A New Look and Fresh Voice in Acoustic-Electric Guitars
By Jon Chappell
Lâg Guitars, founded by master luthier Michel Lâg-Chavarria, have enjoyed critical acclaim and a successful following in Europe but have been relatively scarce in the U.S. That’s all changed now, as the acoustic line of Lâg Guitars is finally being distributed here by Korg USA. Which means these fine, affordable guitars will now be widely available to guitarists looking for something distinctive while keeping their budget in check.
Tramontane is the name of acoustic models that include nylon-strings and steel-string auditoriums, dreadnoughts, and jumbos, available with or without cutaways and electronics. My review instrument was a Lâg Tramontane T400DCE, the flagship of the dreadnoughts, featuring a cutaway and StudioLAG Plus electronics. Even at the top of the line, this model can be purchased for $699. Let’s see what makes this guitar très magnifique.
The T400DCE is made of Indonesian rosewood back and sides with a solid Sitka spruce top. Its neck is African mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and a stylish layered-wood headstock face. The grain pattern in the rosewood components is quite pleasing, with a hue that is more medium brown than the darker reddish brown of some varieties of rosewood. A subtle center stripe and rosewood-and-maple purfling give the body a classy, detailed look, and a high-gloss finish is expertly applied to the top, back, and sides. The string-through bridge (sans bridge pins) is also Indonesian rosewood, with a compensated saddle made from a durable synthetic black resin (as is the nut). A particularly nice touch is the rosette featuring an attractive Occitan cross—a coat-of-arms emblem whose history is traceable back to medieval southwest France, where the guitar originates. The matte-black hardware, nut, and saddle all blend well with the tone and decorative woods to produce an overall aesthetic that is elegant and understated, looking much more expensive than it actually is.
The neck has a fairly shallow profile, which will be well received by electric guitarists who don’t want to have to make huge adjustments in their left-hand approach. The width of the fingerboard at the nut is 1-11/16", which is ideal for flatpicking on an acoustic. On my review instrument, the action was low as well, which, combined with the neck’s shallow profile and narrow width, felt smooth and comfortable when playing single-note leads in the higher frets. For a fuller sound when banging out chords, though, I prefer a slightly higher action. This was accomplished easily enough with a quarter turn of the trussrod, accessible from just inside the soundhole.
When unplugged, the T400DCE sounds sweet and balanced—perfect for jangly open-string flatpicking, intricate fingerstyle work, and straight-ahead acoustic-rock strumming. The bottom end is warm and full without being boomy, and the fairly even response across the strings kept feedback to a minimal threat when miked. The high end was clear and sparkly—perfect for leads and high-neck chord inversions. As a side note, the thin neck also accommodates capo-playing fairly well. If you’re looking to create a faux-12-string or a mandolin-like color, the T400DCE is the guitar for you!
It’s when you plug the T400DCE in that the guitar really shines. The electronic system is comprised of a Nanoflex under-saddle piezo pickup and a StudioLAG Plus preamp, made by Shadow. Going from acoustic to electric, with all the controls set flat, retains very well the same even, sweet sound the T400DCE exhibits in the acoustic domain.
For onboard tone shaping, there is one Volume and one Bass/Treble knob, plus a rotary selector with five preset EQ curves, named Natural Folk, Mellow Mids, Studio Mid-Cut, Fingerstyle Picking, and Mellow Jazz. The presets were created in a professional recording studio using a 31-band EQ and then saved to special circuitry accessible only from the preset selector. In other words, you can’t re-create these sounds by tweaking the Bass/Treble knob. From any preset, you can press the Bypass switch, which instantly takes you out of the preset and back to the straight setting, including whatever you’ve dialed up with the tone and level controls. This effectively makes six instantaneous settings.
The presets feature a variety of sounds, all of them useful and showing off well the different characters of the T400DCE. I particularly liked the preset named Mellow Mids, which emphasizes the warm midrange properties, and is perfect for bossa nova, blues, and fingerstyle jazz à la Joe Pass. Another standout was Studio Mid-Cut, which, as the name implies, leans out the sound with respect to the midrange, but also enhances the bass and brightens the treble. When playing the guitar by itself, this preset might sound a little hyped, but it was perfect for focusing the sound to cut through the mix of my string band ensemble. Any preset sound can be further sculpted with the tone control, offering even more sonic variety.
Also included on the control panel is an onboard chromatic tuner. It’s a rather good one, boasting fast response, two separate red LEDs for indicating whether the pitch is low or high of the mark, a green LED for flat and sharp pitch names, and a bright blue LED to let you know when you’re perfectly in tune. Being chromatic, you can use the tuner for alternate tunings (like DADGAG, open G, drop D, etc.) in addition to standard tuning.
While not fancy in terms of appointments, the T400DCE is nevertheless quite elegant, from its headstock design to its rosette to its maple and rosewood binding. The acoustic sound is sweet, warm, and balanced, and even with no tonal enhancements, it’s versatile enough for many musical settings. When plugged in, the EQ presets offer instant access to five additional sounds, further variable through the Bass/Treble knob. This, plus its excellent setup and easy playability make it a top choice for a stage guitar. The Lâg Tramontane T400DCE is a unique and distinctive choice in an acoustic guitar that shows quality and class in presentation as well as tone—all at an affordable price.
Jon Chappell is the author of six books in the well-known “For Dummies” series, including Rock Guitar for Dummies and Blues Guitar for Dummies, as well as The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Digital Home Recording (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill).