Guitar Review - Paul McGill's "MKS" Steel-String

"String engery management" is the phrase Nashville-based luthier Paul McGill uses to describe his goal in building guitars. Paul's ability to effectively and efficiently manage string energy is the distinguishing characteristic of all McGill guitars.

Drawing on almost 30 years of building nylon-string guitars and resonators owned and played by such groundbreaking musicians as Chet Atkins, Muriel Andrson, and Earl Klugh, the McGill "MKS" clearly raises the stakes as to what makes a great guitar. Basically, there are 2 types of luthiers- those whose guitars are modern versions of traditional Martin designs and those dedicated to going beyond the norm and not build another OM, OOO or dreadnaught. This latter group may be referred to as innovators and the former group may be known as traditionalists. Paul's "Super-Ace", the topic of a previous guitar review, established his reputation as an innovator in the field of guitar design and construction.

Paul incorporates the best of these two groups with his "MKS". Owing to time spent working in repair shop at Gruhn's, Paul was there when some of the finest vintage guitars ever made came through the shop. He literally got to take these iconic vintage gutiars apart and find out exactly what made them sound so good.

Turning now to the "MKS" under review, Paul paired a 30 year old German Spruce topwith Ziricote back and sides and trimmed it with "Style 42" inlay. The delicate abalone inlays were applied with watchmaker-like precision.

As is the case with a truly great guitar, it takes a truly great guitarist to realize its' full potential. Anyone can drive a car, but it takes a race car driver to make the car perform to its' optimum capability. David Oakes, guitar professor at the University of Southern California and guitar professor at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and, IMHO the BEST guitarist in LA, graciously consented to assist in this review. David is no stranger to Paul's work, as he currently owns a nylon string "Super-Ace" as his primary guitar and a classical McGill. David will be taking delivery of his third McGill - a slope-shouldered design- in the very near future.

The first thing that David and I commented on what how tight and focused the "MKS" sounded. An absolute recording engineers dream with no ringing overtones or other bad habits that makes life difficult for recording engineers. Remember the phrase "string energy management"? That is what makes McGill guitars sound so strong while retaining superior string tone, balance and separation.

The "MKS" is also an exceptionally loud guitar. It demomstrated sustain that is electric guitar like enabling the player to blend notes is such a way that was formerly the exclusive domain of electric guitars. We also found the "MKS" to excel in the headroom department, meaning that the harder it was played, the lounder it got.

While the list of professional guitarists playing McGill's is diverse and expensive, one can not always judge a luthier's work based on who uses their guitars because there are instances where endoresements are given in exchange for guitars, money or other consideration. Paul proudly states that everybody who plays his guitars has always paid full price, which means that they really like McGill guitars enough to "put their money where their mouths are", as the old saying goes.

I really liked Paul's MKS; it was the kind of guitar that I kept playing with to see what its' limits were. My conclusion was that the only limits to the MKS were my own playing skills. It kept pushing me to play better. A beautiful guitar, intelligently designed, unique in every way; a clear winner by anyone's standards.

For more info, contact: Paul McGill, 808 Kendall, Nashville, TN 37209. Tel. 615.354.0070. E-mail: URL: