Classical Guitar

My guitar is a classical acoustic type, a mid-90s Hirade K5. The little I know about guitars in general, and the K5 in particular, is written on these pages.

One associates guitars naturally with Spain, but I was reluctant to buy an imported Spanish guitar in my price range because I would know little about its quality or manufacture. Buying sight-unseen seemed too risky. So I decided to buy an American or Japanese mass produced instrument from a luthier with a reputation for quality. By reputation, 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.

Here’s the 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.

The major influences on guitar tone are the tone wood used, the quality of internal bracing, and strings. A solid cedar or spruce soundboard is a prerequisite for good tone. Hirade guitars are now available with 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.

Fifteen years ago, Hirade built an entry-level cedar/koa guitar called the K5, produced in 1994-6 (?). 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 mass-produced cousin the Takamine C132S). Perhaps the small extra weight helps balance the light K5, as well as providing flexibility if 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 hand-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

The secret to choosing a guitar may be to hear many guitars and buy the one that sounds the best. But lacking an experienced ear for comparing guitar sounds, I doubt I could make an informed decision. I did not shop around or audition guitars. I just ordered the K5 in the mail based on a little research. The K5 seems to have been a limited production instrument, 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?

To my ears, this K5 is a beautiful, sweetly musical instrument that handles and plays easily. I enjoy its scent, feel, and sound. 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 get the basics of position down, 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

Many instruments in the Hirade line have built-in electronic pickups, but for mine one must use microphones. My rig includes two Shure SM-81 mics mounted 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.

Proceed to Guitar Woods.

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