|A Cracker Jack Guitar with a Surprise Inside|
More pictures of this model can be found at RecordingKing.com and the various online retailers.
Hardy Menagh 12/4/16
I bought this 0-sized guitar to take places where I wouldn't risk taking a Martin. I have to say I'm impressed with the quality for the price.
The Recording King RP-06 represents the bottom of the company's 0-sized 12-fret slot-head line. If you read the other reviews on the retailer sites, you'll notice that the quality is fairly consistant with problematic examples being rarely encountered.
There is a deceptive marketing standard for indicating laminated wood on imported instruments by simply omitting the word "solid" from the description. This guitar is advertised as having Mahogany back and sides and a solid Sitka Spruce top. Although the back and sides of this guitar are laminated wood, The quality is a cut above most Chinese import guitars.
Recording King makes a few all solid wood single-0 models as well, at ascending prices up to the Schoenberg RP1-327 model. The Schoenberg is a close copy of a Martin 0-28VS, but with an Adirondack Spruce top. It's substantially less expensive than the Martin and looks, in the images, to be more refined than the lower cost single-0 Recording King models.
This guitar shipped with a fretboard which had no relief whatsoever and was causing some fret buzz. This was easily fixed by backing off the truss rod a half turn with the included wrench.
The fretboard on this example is Rosewood stained dark, like the Mahogany parts*. This piece of Rosewood has some excessive front-to-back grain runout for several inches at the soundhole end. At the nut end there's some very wild grain. I doubt either will be an issue down the road but personally, I think this wood should have been rejected for a fretboard, even for this low-end model.
The frets have been leveled but not crowned, It's not a big issue but it's something I'll fix sooner than later.
The supplied bone saddle has some faux compensation at the 'b' string. The face of the saddle is filed flat under this string. Since the saddle is evenly crowned along its length, the 'b' string rests on the crown, as do the others and the flat area doesn't affect string position at all.
The action is near perfect but it's almost even across the saddle, being 2/32" at the 12th fret with the 'e' string depressed at the 1st fret. The big 'E' is only a tiny hair more than this and buzzes on the frets with heavier playing. I could wait for the string tension to eventually raise the action with time, then take a little off the treble side of the saddle but I'll probably just replace the saddle.
Both the bone nut and the saddle are saturated with a finishing product of some kind. I have no idea what, if any effect this might have on tone but it does change the character of the material and makes it look like plastic.
Soundboard and Bracing
The Spruce top on the one I received is definitely not the best visual grade but I really wasn't expecting it to be. As you can see in the images, the light plays evenly on the top, indicating absolutely no grain runout. Most of the grain is very tight, if not even across the width. There are a few lines of wider compression wood and some slight bear's claw in a couple of places. All of this should be expected at this price. Some folks even believe bear's claw makes for superior tone wood.
Although not sanded smooth, the bracing is well shaped on the top, not left square as it is on some economy brands. It resembles vintage Martin bracing right down to the flatter, wider lower-bout back braces.
Conspicuous by its absence, is the interior back reinforcing strip. It's not needed with a laminated back which only has a center joint in the outer veneer.
Finish and Appearance
The bridge is listed as Rosewood on this model but all of the ones I've seen are black and appeared to be dyed that way*. The front of the bridge has a sharp edge, so I took a palm plane and chamfered it, then finished it with sandpaper. This revealed white wood, probably maple, under the stain. I applied some India ink to the white part and decided to do no further work to the bridge.
Other than that, the bridge on this example is a crude and unevenly carved nod to the Martin pyramid style, only with a drop-in saddle. Most people won't notice its lack of refinement. If you play well, they'll be watching your fingers.
The fret ends have had the tang cut away, like you would do for a bound fingerboard. The slots under the ends have been filled with a brown substance so you see neither tangs nor slots.
The finish is very thick but evenly applied and nicely buffed out.
At first glance there appears to be a strip of black veneer in the center of the back. Upon close examination, you'll notice that it's a stripe painted on one of the lower layers of lacquer and even extends over the binding.
The headstock slots are slightly crude and unfinished on the inside surfaces. You won't have to worry about scratching the finish when you change the strings because there isn't any.
The neck, fretboard and body were joined before the lacquer was applied and these joints are thickly lacquered over. This should add an interesting wrinkle to resetting the neck if it's ever considered. It's also not possible to know by looking at it, what type of neck joint was used. Since a reset is usually nearly the cost of this guitar, it's not really an issue. The bridge and saddle on my example are high enough that a reset won't be a consideration for many years.
The tuners are economical examples of the "butterbean" style made by Waverly, Gotoh and others. The strings were relaxed on the guitar when it arrived so I got to try them right away. They worked without issues and have the appearance, at least, of quality open-gear tuners.
The 3-piece neck profile resembles a Low Oval Martin shape. I prefer a Modified V but found this neck comfortable and easy to use. The frets are rounded at the ends and have no sharp surprises. It's a joy to play.
How it Sounds
As mentioned, this guitar is sealed in a heavy coating of lacquer. Coupled with what is probably a fairly rigid top, this is likely the main issue that prevents it from achieving its potential in tone. The plywood back and sides are secondary to the heavy finish in this respect.
Although you don't expect thumping bass from a single-0 guitar, the better-made ones have nicely balanced tone that projects well. You can get good volume from the example I have but, although it's not unpleasant, the tone is thin with bass that struggles to make itself known. This will improve a little with time and playing but it will never sound like a Martin, nor should anyone expect it to.
When I shone a flashlight in the soundhole and looked at the tailblock, I saw something gray partially covering it and slightly off to the side. I shook the guitar but whatever it was, wasn't loose.
I pulled the end pin and stuck a thin dowel in the hole. I felt something move slightly. I pushed harder. It yielded and made a flapping sound. I still couldn't shake it loose. I got a piece of coat hanger and bent a hook on the end. Reaching inside the soundhole with this, I hooked the gray thing and pulled it loose. It was a piece of sandpaper, cut just slightly larger than the soundhole. It had been propped inside to keep the lacquer out during finishing. It had a thick soundhole-sized disk of lacquer on the back side.
A search revealed that I'm not the only one who's found sandpaper inside a Recording King guitar. It seems an unusual choice for keeping the finish out of the body. I think the tone improved noticeably after it was out but I could be imagining it.
Although in many ways, this guitar emulates a Martin 0-sized guitar in appearance, it still lacks the depth and rich tone of a real Martin, not to mention the craftsmanship. The one you receive will also likely need some setting-up. It also may have very different characteristics from the one I received. However, for the very low price, you can't go wrong for a knock-around, fun to play guitar.
*Update 4/27/2017: The fretboard and bridge materials for this model have been changed recently and are now listed on the Recording King website as "Revebond". I have no experience with this material and have been unable to even discover what it is. I suspect it's something similar to Richlite, a composite material which has been used for fretboards and bridges on the lower-end models of other guitar manufacturers.
Back to Hardy's Reviews
Copyright © 2016 Hardy Menagh
All rights reserved