Fancy a parlour guitar with a little more oomph that could also be a holiday buddy, but don’t want to sell a kidney? Peavey takes on the challenge. Review by Martin Wheeler
Description: Parlour-sized steel string acoustic. Made in China
Although it’s a traditional wooden acoustic instrument, the genesis of the Composer can be traced back to 2010 when Peavey bought Composite Acoustics, a company specialising in carbon fibre and graphite instrument building. The first post-CA Peavey instruments were designed with features gleaned from the feedback of original Composite Acoustics players. The resulting top-end guitars were well-received, and it seems that some of the design ethos has trickled down to this entry-level Composer.
Peavey is aiming to offer ‘a parlour-size musical instrument made for guitarists who want the tone and craftsmanship of a full-size instrument with the comfort and playability of a parlour guitar.’ They’ve also tagged it as a travel guitar, and a quick glance at the price may lead you to suspect that serious corners have been cut. Happily this doesn’t seem to be the case, but one suspects that they’ve had a close look over the shoulders down at their new CA division for inspiration and have done more than ape the aesthetics of the pricier carbon fibre instruments.
In doing so they’ve made a very astute choice: copying the solid, neutral tonal characteristics of carbon fibre on a shoestring budget by using tough but tonally inert laminates and plywood is a logical, clever step, as is combing these materials with a fairy dust sprinkling of CA design to improve acoustic tone.
Weight and playability are big factors in any ‘travel’ instrument so the body outline owes more than a passing resemblance to the Peavey Composite Cargo guitar but in a slimmed down, sleeker form. Also inspired by the classic tightly-waisted parlour but with an added Florentine cutaway, it looks great to us and also affords excellent, effortless upper fret access.
The most obvious deviation from the norm is the soundhole position – in fact there are two, and neither are in the usual central position in front of the bridge. There’s the large curved opening on the bass side top, and also a teardrop hole positioned on the side – on the bass side, to be exact, on the lower bout.
The look is unusual but the presence and placement are primarily designed to offer more volume, and also a better tonal balance across the frequency range from the smaller bodied guitar than a regular soundhole. The laminated spruce top measures in at 5.6mm thick which is at the chunky end of accepted top building thickness, so here one assumes it’s there to add strength over resonance.
The finish is all satin – natural for the top and just a wee shade away from being black on the back, sides and neck between the front and back binding. A decent-looking piece of rosewood makes up the bridge and the regular bridge pin stringing and angled saddle are once again pure trad.
The soundhole placements afford a good view of the internals and although there’s little to trouble NASA here, all the glue lines are clean and the bracings sanded to a more than acceptable form.
The tidy-looking neck is carved from nato (a vaguely mahogany-related variant) and the fairly deep neck section adds a sense of solidity to what is otherwise standard fare. Fretting, binding, dots and finish are all excellent at this price range; the fret tops would benefit greatly from a polish, but that’s easy enough to do post-purchase.
Laminated spruce and plywood wouldn’t ordinarily be at the top of a building specification list of great tone woods, and on a regular-shaped acoustic we’d be quite sure of what to expect. In the context of the Composer, however, the resultant tone is surprisingly pleasant. Single-note runs particularly display a sweetness and almost fragile quality, with surprisingly swelling sustain. There’s some twang in there if you go looking for it, and upper fret access past the 12th fret neck join makes melodic excursions absolutely effortless.
With a 24.75″ scale length the playing feel is familiar enough and fingering down at the nut feels no more cramped than on a standard dreadnought. Fingerpickers and fans of the wider parlour-style nut and string spacing may find it a bit of a squeeze, but there is an overall chiming clarity that the price really belies.
Despite the soundhole placement this guitar lacks true solid bass end response and it’s never going to be the loudest acoustic strummer out there. Without A/B testing the same design with a traditional soundhole it’s impossible to say exactly what impact the design has but the lack of brittle top end or harsh wound strings suggest that there’s definitely something to it.
So what is this guitar? Peavey calls it both a parlour and a travel guitar, but it’s neither. It’s too big to be a travel guitar, especially if compared to the specialist folding and mini-me guitars out there, and it wouldn’t fit in the overhead locker on a plane… and it’s not a true parlour either. Peavey set themselves a tough target: build a small guitar but make it sound and feel more like a full-size acoustic – oh, and make it super-affordable. It’s a bold attempt to offer something unusual but functional by using budget materials in an innovative way, and all for little money.
Mostly, they’ve succeeded. The cost-effective materials offer strength; there’ll always be a certain aura associated with them, but to create a strong soundbox and then use clever design to produce a deeper bass than might otherwise be possible is a neat trick. About all, Peavey should be congratulated for keeping the money down. It would make an excellent first steel-string for the kids or a knockabout for the living room or home studio. It’s small and light enough to carry around easily, and if it did get damaged it could be easily replaced. Perhaps not quite the unique selling point Peavey were aiming for – but it may be a deciding factor for the cash-strapped guitarist at home or abroad.