Rim-located soundports are becoming a hot item in the handmade field, but Indies added-holes approach is all about the out-front sound. Review by Jerry Uwins
For years, acoustic makers have been playing around with alternatives to the central soundhole, in pursuit of enhancing or simply altering the tone. Gibson, for example, introduced violin-style f-holes in the early 1920s, and these are now virtually ubiquitous on archtops, as well as many mandolins and some resonators. Then, in the mid-’70s, Ovation‘s Adamas bowlbacks featured multi-soundholes on the upper bouts, based on Charlie Kaman’s theory that the guitar’s body would act as a more efficient ‘pump’ with this arrangement than with a conventionally-placed soundhole – for although a regular soundhole is in an area of primary vibration, it has to be braced for strength reasons, partly negating the advantage.
There are other examples. Tacoma, in the late ’90s, introduced its Papoose, Chief and Roadking models with a single ‘paisley’ soundhole on the bass-side upper bout. More recently, a few makers have taken to adding an extra hole on the rim, designed to increase the sense of volume from the player’s standpoint without affecting out-front performance. Boulder Creek‘s Solitaire Series (see The Competition) relies solely on the rim port.
With its new ‘Sound’ jumbo, UK-based Indie Guitars is adopting a different approach, one we’ve certainly not seen before. In addition to the regular soundhole are three further holes of graduating diameter, arrayed diagonally aft of the bridge on the treble side. Indie claims that this ‘strategic’ placing allows the low frequencies to resonate to the full, emerging from the soundboard at the same time as the highs, for a bigger, better balanced delivery. The practical benefits are said to be twofold. First, for recording, a second mic can be positioned here in addition to the normal one off-centre from the main soundhole, giving the engineer a dual input to the desk for more flexible control over the final sound. Second, in live situations it’s claimed that the extra holes add out-front oomph, improving projection. To assist this, the inside of the back of the instrument is lacquered with a kind of sealing coat to provide a more reflective surface for the soundwaves to bounce back from.
Time for a general once-over before assessing the guitar’s sound. Constructed with a solid cedar top and laminated mahogany back and sides, the Sound is a 16"-wide jumbo with rims a full 125mm deep. To help maximise the supposed sonic pluses of the extra soundholes, the body is lacquered with a resonance-friendly open-pore satin (effectively matt) finish, though the neck is grain-filled for a slick, smooth grip. Under the top, the location of the multi-holes means that the small tone braces behind the treble side of the ‘X’ have to be dispensed with, but the bridge plate is larger than usual, presumably to provide compensating structural stability around this area. The bracing is otherwise conventional.
Satin-finish acoustics can look drab, but here the cedar’s warm hue goes well with the soundhole’s wood, sharktooth-themed rosette inlay, and the cream-bound top’s pretty ‘rope’ purfling. Cream binding edges the back and the rosewood fingerboard, the former featuring a wood-mosaic centre strip. The binding theme is continued around the headstock, which carries a rosewood overlay and a precise, smooth-geared set of Indie-branded gold diecast tuners. All detailing is very neatly done, and the innards are clean too.
The glue-jointed mahogany neck – three-piece with a scarfed-on peghead and separate heel portion – has a slender width, with an evenly rounded mid-depth profile that sits snugly in the hand. String spacing at the bridge is an easy-feeling 55mm; playability is very good, thanks to the neck’s fast, satin patina, our sample’s low action, and the frets… well-fitted and dressed, with a wider section than normal that feels more positive for string bending. They’re the kind of frets that will appeal to players swopping regularly from electric to acoustic.
First off, it should be said that this is not, intrinsically, an especially bass-rich jumbo. As can often be the case with light-coat, mahogany-back flat-tops, the sound tends to lean towards the highs and the tone is quite dry, though in a pleasantly airy sort of way despite the cedar top not adding quite as much warmth as might be expected. Accompanying this openness is a decent dynamic range, making this a respectably expressive, long-sustaining player.
So, what about the effect of those extra holes? Well, perversely perhaps, if you cover them up with your hand immediately after a strum, you’ll hear more low end emerging from the player’s perspective than with the holes uncovered. This has to be because all the sound is being focused through the main soundhole. Out front it’s a different matter. If you haven’t someone else in the room to help judge, sit the guitar face up on your lap and strum the open strings with the holes covered. Quickly take your hand away and you’ll hear an audible increase in low-end projection and overall body. It’s fairly subtle but it does make a difference. (As an aside, you might think that even more bass would be unlocked if the holes were on the other side of the lower bouts. That could be so, but then the player’s forearm would be masking the holes, making that a non-starter.)
To a degree, the multi-holes are helping compensate for a jumbo that isn't blastingly loud in the first place. However, the principle behind what Indie has done with the Sound does seem more than just a gimmick. Projection is definitely enhanced when the holes are doing their job, and if they also provide a more versatile, richer-sounding means of external mic'ing, then that's all to the good too. Equally positive is that the guitar is well made, an enjoyable player and eminently affordable - all further persuasive reasons to give one a whirl. And of course, if you buy, it's certainly going to be a talking point apr賭gig.