Major retail chain Dawsons Music took on UK distribution of Taiwan-based, Chinese-made Farida guitars in 2005. The instruments have garnered many glowing reviews and have attracted a growing roster of pro users; the latest to join the fold is Scottish songstress Sandi Thom, whose recent blues-flavoured Merchants And Thieves album has heightened her profile and marked a change of direction from earlier, poppier outings like I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker and Saturday Night.
Her SF-55CE cutaway electro was already in development as a standard guitar when Farida approached Sandi at last year’s Frankfurt Fair. So taken with it was she that it was agreed that the guitar should appear as a signature model. A few changes were made, the main one being that the construction should be all-solid woods rather than the original’s laminated back and sides, all in the interest of maximising tone and resonance from the semi-thinline body.
Aside from having ‘Sandi Thom’ etched into the truss rod cover, there’s no mistaking this guitar. The SF-55CE has an lute-like soundhole – a rare sight these days outside of custom luthier-made acoustics – with an intricate rosette pattern and a laser-cut fleur de lis-style circumference.
It’s precision personified with not a ragged edge to be seen, and it lends a touch of the 17th century which is mighty appealing. After that you might expect some kind of ladder or fan strutting, but when you extract the side-mount preamp you can see that the sitka spruce top is conventionally X-braced.
Measuring 15" across the lower bouts, the guitar is folk-sized in profile, with shallow rims just 80mm deep at their fullest point. It’s a light, comfy guitar, clearly designed with the stage in mind, and there’s a second button at the neck heel so it’s strap-ready. The trim is well co-ordinated and unfussy.
The top and the mahogany back and sides carry white binding with five-ply black/white strip purfling around the front, and matching binding edges the 20-fret rosewood fingerboard and the mahogany-overlaid headstock which totes a smooth set of gold diecast tuners. Completing the look are pearl diamond/square markers and a faultlessly buffed gloss finish.
Part of the guitar’s aesthetic might be Renaissance, but two-piece mahogany neck feels unequivocally modern. With a regular 43.5mm nut width, the profile is super-shallow and super-fast, with a depth at the first position of just 19mm.
Electric players will love it; it’s all the slinkier in the hand thanks to our sample’s low, buzz-free action, making chord shapes right up the neck a doddle, and all but dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists should appreciate its easy playability, especially in an electro context. The frets are well fitted and dressed save for the merest hint of a sharp end or two, and the only reservation is slightly tight string spacing at the bridge, though this complements the electric-like neck.
The SF is powered by a Fishman Presys Blend with three-band EQ, notching and mic blend on small rotaries, plus phase reverse and a decent auto-chromatic tuner which mutes the system when powered and is usable acoustically too. Swivel out the preamp’s quick-release control panel and you’ll find the PP3 battery, a fixed, inward-facing mini mic and, on the side, a trimpot to adjust the mic’s gain. It’s all pretty straightforward.
Considering its shallow sound chamber and lack of a conventional soundhole, the guitar is commendably capable as an acoustic. Volume and dynamics aren’t appreciably lacking compared with deeper guitars, and save for a bottom end which isn’t exactly steroidal you wouldn’t think that the SF is anything other than a standard acoustic… though the projection is perhaps more restrained. The tone is appealing: a chimey, bright, slightly breathy attack, with an easy, evenly balanced sustain.
Unplugged, it can hold its own for solo accompaniment.
Plugged in, the undersaddle side of the system has a slightly dominant bottom E but otherwise it’s all plain sailing. The preamp is naturally voiced, the sounds are versatile, and there’s plenty of low-end beef on tap to warm things up while keeping the guitar’s chimy quality.
The mic merits a judicious approach.
The gain trimpot was factory-set at its halfway mark which proved far too sensitive, prompting intrusive body noise, the onset of feedback and an unpleasant timbre even at relatively low blender settings. The solution is to rein back the trimpot near to, or at, its minimum level, which allows the blender to be employed in a positive, musical manner across a wider range.
Even so, a little goes a long way with mic blender systems – you don’t need much of it before desirable ambience deteriorates into dissonant artificiality. The Presys Blend is no exception.
Apart from Aria with its lute-rosetted SP75 Sandpiper there aren’t, to our knowledge, any other mainstream makers offering this style of electro-acoustic with its ornate laser-cut soundhole.
That alone puts the Farida at an advantage for those favouring such an aesthetic, and the SF-55CE capitalises on its highly unusual appeal by offering a highly enjoyable playing experience all round with its slim body and equally comfortable neck.
Not only that, but the case comes included in the price. We’re not surprised Sandi Thom gladly put her name to it.