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Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02 review

Ed Sheeran and George Lowden combine forces to produce an affordable acoustic range that's small but perfectly formed

Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02
(Image: © Future / Phil Barker)

Our Verdict

This collaboration between one of the pop world's biggest stars and the legendary Northern Irish acoustic builder has yielded some very impressive acoustic designs, ideal for those who prefer a more compact format and require quality electronics for the stage.

For

  • Quality build at an attractive price point.
  • Great amplified voices.
  • The S03's cutaway and arm bevel are a great-looking package.

Against

  • The smaller body and scale length won’t suit everyone.

You’re probably curious as to why one-man pop sensation Ed Sheeran decided to ditch his signature model deal with Martin Guitars and go with Lowden. It turns out to be quite an involved tale, so make yourselves comfortable. 

It all started when Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, who is a long-time friend of George Lowden’s, decided he wanted to gift Ed a Lowden guitar. It would obviously be a one-off instrument, following Ed’s inclination towards smaller-bodied acoustics, and so George donned his designer’s thinking cap and came up with a more diminutive version of one of his guitars. 

At the time, there were only three Lowden body shapes – the O, the F and the S – but the guitar that was the result of George’s imagineering was dubbed, for want of a better name, The Wee Lowden. 

When Ed received this very special present, he loved it and this spurred George into making it into a production model, which kept the name Wee Lowden because everyone involved had become so used to it. This obviously put George and Ed into contact and they soon became both friends and golfing buddies, and the concept for a new range of guitars called Sheeran by Lowden was born. 

It turned out that Ed had been a long-time admirer of Lowden’s instruments and wanted to make affordable guitars that were infused with Lowden’s core values. So what we have on the test bench today is two of those models: one that is drawn from Lowden’s smaller body S range, the S03; the other, the W02, based closely on the Wee Lowden. And both clock in with a retail price under the £1k mark.

While we’re here, it’s interesting to note that Ed ended up returning the favour to Gary Lightbody by asking George to make his friend an electric guitar, and this was the genesis of Lowden’s foray into the electric guitar market, the Lowden GL, the name of which could either stand for George Lowden, Gary Lightbody, or both, depending on which way you look at it.

Both the S03 and W02 are as cute as a button at first sight, fresh from their generously padded Sheeran by Lowden gigbags, so let’s move in for a closer look.

Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

The Sheeran by Lowden range extends to eight models, four falling under the S prefix and four under the W. The main differences are whether they have cutaways or not, and they all sport various combinations of body woods.

Our W02 is a Sitka spruce top with a Santos rosewood (also known as pau ferro) five-piece back and sides – more on that in a minute. The S03 has a cedar top, a cutaway and an arm bevel and also sports the same five-piece Santos rosewood back and sides.

Lowden is quick to point out that this isn’t a lamination in the accepted sense, as you might find on some acoustic guitars where a thin layer of fine wood is overlaid upon a cheaper and less attractive timber as an economic measure. On the contrary, this is five layers of fine woods bonded together for strength.

On both, this is a club sandwich comprising rosewood / mahogany / rosewood / mahogany / rosewood whereas on the walnut back and sides that is featured on other models in the range, this is walnut / mahogany / walnut / mahogany / walnut. Any form of lamination or whatever you want to call it is unusual on a Lowden instrument, but when we spoke with George Lowden earlier this year he told us that his opinion about this practice has changed.

Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

“Actually, laminating wood is not a bad thing,” he said. “It used to be considered that solid wood is the way to go completely for everything. I’ve changed my mind about that a little bit in that, yes, it is the best way to go sound-wise. 

“That’s a generalisation, but we also have to think about the conservation of really rare woods as well, and you do use an awful lot less wood if you use a laminated construction. We have to think about conserving rare wood stocks.” So there is an ecological theme running through the new Sheeran by Lowden series, too.

Finish-wise, Lowden has opted for a very light satin on both models with the grain of the wood easily detectable under the hand. Players who are used to a more glossy finish on their acoustics might be turned away by this, but we like it a lot as it adds to the whole tactile experience.

There’s something nice about being able to feel a connection with the woods themselves without the added degree of separation that a glossy sheen brings about. Both guitars have necks made from mahogany and ebony is the dish of the day for fretboards and bridges.

The larger of the two guitars, the S03, sports a cutaway with the arm bevel adding a touch of modern day accessorising that one might expect to find on acoustic guitars further up the chain in terms of price. The arm bevel, of course, is one of the comfort features on contemporary acoustics that we’re seeing more and more often.

Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Feel & Sounds

If you’re at all worried that the reduced size extends to the playing surfaces here, rest assured that the fretboards measure in at a very healthy 44.5mm at the nut – something that will be welcomed by prospective fingerstylists – extending to 57.2mm at the 14th fret. 

The string spacing is also full size at 51mm. In other words, the body size might look diminutive, but that actual left- and right-hand part of the equation is what you’re used to from full size models.

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Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
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Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

In the hand, the necks on both models feel like a modest C shape, and while we’re on the subject of feel, if we have any criticisms to make it would be that the action at the nut end of the fretboards is slightly higher than we’d like to see. Nothing serious and a quick and easy fix.

As to how the guitars sound, they may be small but they can certainly pack a punch. Of the two the W02 seems slightly louder than the S02 – a contradiction as it’s the smaller bodied of the two – with good separation between the individual notes of a chord. Plenty of treble and the bass is there in proportion, but if you’re looking for dreadnought style boominess, obviously you’d need to look elsewhere.

Chordal strumming and fingerpicking both work fine and if you’re at all inclined towards live work, when that is allowed to happen again, then the onboard LR Baggs Element VTC pickup and preamp combo will deliver the goods. With tone and volume controls mounted inside the soundhole for easy access, the Sheerans should guarantee a faultless live performance.

When we put the guitars through our AER Compact 60, both models delivered a full-bodied sound – close your eyes and you would swear you were playing an OM-sized instrument. All the articulation and projection you’d need, in fact, to get you through any live situation.

Verdict

You’ve got to hand it to George Lowden. Producing a range of guitars to a very specific brief and a sub-£1k price point without compromising the integrity of the Lowden brand is not an easy challenge to undertake. But he’s done it. 

With the refinements of aerospace engineering brought into the Sheeran by Lowden production line, they’ve turned out a very respectable range of instruments that will provide players on a moderate budget with everything they need – a quality build and formidable onstage performance wrapped up in a very attractive package. They might look little, but they could be giants.

Specs

Sheeran By Lowden S03

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
  • PRICE: £930 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: Northern Ireland
  • TYPE: Cutaway Lowden S-Style
  • TOP: Cedar
  • BACK/SIDES: Santos rosewood 5-piece laminate
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 102mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 374mm
  • NECK: Mahogany
  • SCALE LENGTH: 630mm (24.8”)
  • TUNERS: Chrome unbranded
  • NUT/WIDTH: Tusq/44.5mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 20
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Ebony/51mm
  • ELECTRICS: LR Baggs Element VTC
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.9/4.25
  • OPTIONS: S01 Cedar/Walnut (£700), S02 Spruce/Rosewood, no cutaway (£880), S04 Spruce/Figured walnut (£965)
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Lowden’s Sheeran models are either S-Style (see above) or W-Style (see opposite)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not yet
  • FINISH: Satin

Sheeran By Lowden W02

Sheeran By Lowden S03 & W02

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)
  • PRICE: £750 (inc gigbag)
  • ORIGIN: Northern Ireland
  • TYPE: Wee Lowden-Style
  • TOP: Sitka spruce
  • BACK/SIDES: Santos rosewood 5-piece laminate
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 95mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 335mm
  • NECK: Mahogany
  • SCALE LENGTH: 610mm (24”)
  • TUNERS: Chrome unbranded
  • NUT/WIDTH: Tusq/44.5mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 21
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Ebony/52mm
  • ELECTRICS: LR Baggs Element VTC
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.9/4.25
  • OPTIONS: W01 cedar/walnut (£595), W03 cedar/rosewood (£805), W04 spruce/figured walnut (£840)
  • RANGE OPTIONS: See S-Series Sheeran
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Not yet
  • FINISH: Satin
  • CONTACT: Lowden Guitars