The Artisan Award is bestowed upon the pieces of gear that embody elegance, beauty and craftsmanship. We’d hang them on our wall if they didn’t sound so damn good.

PRS Tonare GrandPRS Tonare Grand

One of the pair of Paul Reed Smith’s first foray into the acoustic world basically knocked the socks off of reviewer Gayla Drake Paul. “This guitar has a huge sound,” she wrote, “voluptuous and chimey, yet fantastically warm and phenomenally detailed. It’s a dark and glassy tone that is hypnotically appealing.” In addition to being charmed by its choice European spruce and cocobolo, elegant detailing and comfortable neck, she was amazed by its ability to effortlessly handle different kinds of playing and every open tuning she could throw at it.
Street $5330 (base)

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Collings 360Collings 360

The Collings 360 (July 2009) is one of the first entries into the electric guitar market by a long-time acoustic builder. While it looks like a stretched-out Les Paul, the 360 is lighter and thinner. “I love guitars that are resonant, and the 360 is alive,” wrote Pat Smith. “The feel of high quality is obvious as soon as you pick it up.” Two Lollar mini-humbuckers give plenty of sizzle; the bridge pickup especially yields an almost Tele-like twang. Collings has also wired the 360 in what he refers to as ’50s style, which prevents the volume control from making the tone bassier.

MSRP $2900 (base model); $3500 (flame top)

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Collings 290Kragenbrink OM Fingerstylist

The Kragenbrink OM Fingerstylist (November 2009) is aptly named: with a huge fretboard and a spruce top, this guitar was simply one of the best acoustics we received in-house all year. No matter who played it, the guitar gave us great tone in a beautiful package. However, putting it into alternate tunings really showed off the versatility and tonal quality: “Big, booming bassy chords sustained beautifully under melodic lines, and harmonics rang nearly forever,” wrote reviewer Gayla Drake Paul, “it takes a truly remarkable instrument to do all of that without overwhelming the ears with unfriendly overtones.”
MSRP $5650

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Schroeder Radio LaneSchroeder Guitars Radio Lane

A gorgeous singlecut semi-hollowbody, the Radio Lane (November 2009) is clearly inspired by the Les Paul, but has some appointments based ofn the D’Aquisto Solo. In addition to the “S” hole on the top, the Leaf Maple quilt top, the headstock inlay and the truss rod cover are all finished in hazel, which helps give this axe a unique flare. Plugged in, the Radio Lane continues to give off the Les Paul vibe, excelling at blues while remaining great at rock and jazz. “In one sitting,” wrote Ben Friedman, “we played a series of classic rock tunes and did find the need to adjust the settings accordingly on the amp. I adjusted the guitar settings and my pick attack and let the Radio Lane do the driving!”
MSRP $4200 (base); $4950 (as tested)

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MTD 535-24Michael Tobias Design MTD 535-24

The red-to-orange finish on maple burl top of this ash-bodied bass is striking; the instrument almost appears to be made out of a flame. The MTD 535-24 (May 2009) and its tonewoods easily yield an aggressive sound, perfect for slap-and-pop style playing. While it’s clearly a modern funk-oriented bass, it sounds great in nearly any style, thanks to the incredibly transparent Bartolini pickups. With Volume, Pickup Blend, Treble/Midrange/Bass knobs, and a toggle to choose the midrange center, finding the right sound is merely a matter of fiddling with the controls. “It isn’t a question of good or bad—if this bass matches your preferences and your budget, it would be a fantastic choice for a new axe,” said Dan Berkowitz.
List $4400 (basic instrument); $6190 (with case and options)

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