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When a big guitar company offers to make somebody a signature model guitar, it’s usually bells-and-whistles time: custom inlays, fancy bindings, exotic woods and finishes, and crazy electronics. Typically, the sky’s the limit, and a lot of folks in that situation go nuts. Glenn Frey went the opposite of nuts with his new signature model from Takamine, and ended up with a remarkably playable, terrific-sounding, extremely functional instrument.
Not that it isn’t a lovely guitar: clean and simple, often equal understated elegance—and there’s something wonderful about letting a guitar speak so gently for itself. Glenn Frey doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody about his chops, or his skill as a songwriter, so why not simply replicate the axe that, to quote Takamine’s Web site, “wrote rock ‘n roll?”
I have to confess to a bit of shock when I opened the case; I was expecting something artsier. But after it slipped into tune and I started to play, I was amazed. This thing sounds rich and full, the bass is warm without being mushy, and the treble is clear but never grating. And it plays like butter.
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In 2008, Glenn Frey approached Takamine with an unusual request; basically, he wanted them to clone his old Takamine EF360S, which he got in 1994. They had already been considering a Glenn Frey Signature model, so the request was very timely. The only difference between his 1994 guitar and the new model is that the new back is solid rosewood rather than laminated, and there is a graceful little GF logo on the headstock.
The pickup system is what really made Takamine famous. In fact, those proprietary electronics haven’t changed much since Frey got the original. The pickup itself is built into the top, and the onboard preamp, though upgraded, is still basically the same as it was on Frey’s 1994 EF360S.
I got to talk with Frey between cities on a recent leg of the Eagles’ North American tour. He’s clearly very excited about the guitar, very proud of it, and it’s proving to be as great on stage as his original, which he affectionately calls his Number One. “It’s warm,” he says, “but especially for playing live it’s important to have a guitar with a distinct high end and not too many overtones in the low and mid ranges. That’s a great sound for sitting in your living room, but a live sound engineer has to squash it. For mixing live, it’s better to have a guitar that’s perfect mid-totop, because you can always add lows. That switches the posture from defensive mixing— taking something away from the guitar—to adding to it in order to fill a few things out.”
The process of cloning a guitar is complicated and tedious, but fascinating. Frey said, “Some designers and engineers from Takamine took my Number One for a couple days and made extensive measurements of every part of the guitar, from the thickness of the top and exact placement of the braces, to the thickness of the finish—everything about it.” After making copious notes, they returned to the factory to make two prototypes: one exactly like the original with a laminated back, and one with a solid back. Frey decided he liked the solid back best, so that became the Glenn Frey model.
Regarding the almost Spartan simplicity of the instrument, Frey said it was important to him to keep the guitar affordable as well as extremely functional. The key for him was sound and usefulness. He explained that, “the finish and inlay and bells and whistles don’t have anything to do with that. We took a pretty straightforward approach to it; the only thing it has is the little ‘GF’ on the headstock. I’ve had ten or twelve of these in my hands, and they all sounded great and needed very little set up.”