Carbon + Wood Looks and Sounds Good
A spruce-and-carbon-fusion top yields a tough, sweetly ringing dread with a more traditional look. The Premier Guitar RainSong V-DR1100N2 review.
Spruce top lends natural look. Super playable. Tuning stable. Excellent string-to-string definition and detail. Ultra-light and comfortable. Virtually indestructible.
Expensive, no included electronics, lack of low-end overtones.
I don’t know about you, but if I see one more gray smartphone, house, or gray-clad coder-bro in a dark gray Tesla, I think I might lose my mind. Me? I love the hues of spring, of nature, and custom-color Fenders. Dark gray? It might as well be color-wheel shorthand for surveillance capitalism, Zuck’s hoodie, and bad sci-fi-movie set design.
Some of the fascination with gray in modern industrial design probably derives from its association with carbon fiber—a super-light, ultra-strong material that, incidentally, makes really nice acoustic guitars. Carbon fiber acoustic guitars can be great instruments. They could care less about extreme heat or cold. They take endangered woods out of the guitar-building equation. They can sound lively and powerful. Better still, they’re tough enough to live with a klutz like me without ever gathering a ding, scratch, or dent. Unfortunately, many of these instruments never get a chance from purists and traditionalists, because, well, let’s just say they’re not the color of wood.
With its new Vintage Series guitars, though, RainSong may have built a carbon fiber guitar even hard-boiled traditionalists can appreciate. RainSong achieves this appeal simply: by grafting a layer of spruce to the carbon fiber top. But the V-DR1100N2 reviewed here has virtues beyond a simple facelift. It’s a tuning-stable, punchy, playable, and super comfortable guitar that you can take on a cross-country road trip without a worry about how long it sits in a hot trunk.
If you’re not familiar with the process of carbon fiber construction, RainSong hosts an illuminating video on YouTube that details the V-DR1100N2’s build process. Like most carbon fiber guitars, the RainSong is constructed using thin carbon fiber sheets and molds. The method sometimes seems to meld the arts of plastic injection molding and baking a pastry. But the end product is anything but delicate. The RainSong is super light and incredibly sturdy.
The V-DR1100N2 sacrifices little in way of weight or durability by adding a bookmatched layer of spruce to the top, which is just a few millimeters thick and makes up the thinner part of the carbon fiber/spruce sandwich. It’s affixed to a sheet of carbon fiber with adhesive and baked into a rigid whole. Interestingly, RainSong’s top uses no bracing, relying instead on the inherent rigidity of the carbon fiber to resist the tension of the strings. And it doesn’t take a PhD in physics to imagine the resonant potential of such an unencumbered soundboard. The back and sides of the guitar are actually a single piece of carbon fiber, which is then affixed to the top and the single-piece, truss-rod-reinforced carbon fiber neck.
The neck on our review guitar features RainSong’s N2 profile. (The dreadnought body can also be ordered with the slimmer, truss-rod-free N1 profile neck, or the NS neck, which joins the body at the 12th fret. There is also a 12-string option.) The N2 profile is a thick, satisfying, vintage-styled shape that evokes ’50s Martins and some Gibsons of the same era without ever feeling too hefty. The truss rod lets you adjust the neck relief, but the strong carbon fiber construction also means the neck requires a less substantial heel, which facilitates access to the upper frets.
The body itself is a pleasure to cradle. The shape is unique—combining elements of a square-shouldered Martin Dreadnought and a round-shouldered Gibson J-45 into a slim-waisted silhouette that is more curvaceous than either of those classics. The carbon-fiber construction enables the use of soft edges on the back that feel super comfortable against the ribs. Factor in the light weight, and you’ve got a big-bodied acoustic that you can play for hours on end without fatigue.
Focus and Force
It’s hard to know if the spruce section of the RainSong’s top has much effect on the sonic make-up. I suspect that the resonant, brace-less carbon fiber top has greater influence on the sound. But regardless of materials, the RainSong has a forceful voice. In terms of pure volume, it can rival the output of a mahogany-and-spruce J-45 while sounding a little less loud than a rosewood-backed Martin dread’. But the biggest distinction between those classic dreadnoughts and the RainSong is apparent in its midrange focus. That’s not to say the RainSong doesn’t possess a strong bottom end. Sixth-string notes ring distinctly and with great articulation. But you hear fewer of the piano-like frequency overtones that define a dread’ like a D-28, and a lot more presence and sustain in midrange and high harmonics.
Depending on your tastes and the application, this is no bad thing. With so much midrange presence and high-end zing, the RainSong excels at adding shimmer and animation to rhythm strumming—retaining sparkle when you use a thin pick and a light touch, and great string-to-string detail and resistance to note blur and compression when you attack with a heavy pick and weightier hand. In the studio—and in busy mixes—this kind of balance can be invaluable. It’s also useful in fingerstyle situations, where the RainSong’s ringing, precise trebles dovetail sweetly with the modest but resonant low end.
When guitarists talk about versatility, they’re usually referring to a breadth of tone possibilities. The RainSong V-DR1100N2 is certainly versatile in this respect, spanning sparkling, mid-centric, and ready-to-layer strumming tones with balanced, ringing, flat and fingerpicked sounds. But the RainSong’s versatility also extends to its practicality. It can travel long, hard miles with you in the back of a car without inducing anxiety over wood or finish cracks. And that same toughness means you can leave it lying around a house full of slobbering dogs and reckless children without visions of splinters dancing in your head. Expensive though it may be, the RainSong V-DR1100N2 is a guitar that will reward your investment with lasting playability, satisfying sounds, and a cockroach’s ability to survive.