In the middle of the Great Depression, the Montgomery Ward department store began selling Recording King guitars and banjos. These high-quality models, built by companies like Gibson and Kay, made it possible for ordinary musicians and hobbyists with bad financial luck to afford decent instruments.
Seventy years later, many guitarists are feeling the effects of the recent economic recession. So it is fortunate that a new series of Recording King guitars is offered by the Music Link, which also distributes sensibly priced instruments under the Loar and Johnson names. Recording King guitars are conceived of in the United States by luthier Greg Rich and his design team. The instruments are made in China, but set up and inspected back in the US.
We auditioned Recording King’s latest model, the RD-327, a handsome dreadnought patterned after a top-of-the-line pre-war Martin and retailing for a tiny fraction of one.
Premium Tonewoods and Vintage Styling
The RD-327 is made from premium solid tonewoods usually found on much more expensive guitars: an AAA Adirondack spruce top (considered to have greater resonance than the more commonly used Sitka spruce), East Indian rosewood back and sides, a one-piece mahogany neck, ebony fretboard and bridge, and a rosewood headstock overlay.
Ornamentation on the guitar is fancy but tasteful. The purfling and rosette are abalone, with matching bridge pin and end pin abalone dots, while the peghead features an ornate mother-of-pearl and abalone torch inlay—complemented by gold vintage-style Grover open-gear tuners with butterbean buttons—and the fretboard is dusted with snowflake inlays from the first to 17th frets. Grained ivoroid binding on the neck and body, as well as on the heel cap, completes the vintage appearance.
Our review model of the RD-327 boasted some especially attractive tonewoods. The spruce top had an appealingly wide grain with some subtle bearclaw markings here and there, while the dark rosewood back and sides were marked with complex figuring. Overall, our RD-237 had good construction. The frets were cleanly seated and smoothly polished, the inlays and bindings tidy and flush, the bone nut and saddle cleanly cut. The instrument’s coating of nitrocellulose lacquer—a somewhat unusual finish for a guitar in this price range—was evenly applied and just shiny enough.
The guitar wasn’t without some minor gripes regarding the craftsmanship: more time could have been spent on sanding the forward-shifted X braces inside, and there were some glue gobs occasionally dotting the kerfing. Also, the tortoise pickguard was lifting a bit at the edges, perhaps due to an inadequate gluing job.
Modern Playability and Bright Sound
Early dreadnought-sized guitars can have huge necks, while some found on more modern instruments are a bit skimpy. The comfortable V-shaped neck on the RD-327 split the difference between these two extremes. The action was comfortable straight out of the box, and it was easy to play chords and single-note lines alike all along the length of the 25.4" scale length neck. In addition, the 1.75" nut kept things from feeling cramped. I played the guitar for about 30 continuous minutes and didn’t experience much in the way of fret-hand fatigue.
The RD-327 had a bright sound with an appealing natural reverb especially apparent on the higher strings. The sustain was decent, too. Gently strumming the guitar in an assortment of meters, rhythms, and tunings, I found it to be well-balanced. When attacked more forcefully, though, the RD-327 sounded slightly anemic, lacking the powerful bass associated with dreadnought guitars, the model of course named after a type of 20th-century battleship. But I could see this as an asset when recording, as a guitar’s pronounced bass can easily weigh down a track.
Given the RD-327’s vintage-looking but high performance machine heads, it was easy to get into an assortment of alternate tunings—open G, double drop-D, and DADGAD. In each, the lowest notes on the fifth and sixth strings only suffered minimally due to the instrument’s bass response. The guitar was equally responsive when chords were strummed or arpeggiated with a flatpick in these three tunings, and while the sound on all was slightly compressed, it would likely open up over time, as is typical on an all-solid-wood guitar.
It felt great to fingerpick on the RD-327, given its generously wide nut, but the guitar did not sound as good as it did when strummed. While the balance was adequate enough, the guitar was lacking in projection when subjected to some basic Travis picking, a few Renaissance pieces, and some old country blues licks. But then again, dreadnoughts, with their relatively large bodies, are designed to be robustly strummed, and perhaps a smaller bodied Recording King like the ROC-26 or ROS-626 would be better suited to fingerpicking.
Recording King’s RD-327 is a surprisingly inexpensive interpretation of a pre-war dreadnought. With its intricate inlay work, the guitar offers vintage opulence at a fraction of the price of a top-of-the-line old model or a new American-made instrument. While the guitar has a traditional V-shaped neck, it feels more comfortable than that on the average 70-year-old guitar. And although the RD-327 is somewhat lacking in low end, it would be a great recording instrument, one whose sound will likely improve as it is over the years.
you want a vintage-looking dreadnought with all solid woods at an affordable price.
you’re looking for a dreadnought with a powerful bass response or you don’t care for fancy ornamentation.