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NGD: Flambeau LFW-5


The droid you're looking for
This little gem came in the mail yesterday...

It's a Flambeau LFW-5, built in 1984 at the S Yairi factory in Japan. Flambeau guitars were designed for S Yairi by George Lowden, who had his famous guitars made at the S Yairi factory for several years. It shares some key Lowden features, in particular the pinless bridge and the tapered bracing design, but differs as well, notably the slope-shoulder Gibson-style shape.

What I was hoping for was an affordable Lowden, and for the most part, this one delivers the goods. It's a superb-sounding instrument, especially for fingerpicking. Additionally, the construction quality is glorious. Fit and finish are nearly perfect everywhere, with only trivial nits (not quite perfect nut slot, a little finish run where the neck meets the body). Binding is wood, not plastic, including a wood rosette. The tuners are perfectly smooth and high ratio. Side-by-size with my 1982 Alvarez Yairi DY-73, the Alvarez construction feels a little clunky and a lot tacky.

This one is in near-mint condition, with only a tiny scar on the lower bout and a couple of near-invisible dings and pick scratches on the top, and came in the original hard case. Nice!

All that said, I'm not sure if I'm going to keep it. The problem I'm having with it is that it has a volume ceiling - it can only be played just so hard before it tops out and starts sounding congested. The cliché about how cedar-topped guitars sound? Yeah, it's like that. What i've found is that, with few exceptions, acoustic guitars tend to sound good loud (and thin/weak when played gently), or they sound good quiet (and get congested and shrill when played hard). This one definitely prefers playing gently, and I'm not always a gentle player. My habit of using Jazz III picks even on acoustic doesn't help - switching to regular celluloid teardrop type picks helps, but I don't like using such picks, because I wind up dropping them.

Still, given its beauty, its playability (it got a fret dress and a reshaped saddle before I bought it, and plays perfectly), and its elegant tone, I'm going to live with it for a couple of weeks, and see if I can learn to keep my hand in check. I should be doing that anyway, as overly-aggressive picking is a limitation for me as a player. Maybe this guitar will teach me better habits!

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