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Old 03-01-2024, 03:45 PM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Default In depth review of new Emerald X30 12: Pros and Cons

Get some popcorn. Long review.

I bought this guitar during the sale last July and decided to wait a while before leaving this review. For context, this is the only carbon fiber acoustic guitar I have seen, let alone played. In the mid-80s I obtained three Modulus Graphite instruments, two electric guitars and a 6-string bass. These all had graphite bolt on necks to wood bodies. They all sounded great and one became my main electric guitar for 20 years.

There have been some communications issues with Emerald but I was willing to give them a lot of slack because they were so busy with the sale. I was pleasantly surprised that the 25% off price listed was the full price including any taxes/tariffs and shipping from Ireland. I did not get my first choice, but there was one other guitar that appealed to me. I wanted a X30 12 with only two options, the wood veneer top and a factory installed pick-up. I ended up with a quilted maple top in a very nice sunburst. (If I can post pics, I will. If I canít maybe someone can post them for me.)

When I first played this guitar, it was not love at first sound. I had about three weeks to decide to keep it or send it back. I wasnít sure if I would keep it or not, so I decided to make a list of pros and cons to help me decide.

Long story short: I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and kept the guitar.

Here are the details:

Pros:

Care. So great to not have to worry about humidity and temperature.

Price. I knew I would be unlikely to get a better price for a new Emerald guitar.

Setup. The setup was impressive, probably the best setup I have ever had on a new guitar. The action was very low, almost like an electric guitar. Normally I like the action a little higher but with 12 strings to hold down instead of 6, the lower action is nice. I did not check it for a belly on the top when I first received it but I did check it after reading the thread here about a belly developing on an Emerald. Turns out it has quite a belly, but when I run a straight edge from the fretboard to the bridge, the straight edge lines up perfectly with the top of the bridge, right where it should be. Intonation is perfect and this guitar really stays in tune. I am retired and home most of the time, so I have the guitar out on a stand since I received it. As part of my decision-making process, I changed the strings to 12-52, to see how it would affect tone and playability. Those are pretty heavy for a 12 string and maybe that has something to do with the belly.

Top wood veneer: The top is beautiful quilted maple with a very tasteful burst. I like how the veneer is one piece for a very large guitar; there is no seam down the middle.

Ergonomics: This is a very large guitar, 17Ē across lower bout and 5.5Ē deep. Normally, a guitar this size could be uncomfortable, but it is not because of the contours, cutaways and bevels. It is amazingly comfortable for such a big guitar. The design also provides the best upper fret access than any other acoustic I have tried. The neck does not get thicker until the 18th fret.
Sound: On the positive side, impressive sustain. I had read that the X30 models were boomy. I did not expect it with a 12 string, and itís not boomy at all, very balanced.

Cons:

Sound: So with such a large guitar with 12 strings, and with a sound hole like a port, I expected it to be pretty loud. Nope. I was surprised by the low volume. If you are playing plugged in, I suppose it is not an issue, but I am playing it acoustically. The other negative for sound is very little dynamic headroom. This surprised me. For my style of playing, I desire as much headroom as possible. All of my wood guitars have dynamic headroom and volume superior to the Emerald. To be fair, I am comparing a 12 string to my six string wooden guitars, I have not owned a 12 string since 2010, a very nice Larrivee I wish I had not sold.

Interesting to me, Martin just introduced a new guitar with unusual bracing:

https://www.martinguitar.com/series-inception.html

One of their statements about the new design: ďTypically, when you increase sustain, you lose amplitude or vice versa; the unique design features of the GPCE Inception increase both.Ē I did not know there was this relationship between sustain and volume but I see it in this Emerald. Great sustain but low volume. It is very much like using a compressor to increase sustain but decrease dynamics. For playing live or recording this may be a good thing.

Another thing about the sound that puzzles me. The sound seems non-directional. As I play it, and turn my head sideways so my ear faces directly towards the sound hole, there is little, if any, difference. The sound seems to be coming from the entire top and strings, not just the sound hole/port. I do not think my guitar is defective; itís just the nature of the carbon fiber beast. I have read other reviews where the owners say the volume is relatively low and the persons who really like their guitars are usually playing them amplified.

I challenge Emerald to design a carbon fiber guitar that equals or exceeds wood guitars in volume and dynamic headroom.

I was also getting some high pitch squeaks (not buzzing). I think because of the low action and stainless steel frets. This gradually decreased and is no longer an issue. I am curious if the squeaks will return with a string change.

Regarding the tone, I like it, nice tone. Just wish it had more headroom and volume.

Ergonomics. I found the fingerboard a little disorientating, but I am getting used to it. This is because the neck joins the body at the 12 fret (bass side) and at the 18th fret on the treble side.

At first my fingertips were turning black. This gradually decreased and no longer happens.

Customer service. There have been long delays getting emails answered, and online chats that were never answered. The last two emails I sent November 21 and 30 have not been answered.

One of the advantages of a carbon fiber guitar is strength, especially for a 12 string with the added string tension. (There is a video where Alistair stands on an Emerald with his full weight). I wanted to know if I could use even heavier strings (The Leo Kottke set) tuned to regular pitch, and did not want to damage the guitar. But no reply.

I wanted to know how the bridge is attached. Looking inside the guitar at the underside of the bridge it appears it might be bolted on.

When I received the guitar, it had the wrong label (X20 12). I measured the guitar to confirm it is an X30 12. I requested a new label in July, and again in September and received it September 30, 2023.

I emailed some questions August 2 and repeated the email August 28, and again September 15 and finally received an answer September 18.

Looks. I donít care for the pinless bridge. It looks like a regular bridge, but without pins, like something is missing. And I found changing strings to be a pain and nerve wrecking.

I donít care for the sound hole/port. It interferes with the shape/line of the guitarís edge. Iíd rather have a traditional sound hole on the center of the top.

Well thatís about it. Thank you if you took the time to read through this lengthy review.

Last edited by guitargeorge; 03-01-2024 at 03:48 PM. Reason: Trying to insert pics
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Old 03-01-2024, 04:58 PM
BlueStarfish BlueStarfish is offline
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Hi George,

Very detailed review, thanks for sharing!

It sounds like your top concern is volume. Just wondering ... can you say which pickup system came with your guitar?
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Old 03-01-2024, 05:11 PM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlueStarfish View Post
Hi George,

Very detailed review, thanks for sharing!

It sounds like your top concern is volume. Just wondering ... can you say which pickup system came with your guitar?
Volume yes, but more than volume, dynamic headroom. I don't think playing amplified will affect headroom, though it would solve the low volume.

Regarding pickup, I am not sure, but I believe it is the LR-Bags Element. I have not used it yet.

George
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Old 03-02-2024, 10:29 AM
Emile640 Emile640 is offline
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Interesting review. Do you play with a pick or fingerstyle? I play fingerstyle (tiptonics & a black mountain thumb pick) and found that I got plenty of volume acoustically and bass frequency from the veneered X30 that I tried. Responded well in dynamics to light and stronger touches with the right hand so I wasn't experiencing a headroom problem. I ended up ordering a custom a couple of days after trying it. I'll see if I run into similar issues when I get it in a couple of months. Likely some variability between guitars can occur, but I'd assume that it wouldn't given the construction method.
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Old 03-02-2024, 11:25 AM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emile640 View Post
Interesting review. Do you play with a pick or fingerstyle? I play fingerstyle (tiptonics & a black mountain thumb pick) and found that I got plenty of volume acoustically and bass frequency from the veneered X30 that I tried. Responded well in dynamics to light and stronger touches with the right hand so I wasn't experiencing a headroom problem. I ended up ordering a custom a couple of days after trying it. I'll see if I run into similar issues when I get it in a couple of months. Likely some variability between guitars can occur, but I'd assume that it wouldn't given the construction method.
I play both fingerstyle (just fingers) and with a pick. I notice the lack of headroom more when playing with a pick. It's like one good strum and I have hit the ceiling, no matter how much I increase the force of the strum, the volume does not increase. I agree that with carbon fiber I would not expect much difference in sound in guitars of the same model. The difference in sound comes from the player, not the guitar.
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Old 03-02-2024, 11:32 AM
seannx seannx is offline
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Havenít played an X30, but both of the X20s Iíve bought had much less headroom than my 12 fret RainSong. While very sensitive to a light touch, strumming vigorously yields much more volume that the X20s, with no buzzing, even though it has lower action. I donít know if itís related to the Emerald offset sound hole, and the pinless bridge does make string changes more complicated.
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Old 03-02-2024, 11:59 AM
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Methos1979 Methos1979 is offline
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Beautiful guitar!







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Old 03-02-2024, 12:03 PM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Default Thanks Scott

Thanks Scott for posting the pics for me! Do you agree that's a nice burst?
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:04 PM
Emile640 Emile640 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guitargeorge View Post
I play both fingerstyle (just fingers) and with a pick. I notice the lack of headroom more when playing with a pick. It's like one good strum and I have hit the ceiling, no matter how much I increase the force of the strum, the volume does not increase. I agree that with carbon fiber I would not expect much difference in sound in guitars of the same model. The difference in sound comes from the player, not the guitar.
I’ve read that emeralds respond better to lighter picks too so that might make a difference for you if you are using somewhat heavier ones.

Also, beautiful guitar!

Last edited by Emile640; 03-02-2024 at 12:10 PM.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:13 PM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Emile640 View Post
Iíve read that emeralds respond better to lighter picks too so that might make a difference for you if you are using somewhat heavier ones.
Yes, I heard the same thing. I have tried different thickness picks. It does not help with the headroom, I hit the ceiling right away, regardless of which pick I use. I admit, I like to lean into the guitar a bit, with stumming that includes a sort of fast fanning. I can do that fine with my wood guitars but the Emerald does need a lighter touch.

It is kind of ironic, a super strong guitar requiring a lighter touch.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:18 PM
Emile640 Emile640 is offline
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Indeed. I understand extremely lightly built instruments requiring a light touch.

Maybe thatís why I like emeralds though as Iím used to playing extremely light lutes and early guitars.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:25 PM
guitargeorge guitargeorge is offline
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Emile640, Is your X30 a six string or 12 string? That could make a big difference. I've never played a 6 string Emerald.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:40 PM
Emile640 Emile640 is offline
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I tried a 6 and ordered a 6. Yes that could make a difference for sure.
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Old 03-02-2024, 12:55 PM
steelvibe steelvibe is offline
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Tony Polecastro reviewed this model a few years ago. One thing he did mention that helped the guitar along tonally was a thinner pick. His thoughts parallel yours it seems.
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Old 03-02-2024, 06:12 PM
btbliatout btbliatout is offline
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This was a really interesting review to read! Thank you guitargeorge!

I have always been interested in how jumbo guitars handled volume. The talk-to-me-like-I'm-5 understanding I have is that they have the potential to be very loud due to how large their tops are. A larger top means there's more surface area to vibrate air and push sound across the room. However a large top inherently means more mass, which means more energy has to transfer from the strings into the top to get that mass vibrating. I'm sure I'm all sorts of wrong here, or at least overly simplified, but that's the gist of my understanding. Which is all a big preface to me saying that I understand how it might sound quiet with say, a 25% strum attack level when compared to that same 25% strum attack level on an OM model. However, your experience of having low headroom doesn't resonate with this. (get it? "resonate." are all the dad's laughing?)

I wonder if the 12 string aspect of it is hampering the sound levels. I know that TOO much tension on a top can...stabilize??? the top, making it vibrate less freely. This happens in classical guitar. Some instruments sound much louder with low tension strings vs. high tension strings, and vice versa. Finding the right strings to get the most out of your instrument is always a journey for classicals. Anyhow, that leads me to wonder if 12 strings simply puts too much tension on the top for it to provide the volume you're looking for. - Maybe do a small experiment? Maybe down tune each string a whole step, and see how the sound levels are. If reducing the tension substantially changes the volume, maybe we just stumbled on a controllable parameter that can help get this instrument closer to the ideal.
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