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JGT Review: Sadowsky Guitars LS-15 & SS-15

Bob Bakert, Editor

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For both guitar and bass players, the name ‘Sadowsky’ has always conjured up an image of quality and innovation. 

So when Jazz Guitar Today was scheduling our next instrument review, the Sadowsky Thinline models were at the top of my list.  

But first, a little background…

In the early ’70’s, Roger Sadowsky, a former PHD candidate in “psychobiology”, made the decision to reroute his inquisitive, intellectual horsepower to guitar/bass building.  Since then, Roger’s special skill set has been servicing the pro musicians throughout the world and especially in his home town of NYC.  It is easy to see why players like Jim Hall, Marcus Miller, Will Lee and scores of others have relied on Roger to be “their guy”.

In the early to mid ’90s there was a archtop guitar resurgence.  

Ed Benson’s Just Jazz Guitar magazine was popular and luthier-built archtops for 10k to 30k were being produced and sold to well-heeled consumers.  The problem was working musicians and their students had no chance affording these premium instruments. The offerings by Gibson and other large guitar companies were also expensive. Roger Sadowsky realized there was a space in the archtop world for an affordable, “players” guitar.  So he set out to build an instrument to fill that void.  

Roger knew from his years of servicing and building guitars that laminate was the way to go for a “players” guitar.  Not only did it help keep costs down but also kept in check the destructive resonances while producing a powerful acoustic output. Roger went on a search around the world to find a high-quality laminate that met his demands; only then did Roger commence to building.  The first model was the ‘Jim Hall’, which is the only instrument Jim ever endorsed. Things developed from there.

Personally, I have always loved the Sadowsky basses and “bolt on” guitars for their beautiful attention to detail and useful features.

However, when I was introduced to the Sadowsky archtops, I was totally blown away by the quality, playability, sound and price.  These guitars were incredible instruments – ‘nailing’ the market demand.  Not inexpensive – but these archtops were finally within reach for many guitarists while providing fantastic value.  And value does not mean compromise here…  Jim Hall toured and played nothing but his ‘Jim Hall’ Sadowsky model for years. The Jim Hall model was built to the same pristine standards of every Sadowsky instrument.

The jazz guitarist today is all over the map when it come to guitar selection and performance demands.  

Things like which genre of jazz, and setting (i.e. solo, duo, organ trio to quartet, quintet and all the way to big band can have an affect on the players choice).  Some players have physical constraints and need a smaller body but want that big sound, etc. 

Sadowsky LS-15 Archtop

Now for a look at the Sadowsky archtop guitars… The guitars arrived and out of the box I was immediately impressed.

The fit and finish were flawless.  The playability due to the comfort of the neck profile, fret work, and set-up, were “just right” for me.  Something very important to me is the balance on the knee – both guitars were just right. Both the SS-15 and the LS-15 are guitars you can play for hours lounging at home or with a strap on stage for several sets with extreme comfort.  Both acoustic and electric output was balanced and rich.  Complex chords with altered extensions were perfectly articulated… really remarkable. 

The LS-15 or “long scale” has a 25 1/2 inch scale length, 1-3/4″ nut and two pickups. The sound is as crisp and articulate as I could want. 

Since I often play a Stratocaster, I am very much at home with the scale length.  In addition, the 16 frets clear of the body and most solid body players will feel equally comfortable.

The SS-15 has a shorter 24 2/4 scale length. 

The “short scale”, think Les Paul, 335 scale length, is appreciated by a lot of players who find it familiar to play but like the decidedly warmer tone and archtop response. The SS-15 is also 1-3/4″ at the nut.  As with the LS-15, this nut width made some voicing much easier to “grab” and gave a nice separation, particularly on the lower voicing.  The SS-15 was noticeably warmer delivering some very lush, full of dense overtones to add to the very familiar and comforting responsiveness.  I quickly adapted to the scale length.  I need to mention 14 frets vs 16 frets free of the body of the LS-15.  This design puts the meat of the fingerboard right under your eyes as many players prefer – think ES-175 with the additional advantage of the thinner body giving an even more, to my eye, easier to view sightline.  

Sadowsky SS-15 Archtop

Both the Sadowsky SS-15 and the LS-15 are balanced tonally, articulate and just plain fun to play in that addictive sort of way. 

I did not want to put down either from the “git go”… All this made for what was quickly a very rewarding experience and a tough choice as to what my preference would be with these two guitars.

To hear the guitars in action, check out the Trey Wright videos below. 

Trey is an Atlanta based jazz guitarist and Professor of Music at Kennesaw State University. You can find him online at treywright.com

Sadowsky SS-15 Archtop Guitar Video Review

Sadowsky LS-15 Archtop Guitar Video Review

Player Opinions…

To get a variety of opinions on the guitars, I called on two awesome but very different players in the Atlanta area – Ede Wright, and Bill Hart

Atlanta Jazz Guitarist Ede Wright says…

Ede Wright with the Sadowsky LS-15 Archtop

“Big fan of Roger’s guitars.  I have been to his spot in NYC a few times, played a variety of guitars. His semi-hollow and hollow body designs are some of the best.  On this particular LS-15, the fit and finish are beautiful.  The scale length and the 1-3/4″ nut feel right – in fact, everything about this guitar feels right.  The guitar balances nicely but would be great with a strap too.  Biding is great – I pay attention to many of the finer points – like how the neck joins the body.  Fantastic guitar! “ edewright.com

Jazz-rock guitarist, composer & music educator Bill Hart on the LS-15… 

“The minute I picked it up I fell in love with it – I didn’t even have to play it… But once I did – the first thing – the TONE!  For guitar players like us – guys that have been around for a bit, it takes a lot for us to be blown away by a guitar.  But this one floored me. “

LS-15 vs. the SS-15 ?

“Yea, it would be a hard pick – but I am one of those players that prefer the short scale, one pick up version.  I really like it.  Everything is balanced across the neck – each note has the same clarity.  You hear all the harmony – each note rings out – like a perfectly tuned grand piano. It’s just beautiful…” billhartmusic.com

Bob Bakert and Bill Hart with the Sadowsky LS-15 & SS-15 Archtops

The LS-15 and the SS-15 are available on the Sadowsky.com website

View More on Roger Sadowsky

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