Having spent a great deal of my early career working with Brazilian musicians and recording with American musicians who wanted Bossa Nova guitar, I was constantly plagued by the problems of amplifying a classical guitar. In the studio it was not a problem, but when I got out on stage – look out.
Product PointsPlayering Style: Fingerstyle or picked classical-style jazz, classical or any music where a electric nylon string sound is needed
Recommend Venues: Studio, live (plugged into amp or direct)
Body Size: Classical orchestra size with cutaway
Wood: Chambered, solid mahogany body, solid mahogany top
Neck Scale Length: 26-inches
Nut Width: 2-inches
Special Features: Active preamp with four-band EQ, Rear sound port
Contact: Gibson Acoustic, 800-4GIBSON; or www.gibson.com.
Consequently, when the first Chet Atkins electric classical string hit the window at Manny’s Music in New York many years ago, I literally grabbed it. Henry Goldrich, owner of the store at the time, protested in vain but I had to have it. Turns out it was serial number 003. I assume Chet and Gibson had the first two.
Fast forward 30 some years, and I now have the latest incarnation of the Chet Atkins guitar in my hand, the new Chet Atkins Studio CEC, priced at $4,322.
The gorgeous hand-carved, body is unique in that it is really a semi-solid guitar, made from solid cedar top and solid one-piece Honduran mahogany body. The 1.875-inch body has its sound hole on the back, making the acoustic sound more accessible to the player. As with all Gibson Montana Division guitars, the finish is classic nitrocellulose lacquer,
The set-in, solid mahogany neck sports a classical style slot head with quality gold tuners. The 26-inch scale length is perfect for the classical string, jazz styles that I play. The nut width is pure classical at 2 inches. The markerless, fretboard is ebony, and the rosewood bridge is that familiar Gibson mustache design.
Gibson has installed its own under-saddle special transducer pickup featuring an active preamp with four-band EQ controls mounted on the top bout.
The guitar comes with a high quality hard shell case. It is also available with a narrower neck for those who want a more conventional feel.
With a 24-fret ebony fretboard, The Gibson Chet Atkins Studio CEC was very well intonated, comfortable, and felt like a full-sized classical guitar. But its solid-body style construction meant I would not have the feedback amplification problems of a typical classical guitar with installed pickup.
My first time amplifying the Chet Studio was through a high-end Talos Basic guitar amp (See review this issue). A very high-quality Class A tube amp with one of the most honest sounds I have ever heard. This is an amp to find out how your instrument really sounds, and the Chet Atkins Studio CEC passed the test with flying colors.
The Talos was a perfect way to check out the effectiveness of the EQ bands, and it revealed that Gibson selected a really fine EQ for a classical string instrument. With a little extra gain at the preamp stage, the guitar’s tone was fantastic.
Next I played it through a typical PA system – a Mackie board into powered JBLs. Once again, the guitar sounded great. If you had to play directly into a PA you’d be fine with this guitar. The guitar also sounded great through an AER Alpha, my usual gig amp (a very small solid state amp).
Acoustically, the Chet Atkins Studio sounds pretty good for a thin-body semi-accoustic, but it really is a guitar that needs amplifying. I limited my recording tests to direct injection. I recorded directly to hard disk through three different preamps. First, a simple ART tube preamp, then a Roland MMP2 (mic modeling preamp) and finally a PreSonus Eureka channel strip.
Admittedly, these are not ultra-high end components by pro standards, but they represent a great many project studios that are the source of much of today’s music. The guitar responded well in all three situations. I played with and without a pick, high and low output, and found the instrument smooth between strings and even between registers.
The final test for the Gibson Chet Atkins Studio CCE was a live gig in a typical jazz venue. I chose the Talos amp for this one. The club got very still when they saw this instrument, and quieter yet when we started a soft Samba.
The tone of the Chet Studio was absolutely perfect for the club setting. Since I am a jazz player more than a classical player, I can’t say what the limits might be for solo playing through the Gibson.
My only quibble with the Gibson was that one of the strings output was not as loud as the other strings, which may have been a pickup issue.
I can say, categorically, that for my purposes as a jazz player, the Gibson Chet Atkins Studio CEC is a gorgeous instrument – aesthetically and sonically. For studio direct recording, playing live through PA or guitar amp, the new Gibson Chet Atkins Studio gets that classical tone that you want.