Au­den austin 12-string

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Twelve-string acous­tics oc­cupy an awk­ward slot in most play­ers’ buy­ing plans. The prob­lem is the ma­jor­ity of gui­tarists don’t use them of­ten enough to jus­tify spend­ing big bucks on a re­ally good one, such as the bench­mark Guild F-512 (with a full re­tail price of £3,591) or the ex­cel­lent, con­tem­po­rary Tay­lor 562CE, re­tail­ing at a wal­let-wind­ing £3,359 (al­though they street a lot cheaper). On the other hand, many cheap 12-strings sound ratty and are the devil to play, which is no fun.

The Au­den Austin, then, is a tempt­ing propo­si­tion at just shy of £1,500. In case you’re not fa­mil­iar, the Au­den brand is op­er­ated by Doug Sparkes, who re­cently bought clas­sic Bri­tish maker Gor­don Smith, be­fore mak­ing some very canny, crafts­man­like up­dates to that clas­sic lineup of electrics. Au­den is his acous­tic ven­ture.

The build is an in­ter­est­ing one. The ba­sic shells of the gui­tars are hand-built in China, then shipped to the UK for a fi­nal neck-set, elec­tron­ics, fret­work and fin­ish­ing to be com­pleted by a team of in-house luthiers at Au­den’s work­shop in Higham Fer­rers. Clearly, the aim is to com­bine the cost­ef­fec­tive­ness of qual­ity-con­scious over­seas con­struc­tion with a touch of home-brewed fi­nesse dur­ing the fi­nal phase of the build. So how does that pan out in re­al­ity?

Our re­view-model Austin is a hand­some in­stru­ment, with a darkly un­der­stated satin ‘Smoke­house’ fin­ish that’s just translu­cent enough to re­veal some of the subtly fig­ured grain of the two-piece Sitka spruce top.

The back and sides are quoted to be African ma­hogany, while the body’s 110mm depth feels com­fort­able, yet gives plenty of au­thor­ity to the gui­tar’s bass-rich voice. One of the most strik­ing fea­tures of the Austin is its playa­bil­ity – it’s the first 12-string in a while that we’ve felt just as com­fort­able play­ing fin­ger­style on as we would a con­ven­tional six-string acous­tic. The ac­tion, as de­liv­ered, is low and fast while a mea­sured fin­ger­board width at the nut of 47.3mm feels nei­ther cramped nor wide un­der the fin­gers. This easy-play­ing char­ac­ter is helped along by the rel­a­tively shal­low-D pro­file and low-fric­tion satin fin­ish of the one-piece ma­hogany neck.

Fin­ger­board, bridge and bridge pins are all made of ebony. The un­der­stated theme con­tin­ues in the pretty but un­showy rose­wood and maple bind­ing. The only flash of bling is found in the taste­ful abalone-and-maple sound­hole ring – over­all we found the vibe of re­strained el­e­gance very ap­peal­ing here.

Sounds

Un­plugged, we’re charmed by the breathy, sweet shim­mer of the treble and up­per mids, but it’s the def­i­ni­tion and tight­ness of the bass that’s most im­pres­sive. Play fin­ger­style and you get well-ar­tic­u­lated warmth – but hit it hard with a pick and the bass tight­ens right up and de­liv­ers punchy vol­ume with­out flub. Com­bined with that slip­pery playa­bil­ity, we found we were writ­ing songs with­out re­ally think­ing about it, just ex­plor­ing in that shim­mer­ing, Byrd­s­like sound­world. The on­board Schertler Ly­dia EQ pickup and preamp sys­tem of­fers ba­sic con­trol over vol­ume, bass and treble with the con­trols dis­creetly tucked away in­side the sound­hole. Plugged into our ref­er­ence AER 60 combo, the pickup sys­tem de­liv­ered a solid, nat­u­ral am­pli­fied sound, which was par­tic­u­larly strong in re­pro­duc­ing that tight bass re­sponse and flat­ter­ing warmth. A tad of the sparkle and nu­ance of the treble was lost in trans­la­tion, but it’s a sim­ple sys­tem that we’d have no hes­i­ta­tion in us­ing live.

Ver­dict

At this price, it’s hard to find fault with a deftly ex­e­cuted 12-string that seems tai­lored to win con­verts from the elec­tric gui­tar world. That playa­bil­ity will bring out your in­ner Leo Kot­tke in sec­onds – we ended up record­ing with it the day it ar­rived. This is a gui­tar that feels like it has a lot of songs in it, and that’s a fine thing. [JD] 10/10

The Au­den’s satin ‘Smoke­house’ fin­ish is un­der­stated but el­e­gant

The abalone-andmaple sound­hole ring of­fers a small flour­ish of op­u­lence

The 18:1 ra­tio tuners feel pos­i­tive and pre­cise

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