GuitarNation.com Acoustic Guitar Review
Luthier: E.A. (Ed) Foley
Body Style: Deep-Body OM (SN: 201)
Woods: Adirondack (Red) Spruce top, Quarter-Sawn Brazilian Rosewood Back & Sides
Misc: Walrus Ivory Nut, Walrus Ivory Saddle & Walrus Ivory (Abalone Inlaid) End Pins
This could well be the finest guitar that I have ever played in my entire Life!
There...I said it. A better sounding guitar has never been in my arms or on my lap. I get to play more than my share of handmade guitars in any given year, and, this is truly a guitar for the ages. It is now the standard by which other guitars will be measured.
Why do I say these things?
To begin with, the sound is nothing short of angelic! Highs that shimmer with clarity, profound, distinct and equally clear lows, with prominent mids that are perfect. Impeccable balance that sustains for days. Whatever your level of guitar playing skill, I guarantee that Ed Foley's #201 will make you sound better. My guitar playing never sounded this good before!
How does this sort of thing happen? How doe these qualities come to be manifested in a guitar?
The recipe for making a great guitar is fairly straightforward. The primary ingredients are 1) a skilled, talented and dedicated luthier; 2) a good design; and, 3) choice materials.
Turning to ingredient #1, E.A. (Ed) Foley of Andover, New Jersey, is just such a skilled, talented and dedicated luthier. Ed has been handcrafting high quality acoustic guitars since about 1988. Many of his guitars can be found in the hands of Nashville players and other recording professionals. I have played several of Ed's guitars and firmly believe that he is one of the premier luthiers of our generation. His guitars are consistently great, and, consistently crafting great guitars is the true test of a luthier for me. Almost anybody, if they work at it long enough, can build a good guitar. Building consistently great guitars is the ultimate compliment for a luthier.
Good designs can be traditional, modern or a blend of the two. Martin's original OM design has been around since 1929. The deep body OM is a contemporary design that began in the mid 1990's. Giving the OM a deeper body provides more volume across the spectrum than is possible with the traditional OM design. Whereas some dreads can either be a little too boomy or a less-than-clear (muddy) at the low end, the traditional OM has always been thought of as offering the best balance of any steel-string guitar. Adding a bit more air volume to the sound box by making the body a little bit deeper, for my tastes, makes a good design an even better design.
Choice of materials gives the luthiers the opportunity to really dial-in the sound they are after and gives the owner the chance to communicate his/her desires to create the guitar of their dreams. Adirondack (red) Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood is a time-honored combination because this pairing has, for over 100 years, produced great sounding, and some iconic, guitars. A $500 upgrade, an Adirondack (red) Spruce top of this quality is well worth the price!
It is crucial to note that as highly-regarded, and, expensive an upgrade as Brazilian Rosewood is, that not all pieces of Brazilian Rosewood are created equal. Ed's special ingredient is the use of quarter-sawn Brazilian Rosewood as opposed to the more common flatsawn Brazilian Rosewood. Flatsawn woods give people an opportunity to see the figuring in the wood, and, it very visually pleasing.
What makes quarter-sawn wood better is that it is stiffer; some luthiers think that it is up to twice as stiff as flatsawn. There is considerably more waste when wood is quartersawn, which means, among other things, that it is much more expensive than flatsawn. Its' stiffness means that less of it needs to be used; thinner backs and sides will be more responsive and will produce a superior sound. To be fair, quarter-sawn Brazilian is probably the most expensive acoustic guitar upgrade. Flatsawn Brazilian is roughly a $2K upgrade; quarter-sawn Brazilian is a $6.5K upgrade.
Arguably, every part of a guitar is critical. Often overlooked are those components that come into direct contact with the strings: nut, saddle and bridge pins. In his quest to make the best sounding guitar humanly possible, Ed chose a very exotic material, Walrus Ivory. Again, the best doesn't come cheap. Walrus Ivory nut, saddle and bridge pins (inlaid with abalone) are a $780 upgrade.
I realize that between the quartersawn Brazilian and the Walrus Ivory bits, these upgrades total $7,280. The question is do they matter?
The answer is YES! A definite, unqualified, absolutely-positively YES! Not only do these upgrades matter, but they matter ALOT!!!
Like the old saying about "The proof is in the pudding" all you have to do is spend a little time with a guitar with these upgrades and one without. Even without having the benefit of being able to conduct what I call A-B testing, playing a guitar with these upgrades will confirm my analysis.
#201 represents an uncompromising approach to getting the best possible sound out of a guitar. Ed decided to refrain from making extensive use of his talent as an inlay artist to concentrate on tone-tone-tone at all costs. Very few upgrades relate to aesthetics. Herringbone rosette, herringbone top trim and snowflake inlay on the fingerboard make this a very elegant, understated guitar that lets its' sound "do the talking". Honesty compels me to say that this is a very expensive guitar, topping out at $13,160. Honesty further compels me to say that it is worth every penny! As I said in the beginning, this could well be the the finest, best-sounding guitar that I have ever played in my Life.
Ending this review is difficult because I don't want my time with #201 to end. Superlative in every way with a tone guaranteed to please the angels. An absolutely brilliant instrument.
There is good news for those of us for who can only dream about owning such an expensive instrument. Regardless of wood choices and other options, any buyer of a Foley guitar gets Ed's luthierie talents as part of the deal. He builds them by himself, one-at-a-time. I have played enough of them to know that body style doesn't matter, wood choices don't matter, etc. Ed puts the same love and care into each instrument he builds and it shows. As a purely professional matter, I would strongly encourage anyone considering a handmade guitar to chat with Ed. His prices are very reasonable and his price list clearly lists every option and price. A quick visit to his website, FoleyGuitars.com, will confirm that you will be in very good company with other owners of Foley Guitars.