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Old 12-01-2017, 09:30 AM
Earl49 Earl49 is offline
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Default NGD and review -- Emerald X20-12 (long post)

I recently received my custom green Artisan X20-12, and could not be happier. The “custom” part was having only 20 frets (not 24 frets as normal) and a shorter 24.6” scale length. Fewer frets were the right choice because I never use anything above fret #20 anyway, and those extra frets can sometimes get in the way of my strumming stroke. The 20th fret is still easily reachable via the cutaway, because of the minimal neck heel. The Gotoh 510 tuners in Cosmo black are wonderful both visually and operationally, very smooth and accurate. They fit with the aesthetic of the guitar perfectly. There is no dramatic headstock heaviness, but that is not usually a big factor for me. I play either seated classical style (guitar on left thigh) or with a non-skid cloth strap almost 100% of the time.

TONE
After a couple of days noodling, I put fresh sets of EJ-38 light gauge PB strings on both twelve string guitars for direct comparison. This guitar is a slightly quieter acoustically than my Taylor (354-LTD Grand Auditorium twelve string from 2002) or my Rainsong and Blackbird CF six strings, but not dramatically so. Although somewhat quieter, it has a wonderful rich tone. In comparison to my other CF guitars, I would describe its tone as reminiscent of cedar topped versus spruce topped wooden guitars. The tone is a bit warmer, rounder, and mellower compared to my more “crystalline” Rainsong WS-1000 and the bluesy Blackbird Lucky 13. The Emerald is not as bright or jangly sounding as my Taylor twelve string, but in fairness that Taylor has a spruce top and a three-piece maple back and sides. I can easily see my Taylor going up for sale soon, and being perfectly happy with only the Emerald as my twelve-string guitar.

SET-UP
The factory set-up works very well for strumming and flat picking. I fingerpick with natural nails about 70-75% of the time, and I’m used to Taylor guitars, so I have very high standards for finger style set-up and playability. The Emerald set up and playing feel is quite good as-is, and I shared this guitar with several friends at a Thanksgiving Day jam. All agreed that it is one of the best playing twelve strings they have ever tried. The shorter scale helps with that. Side by side with my Taylor twelve string, I need to do some adjusting. Short answer: the Taylor plays better (at the moment) but the Emerald sounds better. I will need to make very careful measurements to see exactly how things might improve -- by a thousandth or two here and there – and there won’t be any major changes. The neck feel is very good on the Emerald (high praise coming from a long-time Taylor fan) but it feels just a tiny bit fuller – roughly the same way a neck feels slightly fuller / wider when using a capo at the second or third fret. At the face of the nut, both the Taylor and the Emerald measure 1-7/8” (48 mm) wide using my machinist’s rule and my eyes. Outermost string spacing is 1-21/32” (42.3 mm) on both guitars. A caliper could read a bit more accurately, but let’s be realistic here. There are zero issues switching back and forth between the two guitars constantly, which happened many times this past two weeks for comparison and review purposes. The Emerald neck feels just a tiny bit squarer on the corner which makes my thumb-over bass string technique slightly tougher -- sometimes there are buzzes on the bass octave string that are not apparent on the Taylor. To reiterate, playing fingerstyle ragtime instrumentals and comparing against a great Taylor twelve-string is a VERY high bar, and the Emerald nearly meets that lofty standard right out of the box. Speaking of “out of the box”, I had to tune just one of the high “e” string pair when the guitar got here after crossing the Atlantic and most of the Continental US in a single week. The other eleven strings were still in tune with each other. How is that for stability?

During final set-up, I asked Sean to swap the octave and wound G strings in the third course, putting the octave string closer to the floor. I do that on all my twelve strings for fingerpicking purposes. Otherwise the upstroke with my index finger is fully shielded from the octave string, and then something is missing tonally. As part of arriving at my ultimate personal set-up, I may even experiment with swapping all of the octaves and wound strings, like Rickenbacker does on their electric twelve strings. (I can do my own set-up work, a skill learned by necessity).

The guitar was delivered with a factory installed HEAVY string set, EJ-37 Phosphor Bronze strings which are labeled as “heavy bottom, medium treble”. The goal is extra volume and low-end power – certainly true -- but that much string tension can be a challenge to play. It would be OK for strumming first position cowboy chords, but didn’t work for clean fingerstyle instrumental picking or for songs with lots of barre chords. And you have to pick fairly aggressively to drive those heavier strings. EJ-37’s are so heavy that they worked well tuned down to C# without getting excessively floppy. (Speculation, but it would not surprise me to learn this is the set that Leo Kottke uses on his signature model LKSM twelve strings, which are tuned down to C#). Regular EJ-38 light gauge twelve string sets are 10-47 with about 245 pounds of total tension. EJ-37’s are 12-54 and have 336 pounds total tension according to the D’Addario package! This shows just how strong this guitar really is. No question in my mind that it can be tuned up to standard pitch for a lifetime.

When I went to change the strings, I took off the octaves first which left the equivalent of a light gauge set (54-12) and the guitar was then played as a wide-necked six-string for about an hour. That worked pretty well actually, but would require a new nut for the string spacing to be “right”.

Even with all the different tensions ranging from heavy twelve’s (336 pounds), then tuning down to C#, then swapping for normal twelve string lights (245 pounds), to a light gauge six string set (165 pounds) there was no noticeable change in neck relief or neck angle, and I felt no need to tweak the truss rod. Perhaps I could have grabbed feeler gauges and measured the relief to see if there was any change, but it wasn’t visually perceptible nor did it change my playing feel. I have not asked Sean whether the six string X20 is built more lightly for the reduced tension, versus the 12 string X20.

FIT & FINISH
As expected, the build quality is superb all around. If there is a cosmetic flaw, I haven’t found it yet. The gloss clear coat is perfect and mirror smooth. The green tint is stunning in good light. As with all Emerald colors, subdued light makes the guitar basically look black. But good lighting or outdoor light brings a burst of intense color. I’m quite happy with the green. Any of the colors would be similarly lovely. Pick your favorite.

I really enjoy the tilted lower waist. Instead of simply building it perpendicular to the top like wood guitars, Emerald takes advantage of carbon fiber and builds some angle into that surface on the bottom. The net effect leans the guitar back a bit against your chest as it sits on your leg. This is my only guitar that I can play these days without using a strap. The bevels and rounded edges are very comfortable and that is prompting me to think about maybe a six-string X20. I didn’t previously have any comfort issues with my Rainsong or my Blackbird, but this shape could eventually spoil me.

BUYING EXPERIENCE
Sean and Alistair were gracious and helpful all throughout the process, answering all my questions, usually the following day. The guitar arrived the week after the projected four-month delivery time, slightly delayed in transit by the Veteran’s Day holiday. Last spring I bought the March special edition of the Chimaera double-neck on a whim, which was the first Emerald that I’d ever seen in person. Although the double neck did not quite work for my unique physical limitations (a long story there) the twelve string neck was great fun to play. Test-driving Chimaera definitely planted the seed to order a twelve string Artisan X20-12 as a single neck; basically I ordered the upper half of the Chimaera with a few custom tweaks. Emerald took that Chimaera back without question, returned after a week in my home, and sent back in brand new condition. The whole transaction was handled wonderfully. I cannot say enough good things about Emerald. Little tip: call your credit card company first to warn them, as they rejected the initial transaction as being “unusual suspicious activity from overseas”.

CASE
The Emerald-logo Hiscox case is very nice, maybe the nicest guitar case that I now own. I don’t know if it is the Life-flite II version or not, but seems very durable. It also fits my Taylor Grand Auditorium bodies acceptably, so this case will see other uses too.

PICTURES AND SOUND FILES
Please don’t ask. I am not set up to post photos here on AGF, or to post sound clips. (I understand the process, so no instructions please. I really don’t want to bother setting up hosting accounts solely for that purpose). There is nothing visibly different about mine from a stock green Artisan X20-12 from the Emerald web site anyway. Here is a link to the X20-12 gallery:
http://emeraldguitars.com/guitar-gal...v=7516fd43adaa

And yes, this NGD really happened even without pictures to post. Chastise away and terminate my AGF account if necessary for this grievous transgression. I am happy to email some of the professional photos provided by Emerald for anyone who wants to post photos to this thread on my behalf. My AGF profile contains my email address.
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  #2  
Old 12-01-2017, 11:44 AM
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RandyOK RandyOK is offline
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Congratulations! Enjoy!
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Old 12-01-2017, 02:19 PM
Earl49 Earl49 is offline
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Thanks, Randy. I will........ But first, I'm off to a ukulele performance at a senior center this afternoon.
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Old 12-01-2017, 02:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Earl49 View Post
The guitar was delivered with a factory installed HEAVY string set, EJ-37 Phosphor Bronze strings which are labeled as “heavy bottom, medium treble”. The goal is extra volume and low-end power – certainly true -- but that much string tension can be a challenge to play. It would be OK for strumming first position cowboy chords, but didn’t work for clean fingerstyle instrumental picking or for songs with lots of barre chords.
Congratulations on your new X20-12! I play melodic fingerstyle barre jazz type stuff on 12s and require the lightest strings available. A barre across all 12 isn't unusual so the lower tension is important. Tuning down also helps.
Way to go!



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Old 12-01-2017, 05:05 PM
Earl49 Earl49 is offline
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Thanks for posting the photo, Song. The only visible difference is that mine does not have those last four frets. The EJ-37's were OK tuned down to C#, but even then still a handful for full six-string barres.

I still need to tweak the setup a little bit for my fingerstyle optimum.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:08 PM
EvanB EvanB is offline
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Earl;

What a great review! And what a great piece of art and instrument.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:33 PM
ceciltguitar ceciltguitar is offline
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Earl, thank you for a great review, and for the nice picture! My first Emerald was (still is) a green X10 custom nylon string guitar.
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Old 12-01-2017, 06:51 PM
steelvibe steelvibe is offline
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Great review Earl. I appreciate the time you took to do it- I would love to hear it but I read your post and respect that you won't post clips.

Alistair is a magician in more respects than just the aesthetic nature of his guitars, but to recognize that CF is the perfect medium for 12 string and harp guitars. No wonder these are selling the way they are.

Godspeed Emerald!
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Old 12-01-2017, 07:05 PM
Captain Jim Captain Jim is offline
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Nice review, Earl! Yeah, those curves will spoil you. I like the changes you made to make the guitar specific for your use.
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Old 12-01-2017, 08:24 PM
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Acousticado Acousticado is offline
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I’ve been looking forward to your full review Earl, and what a review it is. You covered it all in amazing and informative detail. Thanks for that. After the Chimaera didn’t work out, I’m so happy for you that the custom X20-12 has. What a great decision for those design adjustments ! I hope you get it a little more dialed-in to your total preference. Have fun, good sir!
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Old 12-02-2017, 06:33 AM
Frettingflyer Frettingflyer is offline
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Earl, so glad to hear you finally got just what you wanted. A long road from the Chimera to hear but well worth it I think. Great review, and nice to read.
Enjoy!
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Old 12-02-2017, 10:37 AM
Earl49 Earl49 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ceciltguitar View Post
Earl, thank you for a great review, and for the nice picture! My first Emerald was (still is) a green X10 custom nylon string guitar.
Song gets full credit for the posted picture, from the Emerald gallery. I didn't do anything there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by steelvibe View Post
Great review Earl. I appreciate the time you took to do it- I would love to hear it but I read your post and respect that you won't post clips.
Time permitting, I can make a quick WAV recording and send it to anyone who emails me. I just [selfishly] don't want to go through the hassle of setting up photo and sound hosting accounts that I would literally only use here at AGF.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Acousticado View Post
I’ve been looking forward to your full review Earl, and what a review it is. You covered it all in amazing and informative detail. Thanks for that. After the Chimaera didn’t work out, I’m so happy for you that the custom X20-12 has. What a great decision for those design adjustments ! I hope you get it a little more dialed-in to your total preference. Have fun, good sir!
I waited until I had a full review to post, trying to cover all the bases, and carefully edited. Thanks for the feedback. The only adjustments needed are tiny little tweaks of the nut. It is probably unrealistic to expect it to come from the factory with MY personal optimum set-up.

And let me be completely clear -- Chimaera was a truly incredible instrument. It didn't quite work for me because of some old shoulder injuries and a neurological event five years ago that weakened the left side of my body. It was not possible for me to find a good position where I could play my most elaborate repertoire on both necks up to speed. No one else would have that unique problem. The twelve string side was still great, and I could do most of my repertoire on the excellent six string neck too -- if I changed the angle of the body by shifting the whole guitar on its strap.

And even with those personal issues, I almost kept Chimaera anyway for the undeniable "cool factor". There is nothing else like it out there..... Emerald certainly gets five stars in my book!
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Old 12-02-2017, 06:19 PM
EvanB EvanB is offline
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Earl;

I like the way you operate. You clearly know what you want and what you need, and you are going after it. I think hanging on to the Chimaera is a good move in a lot of ways. It will always be an interesting instrument to play. It is also a unique instrument, one that will most likely increase in value with time. I view Alistair much like I view Nathan Daniel. I wish I owned one of the early Danelectro guitars. I think you have a goody.
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Old 12-05-2017, 03:48 AM
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Emerald Guitars Emerald Guitars is offline
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Dear Earl,

Thank you so much for your review and feedback, we really appreciate the detail that you went into. Here are a couple of photos of Earl's custom X20-12.

Best wishes from all the team,

Sean

X20-12 Green (Scale)(Ele) CS_MG_3072 as Smart Object-1 by Alistair Hay, on Flickr
X20-12 Green (Scale)(Ele) CS_MG_3068 as Smart Object-1.1 by Alistair Hay, on Flickr
X20-12 Green (Scale)(Ele) CS_MG_3084 as Smart Object-1 by Alistair Hay, on Flickr
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Old 12-05-2017, 05:55 AM
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Acousticado Acousticado is offline
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That guitar is sick and slick! I think the scale length Earl opted for makes this configuration very interesting and likely super playable. Congrats again, Earl. Nice build, Emerald.
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