Though online "experts" may dispute their musical value, vintage Martins and Gibsons remain as alluring (and unavailable to us regular folks) as ever. One of the most exciting recent trends in the acoustic world, however, is that many companies are offering affordable guitars based on vintage sounds and looks. Morgan Monroe's M-50V is one of the latest examples, and may be the best vintage-style dreadnought you'll find for less than $1,000.
With its traditional tonewood choices of spruce (top) and East Indian rosewood (back and sides), V-shaped neck, forwardshifted X-bracing, narrow string spacing (2 1/8-inches at the saddle, and a 1 11/16-inch nut) and flashy abalone-vine fingerboard inlay, the M-50V is very clear about its intentions. This is a trad-style dreadnought cannon that will sound (and look) great in any rock, country or bluegrass band.
One of the great things about the budget vintage trend is that guitar makers no longer feel bound to slavishly imitate the past, but are combining classic sounds and looks with contemporary playability. For example, the thin V-style fingerboard on the M-50V I received for review was much easier to navigate than many of the chunky necks I've played on vintage boxes, facilitating flights of fancy all over the fingerboard. The low action also contributed to the guitar's playability. Though it was a bit lower than I like personally, it will particularly suit rock players who are more used to an electric-guitar feel. Overall, the M-50V had no problem responding to an aggressive attack, getting louder and punchier the harder it was hit. In fact, it was impressively loud, especially for a brand-new guitar.
One traditional problem with dreadnoughts is that they tend to have an over-amped low end, which can be fine in a campground jam but deadly on a mic. But that isn't the case with the M-50V. While it has the nice, dry bass sound associated with vintage dreadnoughts, making it perfectly suited to clean, open chords and Neil Young-style bass runs, the low end doesn't overwhelm the rest of the guitar (even with medium strings and raised action), and its crisp high end is sweet enough to inspire extended lead excursions.
The M-50V is certainly impressive for such a wallet-friendly instrument. Of course, like any guitar, it isn't perfect. The Kluson-style butterbean tuners weren't very smooth, although they didn't keep me from getting the guitar in tune quickly, and the high E string was a bit farther away from the edge of the fingerboard than it needed to be. This made the string spacing a little narrow, which might be a problem for people with big hands as well as fingerpickers who prefer a wider fretboard. Fortunately, like the bridge pins, this can be easily resolved with a new nut.
But the rock-bottom line, the essential truth, is that Morgan Monroe got all the important stuff right with the M-50V. This instrument would be great for anyone who wants that classic dreadnought boom but is unwilling to go without meat for a year to get it. If you want an affordable guitar that will always do the job-whether you're playing "Ballad of Jed Clampett," "My My, Hey Hey" or "Redemption Song," the M-50V is for you.