds like it. I miss mine dearly and hope you enjoy yours.
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Old 07-15-2019, 02:39 PM
EvanB EvanB is offline
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It's nice having a vision. Even better when its realized. Congratulations.
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Old 07-15-2019, 03:21 PM
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steelvibe steelvibe is offline
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WOW. AMAZING. STUNNING. GORGEOUS!!!!

....and congrats
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Old 07-15-2019, 03:22 PM
Captain Jim Captain Jim is offline
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Nice review, Todd, and congrats on receiving this beauty. You should probably figure in the additional sake expense during the wait to come up with total cost.

All that said, I may have wet myself just a bit when I saw the photos featuring those Celtic fret markers! That is an absolutely GORGEOUS addition to an already beautiful instrument. I think you are right in expectations of a slew of customers wanting that bit of custom work on future builds.

I have been pretty sure that I didn't need another guitar after receiving my X10 last October. I have been able to admire all the guitars I've seen since that time, without the desire to add another. Your photos have weakened my resolve.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Jim
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Old 07-15-2019, 04:05 PM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kramster View Post
As in most men's magazines (guitar of course) I went straight to the photos..Nice!!
Bwaaaaahahaha! Love it! I mean, who doesn't go straight to da pics!?

Cheers....

Todd in Chicago

What were your thoughts on the volume of the X30 compared to some of your other guitars? Did it seem louder or less loud than your expectations?
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Old 07-15-2019, 04:08 PM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GuitarLuva View Post
Congratulations I think the guitar is gorgeous. As for volume, you should be able to get a little more with a bone saddle and nickel strings if that's what you are after. I also find it hard to describe the X30 voice. In the end I just said it sounds like an X30 and nothing I ever played in my life sounds like it. I miss mine dearly and hope you enjoy yours.
Thx sir!

Perhaps another X30 may be in your future. I wasn't going for loudness or volume in particular, I just thought that it most likely *would* be louder. It does have a nice, deep and what I would call "lush" sound.

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago
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Old 07-15-2019, 04:09 PM
TheChicagoTodd TheChicagoTodd is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by steelvibe View Post
WOW. AMAZING. STUNNING. GORGEOUS!!!!

....and congrats
Thx.... now all I have to do is learn to play well enough to deserve such a fine instrument.

;-)

Cheers...

Todd in Chicago
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