Classical Guitar

My current guitar is a classical acoustic type. I enjoy its sound, scent, and feel. It is my second guitar, and likely the last one I will ever play. The little I know about guitars is written in this introduction and its addenda:

Buying A Guitar

The type of guitar to choose is generally the one that is used most often to perform the type of music you enjoy. Basically, this means steel-stringed for rock or country, nylon/composite for classical or folk music, or maybe one of each. But as always, one can reject custom and go one’s own way, by switching things up.

The secret to choosing a specific guitar may be to hear many guitars and buy the one that sounds and plays the best. But that advice seems most pertinent to an advanced player. Lacking experience for comparing guitar sounds and playing ease, I doubted I could make an informed decision. Also, my aversion to middle-men (retail stores) means I most often buy sight-unseen, based on research and reputation of both item and seller.

In my mid-20s (before internet research was available), I went to a noted shop in the LA area to purchase my first guitar. I was sold a student-class nylon acoustic guitar from Japan, an Aria. I liked how it looked, and I could afford it (life was simpler then), I took some lessons in folk style playing, mastered the basic chords and picking styles, but beyond class time, did little to develop my skill. Career and family intervened, and the guitar was bequeathed early, to a family member.

In my later years, I wanted to re-experience the guitar and decided to purchase a better quality instrument. One associates guitars naturally with Spain, but I was reluctant to buy an imported Spanish guitar because I could discover little about its quality or manufacture, a necessity when buying sight-unseen. So I decided to buy an American or Japanese mass produced instrument from a luthier with a reputation for quality. I did not shop around or audition guitars. Based on a little research, the name Hirade rose to the top, seeming to offer as good a value as could be obtained in my target top-of-the-amateur line price range. Several guitarists have played Hirade guitars professionally, a further endorsement.

I aimed for a Hirade K5. The K5 seems to have had a short production run, but I found one on eBay in mint condition and purchased it for 65% of its new price, with an included hard shell case. The cedar/koa tone wood combination emphasizes warmth, both visually and in tone. One guitarist wrote, a cedar soundboard on a koa body “yields a full-bodied voice with a touch of crispness”. Perhaps he had just come from a wine tasting?

The Hirade K5

Here’s the original Hirade marketing line. Guitarras Hirade is a ‘factory within a factory’ at Japanese instrument mass-producer Takamine. Master luthier Mas Hirade joined Takamine in 1968 and began his namesake workshop soon after. Hirade limited-production instruments are labeled as ‘handcrafted’ (each instrument is signed by a single luthier, some models by Hirade himself), and are advertised to use the best Takamine woods (solids and laminates) and to follow Hirade designs.

Of course, this is all typical marketing BS. Fundamental guitar design hasn’t changed in a century, all production is limited by the number of buyers willing to pay, and the signed label is purely for snoot appeal. Yet, if they have the mindset that this is the Takamine premium label, perhaps some extra care can be expected in choices of materials and construction process. One can always hope. And the Hirade label is still advertised 25 years later by Takamine, now touted as guitars made in their ‘Pro-Shop’.

The major influences on guitar tone are the tone wood used, the quality of internal bracing, and the selection and current condition of its strings. A solid cedar or spruce soundboard is the standard prerequisite for good tone. Hirade’s guitar line has available soundboards of solid cedar or spruce, solid rosewood bodies, and ebony fingerboards.

The spruce-topped models comprise the concert-level guitars in the Hirade line, providing an analytical and powerful sound. For the body, solid wood is prized the most, but a less expensive (and more green) laminate body is less susceptible to cracking, and has arguably indistinguishable tonal characteristics compared to a solid equivalent, assuming the build quality of instruments is the same.

In the mid-1990s, Hirade built an entry-level cedar/koa guitar called the K5. The K5 uses a laminate koa body wood, fine-grained, solid cedar soundboard, and tropical American mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard. The K5 is the only known Hirade with an adjustable truss rod neck (like its less-expensive cousin, the Takamine C132S). Perhaps the small extra weight helps balance the light K5, as well as providing flexibility for neck relief adjustment if ever needed. Most high-end classicals skip the truss rod; some instead insert an ebony insert in the neck as stiffener.

The K5 fingerboard has a bone nut, nickel frets, and inlaid side markers at frets 5, 7, 9, and 12. There is abalone shell inlay around the sound hole rosette. Even though still presumably made to Hirade workmanship standards and using the most select available woods, the entry Hirade line was sold for little more than half the price of the top-end. It seemed made for my purposes and is beautiful as well.

Below is a picture of a K5.

Hirade K5

Below is an example of a Hirade guitar label signed by the master, as seen on Guitar Heaven site.

Label Signed by Luthier

To my ears, this K5 is a beautiful, sweetly musical instrument that handles and plays easily. Although not forward in presence, it held its own in my guitar ensemble classes. Its superb resonance properties give it an open sound I seek in a guitar. I doubt that I will ever need a better (louder) guitar. Since the K5 pleases me, does it really matter that another instrument might please me more? I don’t think that would motivate me to practice more, and that is the only true path to better guitar sound. The K5 is well-suited to being the last guitar I will ever own.

K5 Construction (April, 1995)

The following specs available courtesy of archives.
Hirade K5 Specs

Learning to Play

I took three group lessons to re-acquaint myself with basic techniques, then joined a community college guitar ensemble for two semesters. I taught myself the pieces that we performed, and also have some practice books for self-study:

  • Classical Guitar Technique, Aaron Shearer
  • Pumping Nylon, Scott Tennant
  • 100 Graded Classical Guitar Studies, Frederick Noad
  • The Essential Classical Guitar Collection, Alexander Gluklikh
  • The Beatles for Classical Guitar, Joe Washington
  • Rock Goes Classic, Mel Bay Publications and Warner Bros.

I am still a novice, but have advanced novice ability in my sights.

Recording Acoustic Guitar Music

Recording ‘test-drives’ of our pieces, and then listening critically, may help us improve our playing. And of course, then one will be experienced when it comes time to put out a CD or go on Youtube.

Many instruments in the Hirade line have built-in electronic pickups, but for mine, one must use microphones. Most guitarists will likely employ a selfie-video on their mobile device of choice. But fancying myself an audiophile, I have two Shure SM-81 mics available; for guitar recording, I mount them on a single Quik-Lok mic stand via dual mic bar adapter.

Either crossed-pair (X/Y) or spaced-pair (3-1) can be used. X/Y is less prone to phase cancellation as the recording heads are nearly touching. With X/Y, the mics can be moved further from the guitar to capture more room effect and thus come the closest to the sound a listener in the room would hear. Spaced pair may be placed about 7″ from the guitar, one pointing to the 12th fret, the other a couple of inches below the bridge, with the recording heads spaced at 21″ apart (3-1). Since phase cancellation with the spaced technique is a possibility, switching between mono and stereo output enables verifying whether phase cancellation is occurring. If the mono sound (merged stereo) is less, one can move the mics slightly until stereo and mono signals are equivalent.


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