As the prices of high-end, US-made acoustic guitars head toward the stratosphere—you can expect to pay around $10,000 for an instrument with Brazilian rosewood back and sides—Asian-built budget instruments are enjoying great gains in craftsmanship while becoming even more affordable. Case in point is Mitchell Guitars’ new Element Series. The ME1, a non-cutaway dreadnought, and its counterpart, the ME2CEC, a cutaway dreadnought with Fishman electronics, each sell for well under $500, and with solid soundboards, they certainly pack a lot of bang for the buck.
The ME1 and ME2CEC share similar cosmetics but have different tonewood configurations. The ME1 is made with a spruce top and sapele back and sides, while the ME2CEC features a red cedar top and Indian rosewood back and sides. (The ME1 spruce/sapele combo is also available in a cutaway acoustic-electric dreadnought; the ME1CE, and in a cutaway acoustic-electric auditorium, the ME1ACE.) The soundboards of both guitars incorporate a shifted scalloped-X bracing pattern and open-pore satin finishes, each said to enhance resonance and projection.
These smart-looking guitars have some boutique-style appointments as well. Wrapping their bodies and necks is flamed maple binding, instead of the customary plastic. Other appealing touches include small, left-justified fretboard position markers in abalone, rosewood headstock cap, and ebonite keys.
Overall, both instruments display decent craftsmanship. The fretwork is clean, with just a hint of jaggedness at the edges; the NuBone nut and compensated saddle are well notched. However, there’s some sloppiness in the finer details: You can find a bit of sawdust and glue traces populating the innards, and the bridge on the ME1 could’ve been more carefully sanded and glued.
Weighing in at around four pounds, each of the Mitchells is comfortable to hold. Their slim C-shaped necks have low, easy action and feel very playable in all regions, though just a tad stiff. (They probably just need a little breaking in.)
Neither guitar can be considered a cannon. When strummed, the ME1 has a fair amount of projection, though the low-E string buzzes when really pushed. With decent note separation and a respectable balance between registers, the guitar responds well to stylistic approaches from Carter strumming to swing-inspired soloing.
The ME2CEC boasts a stronger voice than its companion. It sounds warmer and more complex, and it doesn’t suffer from the buzzing sixth string. It, too, has reasonable clarity and balance—attributes that translate well when plugged in, thanks to the onboard Fishman INK 3 preamp system, with its three-band EQ.
Far superior to the budget guitars of the past, both the ME1 and the ME2CEC might serve as worthy beginner guitars, though given their credible playability and sound, they might also be appropriate for more-skilled but frugal players.
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