Ashton D40sceq NT Dreadnought Acoustic Electric Cutaway
“In Store & on the Floor”
ASHTON D40SCEQ (ACOUSTIC GUITARS-DREADNOUGHT ACOUSTICS)
– Written by Travis Deegan –
Preamp Prener SPII 4-band EQ, mid sweep, tuner
Outputs 1/4 and XLR
Tuners Chrome Diecast
Includes Hard case
Ashton made a big splash when they launched their range of Australian-designed, Chinese-manufactured instruments. The company was at the vanguard of a paradigm shift in the way instruments were manufactured, and enjoyed remarkable advantage at the expense of competitors who were slow to make the adjustments that the global marketplace demands. Affordable Asian manufacturing had long been utilized to produce guitar, however the quality was often questionable. While premium manufacturers like Ibanez and Tokai had begun to establish the Asian potential for producing superior professional instruments by the late seventies, the budget market would continue to suffer under the weight of inferior oriental cheapies for another twenty years.
That all changed when a handful of manufacturers in the late 90’s started to manufacture student instruments in China and Korea, taking advantage of the plentiful and inexpensive labour supply, while applying the same standard of design, materials and quality assurance that consumers expected from American and European instruments.
Y’ALL NEEDED SOME SCHOOLING
Ashton were at the forefront of this development in the Australian market, and for several years were the major factor determining a whole new set of expectations when considering a student instrument. Electric guitars with set necks and maple caps; acoustic guitar with solid tops, onboard tuners and balance outputs; 100W tube amplifiers retailing for the price of a solid-state combo – at each turn, Ashton not only established how savvy its range was, it reminded us exactly how pedestrian the alternatives were.
Well, after a few years, everyone had learned the lessons Ashton and a few other innovators were teaching the industry, and price points at which Ashton were previously the clear favourite were now jammed with similarly configured options. Not all were off the same quality, indeed few had gones so far as Ashton in terms of design and quality assurance, but the net effect was to dilute Ashton’s market presence and diminish the obvious advantages it had enjoyed just a few short years earlier.
ALL THE SMALL THINGS
So these days, when we get a guitar like the Ashton D40SCEQ, which is a solid top dreadnought with cutaway and onboard pre-amp that retails for $399, it is not the stunning revelation it would have been ten years ago. That said, the feature set is only part of the story, and we would still contend that an Ashton instrument represents great value, not only in terms of features but also a general standard of manufacturing that few of its competitors can lay claim to The D40SCEQ is a very solidly constructed dreadnought, and not surprisingly, the tone is hardly subtle – this is not a shortcoming of the Ashton, but rather an inherent ‘quality’ of the dreadnought form, particularly one that has been sturdily constructed using mid-range materials. The cutaway is both attractive and functional, and a solid timber rosette perfectly compliments the guitar’s plain yet attractive look. It is a dynamic strummer, with impressive volume, yet has enough restraint to adequately describe finger picked patterns. Before companies like Ashton came along, guitar at this sort of price point invariably featured laminated soundboards, which compromised both tone and volume. With its solid spruce top, the D40SCEQ has the sort of forthright voice that will cut it at even the rowdiest campfire sing-along. The onboard pre-amp features sliders for bass, mid, treble, presence and mater volume, plus a dial for setting the mid-point. It is a powerful device, and requires some judicious tweaking if you are to get the best from the piezo pickup – for example, switching considerable reining in of the treble and presence controls. Two extra buttons engage the tuner, which has a large LED ‘needle’ display, and switch it from default automatic mode to manual operation, whereby you define the target note.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ashton may no longer be the only, or even the obvious, choice at price points it previously dominated, but that is not to say that their products do not remain a great choice. The D40SCEQ is a perfect example – if you are looking for a guitar that comes with the same bells and whistles at the same price point, you will find it, but you will have to look very hard if you are to find an instrument that converts those disparate elements into a unified whole as well as the Ashton.