One of the biggest trends in guitar manufacturing in the last few years has been the rediscovery and even manufacturing of what over the years have been referred to as “pawn shop guitars”. Brands like Danelectro, Supro and Kay, which have not been made for many years are being made again and are in demand partly due to the popularity of bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys . Even Fender have issued the Pawn Shop Series of instruments, which are built to look like they’ve been made from spare parts.
Recording King are a noble addition to this type of instrument. They are reminiscent of mail order tradition of days gone by well made but affordable guitars with no bells or whistles. In fact, that’s how the company made its name back in the thirties and forties-as a mail order guitar picked from department store catalogues.There are many models of Recording King acoustics - check out their website , but the ROS 7 MBK caught my eye -being a huge Johnny Cash fan didn’t hurt (pardon the pun).
Okay, some specs: the ROS 7 MBK features a 14 fret 000 body with a spruce top and whitewood back and sides, a classic combination for both the ears and eyes. It’s bolstered by a cross lap X bracing, while a mahogany neck and ovangkol fretboard complete the picture. I have to admit I’ve always had a fondness for small body and parlour guitars - they don’t have the bottom end boom of a jumbo or dreadnaught, but it does have a sweet, balanced, almost vocal quality especially when used for fingerpicking or bottleneck guitar.
Until recently in order to own a parlour guitar you had to either spend a small fortune on a vintage guitar or find one that has fallen into disrepair over the years and get a luthier to get it up to playing condition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten excited seeing an old guitar case stashed in a dusty corner of an antique shop or pawn shop only to open it and see a guitar that had become unplayable over the years due to neglect, in particular necks shaped like bananas due to a lack of a truss rod and the bridge lifting off the top due to string tension. The Recording King has a fully adjustable truss rod for ease of neck adjustment and that bridge ain’t going nowhere.
Aesthetically the ROS 7 MBK is extremely pleasing. The Matte Black finish makes it instantly cool, as do the checkerboard purfling, the ivory button machine heads, bound sound hole, and in a cheeky nod to its heritage, the Gibson style stencilled dual parallelograms. It just couldn’t be any cooler if it tried.
Obviously the ROS 7 isn’t suited for all types of playing. You certainly won’t see a solo artist with a loop pedal playing ‘Jessie’s Girl’ in a pub anytime soon with a Recording King, but that’s not what it’s meant for. Its sonic palette is far better suited for old time blues and roots music. The Thin C shaped neck is extremely comfortable - I almost missed the deadline for this article because I was too busy playing it instead of writing about it.
The ROS 7 is a sweet instrument. Blues, Country, Ragtime, Jazz… the guitar immediately makes you want to play like folks did a long time ago. And that is its appeal. There are countless acoustic guitars on the market built specifically to look, play and sound modern. Not the Recording King. It has a unique tone, one of those guitars that tells you what to play as soon as you pick it up. Do I have to give it back now? It is Christmas after all...
Hits and Misses
Deluxe black finish
Sizable body with sweet tone
Super comfortable neck
Boxy tone isn’t for all players