Any time of year, the Sierra Nevada mountains that surround Lake Tahoe offer beautiful scenery, and as the inspiration behind the line of instruments from Sierra Guitars, they make for a nice comparison. The Sierra Guitars Tahoe SJS98CE dreadnaught is certainly a beautiful acoustic guitar to behold, just as Lake Tahoe is a beautiful location to visit.
Our typical product focus is on instruments of interest to the pro-level musician, and when we receive an acoustic-electric guitar for review with a particularly low price tag (under $1,000), it certainly makes us contemplate whether or not the instrument will have any appeal to our discerning readership. In the case of the SJS98CE, there is certainly plenty of good stuff to make the guitar worthy of your consideration.
|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.0
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award
3 stars or better: Worth considering
2 stars or better: Suited to specific needs
1 star or less: Not recommended
The materials and construction are excellent, and the SJS98CE played well, feeling more like a jazz guitar than an acoustic in our hands. The guitar features some beautiful finishing touches and a nice complement of electronic features including an XLR output (in addition to the standard ¼”). The only negative for us was that it lacked the kind of warmth and richness of tone that we hear in more costly pro-level acoustic guitars – but it’s certainly better sounding than many other low-cost acoustic-electric guitars.
Its low price point (thanks to manufacturing in Asia) makes the SJS98CE a very good value for the budget-constrained reader of ours, or a mostly-electric player for whom an acoustic guitar is really just a nice “extra” (and not worth spending thousands of dollars on).
While there are numerous acoustic-electrics in the sub-$500 price category (street price), the list of models in the $500 to $1,000 range is much shorter. If you find yourself shopping in the latter price bracket, the Tahoe is definitely worthy of your consideration.
The Tahoe is a jumbo-sized acoustic electric guitar constructed from a flamed maple back and sides, with a solid Engleman spruce top, and maple bindings. Our test instrument was the SJS98CEBK, finished in a high-gloss black.
The guitar body features beautiful detail work around the edges of the body and along the sides of the neck, and an Earth-shaped inlay adorns the twelfth fret. The black-on-black pick guard was functional, but we didn’t care for its aesthetics – the bridge end of it was too squared off for our tastes and didn’t seem to flow with the rest of the guitar’s design.
The neck is made from maple and mahogany with a rosewood fingerboard, 25.5” scale, and a15.75” radius. There are two pegs for attaching a standard guitar strap – one at the neck heel, and one on the end of the guitar (a nice touch).
The supplied D’Addario EXP strings are secured to the soundboard via standard bridge pins.
The onboard electronics are a Barcus Berry REALM III system that uses under-the-saddle piezo pickups. It provides three fixed bands of EQ (Low, Mid, High), a presence control, a built-in tuner, both ¼” and XLR output jacks (a very nice touch), and an external battery compartment. A Note button enables you to set the tuner to a specific note value manually.
The jumbo-sized Tahoe dreadnaught had a nice weight and balance to it, and was generally comfortable to play. With a very thick neck, carved somewhere between a U and C shape, the SJS98CE feels more like an arch-top jazz guitar than many of the acoustics we’ve become accustomed to, which routinely feature thinner necks comparable to some electric guitars.
We liked the tuning pegs – their unique, ergonomic shape made them particularly easy to grasp, and the onboard tuner had a fabulous display that made tune-ups a breeze. We also loved having the ability to manually select a note to tune to for nailing some cool alternate tunings.
Tip: To use the undocumented Note button, hitting it repeatedly scrolls through the notes of the scale. Stop at your desired note and then tune any string to that note value.
Despite its heft, the neck played well, and the string action was comfortable. Although playing this instrument could be slightly challenging for a small-handed player (due to the large neck radius), we had no trouble playing up to the twelfth fret, but by the fourteenth fret, it became difficult to play notes beyond the bottom-most strings.
A truss-rod exists within the neck for intonation adjustment, but there was no simple way to manually adjust the bridge or string height (not that we needed to).
The Tahoe SJS98CE sounded somewhat average. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it just didn’t do anything to stand out and specifically impress us. The tone was very balanced from a volume perspective, but also very one-dimensional, and without a lot of presence to it. Additionally, the low end wasn’t as rich as we would have expected from a jumbo-sized dreadnaught that appeared otherwise well constructed.
Plugged in, we loved the onboard XLR connection, and we didn’t experience any issues with unwanted feedback. Unfortunately, though, even with adjustments to the onboard EQ and electronic Presence control, we still weren’t able to achieve a tone that we loved, and we sometimes found the high end a bit too brittle when running straight from the XLR jack into a PA system. A notch filter would have been a nice addition, as would a parametric EQ with at least one or two sweepable frequencies.
Documentation and Product Support
The documentation was enjoyable (dare we say entertaining?) to read, and while it provided useful care instructions, it didn’t explain use of the Barcus Berry electronics nor provide any service information (like making neck adjustments).
The instrument does feature a limited lifetime warranty (to the original owner) on the non-electronic portion of the guitar.
With an MSRP of only $899, the Tahoe SJS98CE represents an excellent value for a good-playing and finely detailed acoustic dreadnaught with onboard electronics. The price does not include a case, though, so factor in an extra $50 for some instrument protection.