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Recording King RD-316
Recording King has existed as a brand, on and off, since the early 20th century, when it was a Montgomery Ward house brand used to ply rebadged Gibsons. In the last decade, the brand was resurrected by The Music Link—primarily as a vehicle for selling the company’s line of excellent and affordable, Chinese-built, mid-century-styled acoustics. But while the Recording King brand has a history all its own, everything from the headstock and bridge shape to the rosette and tonewoods in the new RD-316 model leaves little doubt about the extent to which Martin’s iconic D-18 is an influence.
One of the most significant differences between the Recording King RD-316 and a gazillion other contemporary D-18 imitations, however, is the guitar’s use of Adirondack spruce for the top. Adirondack was the top wood Martin used for its most iconic dreads from the ’30s through the postwar golden age. And it’s still treasured by luthiers for its fast response, high volume ceiling, and full-spectrum tone. On the Recording King, it also adds a cool visual air: The Adirondack top is wide grained and striking—lending an almost fingerprint-like individuality to the guitar. And it’s worth noting that, while finicky customers tend to drive luthiers large and small to use narrow-grained spruce because of its tidy visual uniformity, a lot of guitar builders insist that it’s this wider-grained stuff that sounds the sweetest.
Recording King didn’t stop at the use of Adirondack to make the RD-316 vintage correct. The one-piece mahogany neck has a headstock volute, and the headstock itself is bedecked with open-back Grover butterbean tuners. The guitar is finished in period- correct nitrocellulose, the fretboard and bridge are ebony, and the nut and saddle are all bone—just like a mid-century D-18.
Though the materials that go into the RD-316 are all superb, there are some places where the workmanship leaves a little to be desired. The finish is uneven where the fretboard and soundhole meet, running from a bit too thick to almost absent. The edge of the fretboard is a little rough between the fourth and ninth frets, and certain spots on the bracing and kerfing are marred by rough cuts that could use some simple sanding. Fortunately, none of these shortcomings have much to do with how the guitar sounds or plays.
The Recording King’s neck is a pleasure to cradle and feels friendly, fast, and familiar— especially if you’ve ever had the chance to play a postwar Martin from the ’40s or ’50s. It has a substantial D profile, yet manages to feel compact and easy to navigate. And like any classic Martin D series, it has a flatpicker-friendly 1 11/16" string spacing at the nut that makes fast picking and chording a breeze. Playbility could arguably benefit from slightly lower action, though the medium action that we received the guitar with is great for heavy-handed strumming and deep blues bends.
Adirondack spruce is, in large part, about dynamic range, and the RD-316 has acres of it. Strumming a simple D chord, you can move from a nuanced, whisper-soft arpeggio to a vigorous strumming onslaught without any perceptible loss of harmonic detail. And the projection and volume that you can summon from the guitar is nothing short of impressive. Tonally speaking, the guitar at times seems to inhabit an interesting middle ground between the traditional warmth of mahogany and the snap and projection of rosewood, particularly when you’re strumming with a vengeance. More languid and melodic picking tends to coax out the mahogany flavor, however, and fingerstylists and country blues pickers will savor the RD-316’s combination of dry, husky midrange honk, mahogany glow, and sustain.