Looking to get started into the world of nylon-stringed guitars, but overwhelmed by choice? Here, with the MCG20 and the MCG35C, Katoh offer a great quality at the entry-level end with two brilliant and distinct options. Words by Matt Withers.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Firstly, the similarities: these two beginner guitars are inexpensive instruments, handmade by expertly trained and experienced manufactures in Guangzhou, China. Both have standard string length and an easy-feel neck that doesn’t seem thick like some classical guitars do, making it smooth and giving the player the best start to their nylon-stringed musical pursuit.
Each with the usual 19 frets, they are equally light and nicely balanced, both in relation to the weight of the instrument itself as well as aurally across the strings and up the fingerboard. Either way, you’ll feel right at home very quickly with one or the other, and well on the way to making
a great sound.
Both with traditional bracing, the sounds are close to those you’d imagine walking through the tree covered streets of Spain, being serenaded by maestros as you enjoy tapas and a cerveza at a local bar. These instruments are full of musical flavour and colour, with the inspiring smell of timbre in the new instrument.
This is where the similarities end and the differences kick in, so let us help you decide which is right for you!
The first thing you’ll notice is the colour difference and the finishes. The ‘C’ in MCG35C stands for Cedar, so you get a beautiful brown top which nicely compliments the rosewood fingerboard and mahogany back, sides and neck.
As you can expect, the sound is much warmer and sweeter than its fellow spruce-topped MCG20, which has a much brighter and punchier sound. The spruce top shares the same rosewood fingerboard, but has sapele back and sides with another obvious distinction of a gloss finish, versus the satin finish of the cedar top.
These finishes may be neither here nor there for you, unless you use a guitar support versus a footstool, as some guitar supports may not stick to the satin finish of the MCG35C.
The timbers used in creating the MCG35C have natural discolourations that really give each instrument unique, personal qualities and characters, whilst keeping the sound quality as high as possible. Other makers may see these as imperfections and the timbers may be discarded, however Katoh use them as a way to keep the price down for the buyer. I think it adds a great personality to the guitars at an exceptional dollar value.
I do particularly like the semi-futuristic rosette of the MCG35C – which resembles a computer chip, Matrix-style pattern – over the stock standard diamond design on the spruce top. However, the looks will be a strong personal choice which may play into your decision-making.
For me, the sound is where it typically makes a difference in the long-term, and I found that the action of the cedar seems set up slightly lower, making it easier on the left-hand and effectively helping to create a better sound sooner in the lower positions for beginners.
Personally, I love the black and gold pegs which are a prominent feature on both guitars, but another positive that makes me lean towards the MCG35C is the smoothness of the higher quality tuning pegs, which will keep the guitar in tune longer and have a more refined control over tuning.
DYNAMICS FOR DAYS
I gave each a taste of a range of the full range of repertoire, from rock’n’roll to Rodrigo and even a bit of reggae. All the styles came across with a large dynamic range and tonal variety, and I was especially impressed with the versatility I could get from each guitar, being comfortable and easy to control.
From a teacher’s point of view, it is also fantastic to see that both of these instruments are available in a three-quarter size for the youngsters, so they can experience quality right at the beginning of their musical years.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When budget is a factor, both of these instruments stand out from the crowd of entry level instruments for both sound quality and craftsmanship. The volume and tonal variety they each can create will give a beginner or keen enthusiast a sturdy, Spanish‑sounding guitar at a great price.
If you can spare the little extra dough, I would pick up the MCG35C because of its superior tuning pegs, though both will keep you extremely happy for many years. In the end, it could just come down to whether you prefer the visual colour of cedar or spruce.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Full sound
• Light and comfortable
• Rosewood fingerboard
• Even tone
• Big sound
• MCG20 has a gloss finish
• MCG35C has smoother tuning pegs
• Both come in three-quarter sizes for the young ones
• MCG20 has erratic tuning pegs
• MCG35C has a satin finish
Ph: (02) 9939 1299