Gear Review: Takamine’s Well-Built H8SS Boasts a Balanced, Transparent Sound
by Adam Perlmutter
Takamine might be best known for pioneering the steel-string acoustic-electric guitar, but when the luthier Ohzone started the company in the Japanese Alps in the late 1950s, he and a small team of craftsmen made nylon-stringed instruments, and these instruments have been a part of the company’s lineup ever since.
Takamine’s Hirade series takes its name from Mass Hirade, the brilliant luthier who was assigned as head of production and design in 1968, and who in the 1970s oversaw the company as it expanded into the international market. The line includes both traditional guitars and models with cutaways and electronics, all handmade at Takamine’s shop in Sakashita, Japan. I auditioned the H8SS, a lovely concert-classical model.
A Solid Combination
The H8SS is built from the time-honored tonewood combination of a spruce soundboard and rosewood back and sides, all solid; the neck is mahogany and the fretboard ebony. All of the woods on the test model appear to have been carefully chosen. The quarter-sawn Indian rosewood has a beautiful deep-brown coloration and the Sitka spruce possesses tight, straight grains and no cosmetic anomalies; the ebony is inky black. With its simple but elegant appointments, the guitar cuts a nice figure. Engraved gold Gotoh tuners with pearl buttons are a classy touch, as is the multicolored marquetry pattern used for the rosette.
The review model feels solid and well-built. The frets are perfectly seated and smoothly polished, and the bone nut is precisely slotted. The thin polyurethane finish is flawlessly applied, rubbed to a uniform gloss. With smoothly sanded bracing and kerfing and no evidence of excess glue, the interior is just as clean as the outside.
Excellent-Sounding and Versatile
With its 51-millimeter (just over two inches) nut, the H8SS has a traditional feel. It came perfectly set up with an easy action. (Unlike on many classical guitars, this one has a truss rod, should adjustments be needed.) The neck is full, but not overly so, and I experienced no fret-hand fatigue when playing the guitar for a solid hour.
Overall, the H8SS’s voice is full and clear, with good projection, likely owing to its spruce-and-rosewood construction. The registers are evenly balanced, from firm lows to solid mids to crystalline trebles. All of the notes on the neck are true and clear, with perfect intonation and a good amount of sustain, and the natural harmonics at all locations are vivid.
Because of its balanced, transparent sound, the H8SS doesn’t recommend itself to any style or era of repertoire in particular. It feels equally inspiring to play Matteo Carcassi studies and Astor Piazzolla arrangements as it does for approaches like chord-melody-style jazz and bossa-nova comping. The response and playability are excellent.
Takamine’s Hirade series H8SS won’t necessarily be the right guitar for a concert-level professional, but its all-solid-wood construction, excellent build quality and playability, and winning sound make it a wise choice for intermediate and advanced players looking to explore the classical literature and beyond—a guitar whose sound will no doubt blossom with the player.
Non-cutaway classical; solid spruce top with Spanish fan bracing; solid rosewood back and sides; rosewood bridge; high-gloss polyurethane finish
Mahogany neck with ebony fretboard; 650mm scale length; 51mm bone nut; deluxe Gotoh tuning machines; high-gloss polyurethane finish