LA Pa­trie Arena Ma­hogany CW Q1T

TRA­DI­TION TAKES A BACK SEAT TO PLAYA­BIL­ITY.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY STEVE HENDERSON

Here’s a real sur­prise: a ny­lon-stringed gui­tar with a con­tem­po­rary feel that’s easy to han­dle on­stage. La Pa­trie Gui­tars, one of the brands in the Godin fam­ily, has a spe­cific fo­cus on ny­lon-stringed in­stru­ments. Built in the prov­ince of Que­bec, Canada, in the small town of – you guessed it – La Pa­trie, a large part of the pop­u­la­tion is in­volved in the pro­duc­tion of these gui­tars. Vis­it­ing the fac­tory a few years back, it’s easy to see why these in­stru­ments are so good: they’re equipped with the lat­est in tech­nol­ogy, an ap­pro­pri­ate level of ‘hand­made-ness’ and a re­ally cheer­ful vibe through­out the whole fa­cil­ity.

RE­SHAP­ING THE CON­CEPT OF NY­LON

I first tried the Arena Ma­hogany at the dis­trib­u­tor’s ware­house, and I im­me­di­ately com­mented on the playa­bil­ity, the balanced tone and the vol­ume. Gui­tars with shal­lower bod­ies – es­pe­cially ny­lon-stringed mod­els – aren’t sup­posed to be loud or have a rich low-end. The Arena has both of these at­tributes a very friendly feel. In terms of playa­bil­ity, what stands out most im­me­di­ately is the curved fret­board. Other ny­lon-stringed gui­tars have flat fret­boards – a ‘clas­si­cal’ tra­di­tion that seems to be about tra­di­tion and not any er­gonomic func­tion­al­ity.

I’ve asked var­i­ous man­u­fac­tur­ers about this and have re­ceived an al­most uni­ver­sal re­sponse: that’s the way it’s al­ways been done. The mar­ket’s ex­pec­ta­tion of this is re­mark­ably en­trenched – like fric­tion tuners on vi­o­lins – and even Robert Godin told me that he couldn’t sell them as ‘clas­si­cal’ gui­tars be­cause of player re­sis­tance to this one fea­ture. But, as ‘ny­lon-stringed’ gui­tars, he’s moved a heap of them and is slowly chang­ing the per­cep­tion of how this type of gui­tar should be built – and more im­por­tantly, how it should play.

And boy, does it play. The neck is de­light­fully com­fort­able and the curved fret­board gives it an easy, con­tem­po­rary feel. In fact, one tends to for­get about the ex­tra width (to ac­com­mo­date the ny­lon strings) and just get on with play­ing mu­sic. The small-ish frets never cause any re­sis­tance and, even with a 12th fret body joint, there’s easy ac­cess to all 19 of them via the deep Vene­tian cut­away.

The face of the rose­wood board fol­lows the clas­si­cal tem­plate to be free of dot mark­ers (an­other so-called “tra­di­tion”) but thank­fully, you’ll find them on the top edge. The re-de­signed bridge, which is also made of rose­wood, of­fers max­i­mum down pres­sure while main­tain­ing an easy ten­sion, and the re­duced mass doesn’t rob the gui­tar of any vol­ume.

A SA­CRED CHAM­BER

The other re­mark­able fea­ture is the shal­low body, just 70 mil­lime­tres at the waist (clas­si­cal gui­tars are usu­ally 100-103 mil­lime­tres deep). It’s su­per lively and sur­pris­ingly “big” in its tonal bal­ance. The spruce top has a won­der­fully even grain and the solid ma­hogany back and sides are qui­etly fig­ured.

Amaz­ingly, the sound leaps out with a fast de­liv­ery due to the shal­lower air cham­ber re­duc­ing the sonic la­tency. The bot­tom end is tight and round while the tre­ble is bright and chirpy, with plenty of sus­tain. The midrange cuts through ef­fort­lessly, but it’s not honky or dom­i­nat­ing. It’s a broad midrange – a wide Q that tran­si­tions smoothly from lows through to highs. Sim­ple tri­ads have a clear over­tone struc­ture, giv­ing them a rich­ness that be­lies the body size.

Ex­tended chords have good string def­i­ni­tion, and the sound doesn’t col­lapse un­der the weight of the more com­plex har­monic in­ter­ac­tion. Some­how, even Drop D sounds and feels pos­i­tive on this gui­tar. In fact, I’d never used a Drop tun­ing on a ny­lon-stringed gui­tar be­fore, but the tight­ness of the Arena’s lowend re­ally makes it a plea­sure (although Drops C and B can get a bit flubby).

The Q1T preamp and pickup sys­tem is sim­plic­ity it­self, in a con­tem­po­rary sense: vol­ume, tre­ble, bass, and a built-in tuner – all acoustic/elec­tric preamps should have this – that is ac­cu­rate and doesn’t dance around. Us­ing a Fish­man Loud­box Mini, a Fish­man SA-220 and an in­stalled QSC/Sound­craft sys­tem in a 150-seater, Godin’s pickup sys­tem gave an ac­cu­rate and strik­ingly pris­tine im­age of the Arena.

I also used a Boss RV-3 re­verb pedal to add some dis­tance, as well as a Suhr Shiba Drive over­drive pedal just for fun. As well as be­ing a com­plete tonal al­ter­na­tive, the over­drive pedal also high­lights any de­fi­cien­cies in an acoustic or elec­tric’s har­monic in­for­ma­tion and out­put level.

The Arena passed with fly­ing colours and never glitched out or de­cayed too quickly. Played clean and dry, the Arena pro­duces a de­fined bass that tran­si­tions smoothly into the mids and then to the round top-end. There’s no squeaky bite and there’s no honk in the midrange – just a re­ally smooth sound and an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the unplugged tone. This is a fun in­stru­ment to play and, for steel-string play­ers, the curved fret­board gives it a fa­mil­iar feel.

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