Music instrument retail employees aren't the only ones who have been blown away by the performance and value of the enigmatic Seagull S6. Few guitars in the last several decades have managed to make the impact this model has made, primarily due to an incredible imbalance of quality and performance versus price-that is, an imbalance that works in the guitarist's favor. The Seagull S6, although certainly not the flashiest guitar on the market, boasts a number of enviable traits that acoustic guitars in higher classes still struggle achieve, even in spite of its aesthetic simplicity!
We'll go the through the features of the S6, of course, but I'll also explain the importance of the spec sheet from a general perspective as well. Many people often see these in guitar shops, but rarely get a very good explanation as to how those details affect him or her as a player or the nature of the guitar. Having owned this guitar, or rather, a couple of them over the years, I can personally attest to every detail.
The Basics of the Seagull S6-Manufactured in La Patrie, Quebec
Top: Solid Cedar
General: This refers to the "top" of the guitar as it's laying flat-not to be confused with the headstock, which holds the tuning keys. This the sound-board of the guitar, and subsequently, accounts for an enormous amount of the guitar's volume/projection and tone. Tone is a pretty broad term and different guitar players use it for different reasons. Suffice to say, examples of a guitar's tone being described would be "warm and bright", "dark and muddy", "bright, but balanced" and so on. It's important to mention that the top is made of SOLID Cedar, instead of a laminate, which will be discussed below. The fact that the top is solid is a plus because as the guitar is played, it's tonal quality will become more and more pronounced.
Seagull S6: If I were to describe the tonal nature of the Seagull S6, without hesitation, I'd say "full bodied and robust, but balanced". Many guitars will lean too far to the bass side, and others too far to the treble side. Too much bass, the guitar becomes muddy. Too much treble, and the guitar sounds tinny. The S6 bears a pleasant, well-balanced nature, with just enough emphasis on the bass end to give it a nice punch, but will not drown out the treble side. Oh, and the S6 is LOUD. Projections is phenomenal.
Back & Sides: Canadian Wild Cherry
General: From a manufacturing standpoint, the back and sides of a guitar will most frequently be made of a harder wood than the top. The reason for this is simple-the back and sides support the softer, more tonally responsive top. As mentioned above, the top of the S6 is solid Cedar. The only time manufacturers distinguish one from the other is when they're interested in maketing the solid aspect of the guitar. In almost every circumstance, solid is going to be more expensive than the alternative- which is laminated. There's a world of difference in the perception of value between the two, but very little in terms of actual value.
Laminating simply means that instead of the back and sides being one "solid" chunk of canadian wild cherry, they are comprised of several thin layers bound together. The added bonus to lamination how resistant it is to temperature and humidity fluctuations. Purists often criticize this aspect of manufacturing, but rest assured, laminating this part of the guitar is actually a good thing.
Seagull S6: The combination of laminated back and sides and the solid cedar top gives a player the best of both worlds. You have the reliability of a laminate, but you will also notice that the tone will have improved over the years due to the solid cedar top. Wild cherry is widely known not only for its visually engaging grain pattern (i.e.: it's pretty), but also for its durability. That said, the S6 is a very solid guitar.
Neck: Silver Leaf Maple (Integrated Set Neck)
General: The neck of a guitar is as vital to its performance as a person's neck is to his or hers. If you've ever slept wrong and felt it the next day, then you can understand the parallel. Much like the back and sides, it's vital that the neck of a guitar be a very dense, reliable material. One of the most common problems when dealing with cheaper, low grade wood is its sensitivity to temperature and humidity changes. With guitars, this may mean the dreadful warped neck, in which part of the neck physically shrinks or rotates, causing a whole slew of different, and often irreversible issues. If this weren't enough, bear in mind that as long as the guitar has strings on it (which should be as often as possible), there is a constant 120lb (or so) load applied.
Seagull S6: Seagull has not only addressed the concerns of cheap, low grade material but also applied a solution common among electric guitars, which is the integrated set neck. Silver leaf maple is a very dense wood, capable of withstanding an enormous amount of pressure. Add to this the set neck, which helps disperse some of that applied pressure throughout the body of the guitar. The result is an incredibily reliable, perfectly intonated guitar neck.
General: The fretboard rarely plays a role in terms of the guitar's performance or tone, but invariably plays a part in providing addition support to the neck. The fretboard, therefore, will also be a dense material, as it will need to hold up to the wear that comes with frequent string depression, fingernail scratching/scraping, string bending, as well as oil, dirt, dust, dead skin cells, and sweat from the player's fingers!
Seagull S6: Rosewood has long played a part in the manufacturing of musical instruments and continues to do so today. As mentioned, it is extremely dense, and resists all of the elements mentioned above very, very well.
Nut and Saddle: Compensated Tusq, by Graphtech
General: In spite of their size, the nut and saddle on an acoustic guitar play a crucial role in the guitar's tone, and sustain. For many years, they were made of ivory or bone because of the density and consistency of those materials. A properly compensated nut and saddle are extremely important components; as either one, if made poorly, will manage to make an otherwise good guitar sound mediocre, or just bad. Intonation refers to to proper tuning of notes when you're fretting higher on the neck. It can and occassionally does refer to open string tuning, but not as often. For example, a poorly intonated guitar will accurately read an "E" (or any other string) when open, but at the 12th fret, it will read significantly higher or lower. A well intonated guitar, when tested, will be reasonably tuned at any fret.
Seagull S6: The S6's nut and saddle are compensated, which is simply means that the intonation is set properly for standard tuning, with normal acoustic guitar strings. The material used is a synthetic version of ivory, as natural ivory is no longer legal, at least for these purposes. Fortunately, with Tusq, you end up with a more consistent nut and saddle since the density is the same throughout the entire component.
Finish: Semi Glossed Custom Polished Finish
General: It's pretty common hear people use the word "finish" in reference to either the guitar's paint, as well as the actual finish, which is what is responsible for the shine on a polished guitar. Most of the time, you can figure out what's being discussed based on context. As you know, guitars come in as many colors as you might be able to imagine. Guitar finishes are bit more simple, since there are only a few being used by manufacturers. The ideal finish will allow the guitar to vibrate freely, but still effectively protect it against the elements and damage. Polyurethane, polyester, and nitrocellulose are the the most popular finishes still being used, as they achieve the best balance between allowing sound and protection.
Seagull S6: As you can tell simply by looking, the S6 is not the flashiest guitar out there. But what it lacks in frills, it compensates with sound quality. I attribute its huge sound to the fact that the top isn't enumbered with an enormous amount of material meant to protect. As a result, however, heavy strummers to tend to notice wear from allowing the pick to scrape the top during play. While some feel that this just adds color and character to the guitar, others love keeping their new guitar looking like new. Depending on your tastes, you may see this as a drawback or a plus.
If you find yourself in the market for a mid priced acoustic guitar, this one is definitely one to consider whether as a veteran player or someone just learning how to play the guitar. Seagull has also done well to cater to fingerpickers, in offering a wider string spacing with the S6 and others. Fortunately, the manufacture has introduced the S6 Slim, which bears all the same appointments as the S6 Original, only with a narrower neck for those accustomed to conventional guitar necks.