Michael Kelly streamlines the 12-string concept, delivering dazzlingly complex sounds at an attractive price.
For years, players and techs have yanked the fifth- and sixth-course octave strings from 12-strings guitars. For fingerpickers it can mean easier, cleaner-sounding thumbpicked notes and more concise low-end response. But a purpose-made 10-string like Michael Kelly’s Triad 10E offers ergonomic benefits as well, such as less string tension and headstock weight. This innovative instrument delivers on the sonic and playability fronts, providing a cool doubled-string alternative in a price range where 12-strings can be same-ish in sound and construction.
The Triad 10E is built around a standard non-cutaway, square-shouldered dreadnought body. Apart from the single sixth and fifth strings, the string pairs are like those on a 12-string: The D and G pairs are tuned in octaves and the B and E pairs are unisons. There are five tuners on each side of the headstock, with the G course’s lower-string tuner on the bass side. (Both G tuners are usually on the same side, so this arrangement may take some getting used to.)
Some Triad design attributes are more commonly seen on boutique guitars. For example, two bass-side sound ports augment the conventional soundhole, projecting more sound directly at the player. The guitar boasts a solid spruce soundboard, complemented by a symphony of interesting tone woods. The 3-piece back incorporates a center section of ovangkol, flanked by flamed okoume sections. The sides and headstock cap are also okoume. A rosewood fretboard caps the mahogany neck.
Though its square-shoulder dread profile is familiar, the Triad 10E’s looks are far from ordinary. The unusual rosette with its sectioned outer ring seems almost Cubist, as does the idiosyncratically shaped bridge. (It’s pin-less for easier string changes.) Flamed maple neck and body binding and a maple heel cap lend elegance, as do the back and end strips and small pearloid tuner buttons.
Observable flaws are few. There’s a hint of finish bleed on the heel cap, but the interior—clearly visible through the sound ports—is extremely tidy. The frets could’ve used a little more polishing, but the inlay and binding are meticulous. The gloss-finished back and sides are uniformly smooth and shiny. (A satin top finish might have better matched the fancy appointments, though it would have made the guitar more expensive.)
Easy on the Fingers, Present in the Ears
Thanks to a shallow, C-shaped neck profile and low action, the Triad 10E can make you forget you’re playing a 10-string. You barely notice any extra fretting and picking difficulty despite the extra strings.
I tried a handful of classic 12-string-driven classic rock tunes, including Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away.” The guitar sounded every bit as brilliant and shimmering as a regular 12-string, and I can’t say I missed the doubling of the bottom two strings. In fact, I heard extra low-end clarity. The one bummer about that revelation? The realization that a big-bodied guitar like this should deliver a little more low-end power.
It was great fun experimenting with different stylistic approaches. For example, playing a walking bass line on strings 5 and 6 while comping on the doubled upper strings creates the illusion of two independent parts more effectively than on a standard 6-string. The doubled courses impart extra potency in clustered and altered chords when set against punchy single-note bass lines.
The Triad 10E comes with an active Fishman Sonitone electronics system. The control knobs are tucked unobtrusively inside the soundhole, while the 9V battery compartment and output jack are on the lower bass bout. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp on a flat setting, the guitar sounds terrific. Its essential acoustic character remains intact, and there’s no unwanted humming. The guitar and electronics pair nicely with a little reverb, which emphasizes the shimmering quality.
Sometimes unique and affordable guitar designs fall short of the desired outcome, but that’s hardly the case here. If anything, the Triad 10E is an overachieving instrument that improves on the playability of the 12-string without sacrificing its characteristic chime. This unique guitar plays, sounds, and looks terrific—and at $399, it’s a bargain.