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By Daniel Vincennes
Discipline is one of the many qualities of a successful songwriter. The discipline it takes to sit down on a regular basis and work on writing songs is formidable. John Mellencamp once said learning to write songs is like getting in condition to run laps around the block: the first time you try it you’re completely out of breath, but the more laps you run, the easier it gets. Having the right tools at hand also helps with songwriting. It’s important to have a guitar I can depend on and not fuss over. I want it to be on-call—ready to be picked up at a moment’s flash of inspiration. The Gibson Songwriter Deluxe is just such a guitar. The Songwriter Deluxe series of guitars are square-shouldered dreadnoughts that are at the top end of the mid-priced acoustic-electrics. They are fine-quality instruments that are handmade at Gibson’s Custom Shop in Bozeman, Montana. Skilled, experienced craftsmen take meticulous care at every step: selecting, cutting, and shaping the wood; gluing the bracing; installing the rosette; applying the binding; joining the neck; applying the coats of lacquer; sanding; buffing; and finally, setting up the guitar. A Songwriter Deluxe guitar is beautiful, but not too glitzy. It is a guitar for serious musicians who want to be creatively fueled by a guitar that feels right, plays well, and sounds great without having to pay the top-drawer price.
A key to its distinctive high-quality sound is the incorporation of Gibson’s advanced bracing pattern first created by Gibson in the 1930s. This particular bracing pattern opens up more of the top to vibrate adding warmth of tone and a wider dynamic range. This is the reason legendary artists for decades have coveted the Gibson dreadnoughts of the 1930s era, like the Advanced Jumbo and the famous Roy Smeck Models.
Current Songwriter Deluxe series models include the Songwriter Deluxe and the Songwriter Deluxe Cutaway. Both have appointments that you would expect to find on high-end guitars including an abalone rosette, six-ply body binding, sculpted tortoise pickguard, ebony neck and bridge, and gold Grover tuners. The newest model is named the Songwriter Deluxe Cutaway Ovangkol. Because ovangkol is a less expensive wood, and a couple of appointments have been dropped—such as the abalone rosette and mother-of-pearl inlays on the fingerboard and headstock—this newcomer is priced less than its brother, the Songwriter Deluxe Cutaway. When Gibson instituted a company-wide ban on using Brazilian rosewood, the luthiers in Bozeman decided that ovangkol was an excellent-quality alternative. Ovangkol is a West African wood that is being used more often these days in the construction of acoustic guitars. You will sometimes see it marketed with the name Mozambique for use in making furniture, cabinetry, and flooring. It is used most often for the back and sides of acoustic guitars. With its ovangkol back and sides, the Songwriter Deluxe Cutaway Ovangkol has very balanced sound: a combination of the sparkling midrange of mahogany or koa with the warmth of rosewood. Like the other two Songwriters, the Ovangkol uses premium Sitka spruce for the top wood, which provides clear resonant tones with lots of clarity and sustain.
For live performance using an amplifier, the onboard Fishman Prefix Plus-T preamp is quiet and efficient, with controls that are laid out logically with easy access. The Acoustic Matrix active transducer pickup is very sensitive. It uses the entire length of the pickup to sense string motion along the entire saddle length, capturing the full dynamic range of the Songwriter Deluxe. Equalization can be adjusted with the Bass and Treble slider controls. The EQ can be tailored for the style of guitar you are playing. For example, when playing fingerstyle, higher frequencies are emphasized by increasing the Brilliance slider setting. Two more sliders—Contour and Frequency—control the semi-parametric or contour EQ. The Contour slider lets you boost or cut a range of frequencies from midrange to high treble. Then, using the Frequency slider, you can locate and scoop out frequencies—for example, in the midrange—that may be harsh or pinched sounding. The Notch filter slider and Phase button are used to tune out feedback. The Notch filter suppresses feedback in the lower range produced by bass notes, while the Phase switch cuts feedback in the mid-bass range. This ability to hone-in and hog-tie nettlesome frequencies is handy because many rooms produce a distinct resonant frequency—or room mode—that can cause feedback when you play at that same frequency. Once you’ve conquered feedback you can play as loudly as you need to.
Using the Songwriter Deluxe Cutaway Ovangkol in a recent performance with another guitar player, bassist, and keyboard player made for one of those dream gigs where everything goes perfectly. The Songwriter’s intonation was spot-on for the entire neck with the action close enough to make it easy to play without frets buzzing. The Grover tuners adjusted smoothly. They held tuning solidly, even after the most aggressive strumming and picking as well as when using those tricky alternate tunings, some of which require very different intervals than standard tuning. The balanced sound of the Songwriter Deluxe gave equal emphasis to highs, mids, and lows producing full, rich, and musical open chords. Tunes that called for some fairly brisk strumming with a flatpick on the 7th or 10th frets sounded bold and percussive. Complex chords with 7ths, 9ths, and altered tones were distinct and clear-voiced without any muddy overtones. The round profile mahogany neck with ebony fingerboard was easy on the hands for hours of comfortable playing. For fingerpicking tunes, the Songwriter Deluxe easily held its own in the mix with a slight adjustment of preamp volume, filling the medium-sized room with plenty of crisp definition and subtle dynamics. The Songwriter Deluxe’s balanced tone, fluid neck, and onboard electronics freed me to enjoy my performance right along with the audience.