Despite the modest price tags, these little fellas sport a rare touch of class.
IT’S all in the name. Imagine if The Beatles had remained The Quarrymen. Doesn’t quite have that ring to it, does it? Still, some will fly in the face of conventional wisdom, like this Taiwanese guitar manufacturer, which makes its instruments in China.
Among the China-made musical instruments engulfing the globe these days, those from Farida, among a handful, stand out for their sheer quality. Although this means there is a premium to pay, Farida guitars have already won accolades in Europe and the United States for their tone and quality.
Some weeks ago, we reviewed an entrylevel dreadnought acoustic guitar from Farida (and I recall an acoustic bass some years ago). Now, for something different, here are two parlour-sized guitars, one entry-level, the other, mid-range; respectively, the M-2 and H-16E.
From the same cloth
Parlour guitars haven’t been as popular as dreadnoughts and jumbos in recent times, but they appear to be making a bit of a comeback. They’re not to be confused with mini-dreadnoughts; the body shape is different, so is the scale, usually.
While the bigger acoustic guitars have generous amounts of bass and a bigger, splashy sound, parlour guitars are more balanced across the frequencies, thanks to the small body. Their shape and sometime slightly shorter scale length make them easier to lug around and play. It’s no wonder parlour guitars have often been the choice of fingerpicking bluesmen.
The M-2 and H-16E are cut from the same cloth, right down to the classical-type headstock, but the results are subtly different. The award-winning M-2 is essentially a modern take on the parlour guitar. It has a solid red cedar top, with mahogany back, sides and neck, and a rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
The tuners are nickel, while plastic is used for the nut and saddle, with the binding in black. The natural, satin finish is the kind I like.
The scale length is 628mm, compared with the traditional 650mm and this, along with the C-profile neck, facilitate easy navigation.
The H-16E, with its V-profile neck, has a more vintage slant – its size, binding and configuration of the neck set into the body are slightly different. The top is solid Engelmann spruce, the back, sides and fingerboard are rosewood and the neck is mahogany The gold machine heads and gloss finish set it apart visually from the cheaper unit.
The rosette around the soundholes of both instruments are different; additionally, the H16E comes with a Fishman Isys pickup/ preamp system, which is very basic but useful for stage.
Both guitars, strung with 10-gauge D’Addarios, are well put together, with little signs of short cuts. You might feel the rare bit of unevenness on the M-2’s matte finish, and the fretboards on both are less impeccable than the body work. Still, if you have had an aversion to made-in-China acoustic guitars - and certainly, there are a few budget ones out there that make me cringe – then these Farida guitars will effect a complete reversal of your opinion, even before you play them!
Of course, no point in a guitar looking great if it doesn’t sound or play to expectations, right? One of the reasons I’ve seldom been comfortable with largerbodied acoustics is the underarm space they take up; if you’re one of those with chronic shoulder joint issues, these are a pain.
However, the more diminutive size of the M-2 and H-16E made them extremely comfortable to play sitting, while the shorter scale length only enhanced this feeling.
I started some finger-picking exercises on the M-2, and for one moment, felt like one of those legendary bluesmen of yore. Yes, that’s the vibe the M-2 gives off, despite its modern neck, which I also felt to be comfortable.
Tone-wise, the lack of a glossy veneer meant the M-2 had a loud and responsive sound, as eager to respond to hard rhythm work as it was enunciating subtler, fingerstyle playing. There’s an organic and warm texture to the tone, but this, without any lack in attack or dynamics. The flatter frequency balance, I found to be a pleasant change. There’s a bit of unruliness about the top end during more aggressive playing, but this never detracts from the lively and enthusiastic tonal approach of the M-2.
The H-16E was more refined in its approach – while it was equally responsive at lower levels, it retained its composure even when I attacked the strings with a pick to execute (or attempt to) some fancy rhythm work. Importantly, at either end of the volume scale, it exhibited more control than the less costly unit.
The V-neck took a bit of getting used to, but once I’d worked out a suitable approach, it didn’t feel as “fat” as it did initially. After some weeks of switching between both guitars, the palm hardly noticed the difference as I subconsciously adjusted.
If the H-16E has a downside, it’s the electronics – understandable, for the price. The Fishman system is no over-achiever, and the steely sound of piezo pickups can often jar on the nerves. There’s not much flexibility in the settings of the preamp – I supposed they offered the option (there is a unit without the electronics as well) just for the convenience of those wanting to use it on stage.
Making the switch
The Farida M-2 and H-16E might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but once you get one of these in your hands, putting it down is going to be difficult. Me, I ended up switching over from my nylon-string!
If you’re looking for smallbodied acoustic guitars on a budget (a legendary brand would cost three to four times more), check out the M-2 and H-16E. My favourite is the M-2, but the H-16E is surely as tempting. Either way, both are fine instruments indeed, and capital value.
Acoustic shine: The Farida H-16E parlour guitar boasts a more refined tone.
Passion play: The Farida M-2, a delight for the acoustic bluesman.