Friday, September 9, 2011

Seagull S6 - Your First Guitar

“If I was just starting to learn guitar, what instrument should I buy?” I am asked that question from time to time. My response is always the Seagull S6.

When I started to play guitar, my Dad bought a Harmony Patrician from Will’s Pawn Shop for $20 USD. It came with heavy gauge Black Diamond strings, which were the only strings Will sold. Those strings were at least a half inch above the neck at the twelfth fret. It was difficult to play. The cheap open gear tuners were hard to turn and one of the tuning posts bent to the side. It was a better instrument than the ones some of my friends owned. At least it was made of wood.

The new beginner guitars at the time were made of birch and had ladder bracing. The necks were thick. The tuners were not much better than my Patrician was. The strings were just about as high off the neck. A dull finish came painted on to the guitars top. The pickguard was just a painting of a pickguard.

Guitar technology has come a long way. CNC machines turn out exacting measurements on just about any instrument. Heavy strings are still available, but most of us choose light or medium gauge. However, some parts of a guitar differentiate a good guitar from a bad guitar.


Many beginner models now come with a solid top or soundboard instead of a laminated top. However, even though the top is solid, there are other considerations. Many instruments are made of high-pressure laminate; wood shavings and dust that have been mixed with a bonding agent and pressed together, with a veneer covering to make a board.

Even Martin uses this technique on their DX series of guitars. Low priced instruments use this process on guitar soundboards. Some guitars may come with solid spruce tops, but the high gloss polyester finish erodes the sound.


What makes the Seagull S6 unique?

The top is solid and made of book matched cedar. Cedar is a material used on guitar soundboards for centuries. Most Flamenco guitars come with cedar tops. A book matched top is made by sawing a plank of wood in half then reattaching the halves together. This enhances and evens out the grain of the wood. As the guitar gets older and is played, the vibrations produced on a solid guitar soundboard become more robust. This is the aging process.

Another unique factor on the S6 is the top is made in such a way that the top slightly arches around the bridge area. Seagull calls this “the compound curve.” When it comes to producing sound vibrations on a guitar, the area around the bridge is the most active. Therefore, the arching emphasizes the vibrations and makes the sound more dynamic.

Although the Seagull S6 utilizes laminate for its sides and back, but not made from high-pressure wood material. Seagull uses wild cherry wood sawn into three thin strips glued together with the center strips grain going the opposite way from the top and bottom strip.

Though solid wood is preferable, this process gives added strength to the body.

The Seagull’s neck is made of silver leaf maple wood that is readily available. The feel of the neck may be a little bigger than on other guitars; however, the instrument is very playable and the slight bulk of the neck enhances the sound. The fretboard is made of Indian rosewood.

The neck is attaches to the guitar by two wooden dowels that come through the guitars heel and glued into the inner neck block. This eliminates glue between the heel and body, thus allowing a continuous wood-to-wood fit.

The headstock is unique in a couple of ways. The most obvious is the diamond shape taper. The purpose of this shape is to allow the strings to be pulled straight back instead of pulling to the side. This accomplishes two things. The string does not bind up at the nut, which will adversely affect tuning and the straight pull minimizes fatigue on the neck.

The other unique factor on the S6’s headstock is the way it attaches to the neck. The process is known as the reverse headstock. The neck starts out as a straight piece of lumber. Wood is sawn at a 45-degree angle at the top of the neck. The top piece is turned upside down, so the grain runs in the opposite direction and re-glued to the neck. Older guitars were made using this process.


High quality guitars costing four times as much as the Seagull utilize this technique.

A truss rod placed in the guitars neck is accessible for adjustment through the soundhole.

The last factor affecting the neck of the S6 is the pitch of the neck. An improper angle will cause the sound to be too thin or too muddy. Seagull utilizes a machine that adjusts the neck pitch perfectly.

The S6 is custom polished instead of spraying with a thick coat of polyester. The coat applied is similar to the French polish used on violins and some guitars. This method does not dampen the sound emanating from the guitars top.

Perhaps the most desirable factor of a Seagull S6 is the price. This instrument sells for less than $400 USD. You may even find a used S6 for half of that price.


A few comparable instruments to the Seagull are the Epiphone Masterbuilt line and the Taylor Big Baby. The Masterbuilt Epiphones are excellent guitars that are made entirely of solid wood. However most sell for at least $100 USD more than the Seagull S6.

The Taylor Big Baby is a large version of Taylor’s travel guitar. The top is solid spruce, but the back and sides are laminate. The neck screws into the neck block with two screws exposed at the 16th fret. There is no neck heel. The Big Baby is only slightly smaller than a full size guitar. It has a 15/16th scale. Despite these drawbacks, the Big Baby has a great sound and the factory set up is great. This instrument sells for about $50 more than the Seagull, but it does come with a gig bag.

Sanding a saddle
One thing about the Seagull S6 you need to know is the action is set a little higher than I prefer. This is remedied by removing the bridge saddle and sanding down the underside slightly. There are instructions on the internet for this process.

The saddle and nut are made of a synthetic material called Tusq. This is much better than the plastic used on most guitars in this price range. A benefit of Tusq is that it is very easy to work with and comparable to bone. You can also have the music stores repair department do this for you.

I would recommend before removing the saddle, place a mark on the lower side. The saddle is compensated. If you put it in backwards, you will not get the guitar in tune.

The S6 can be ordered with the Godin Quantum Electronic system. This raises the price of the guitar by around $100.

Seagull guitars are made in La Patrie, Quebec Canada and are owned by Robert Godin. Mr. Godin produces several other brands including Godin guitars (mostly electric instruments), Simon and Patrick guitars (named after his sons), La Patrie classical guitars, Norman guitars, and Arts, and Lutherie guitars (his budget line).

Looking at the inner sticker of a Seagull, you may note that it says "handmade."  To some extent, this is true. Guitars are labour intensive and a lot of the work involves an individual working by hand to make the instrument. Most guitar manufacturers work this same way. I do not want to diminish the quality of work these folks do. A truly handmade instrument by a luthier is something special, made by one individual, and is going to set you back a lot of money.

Perhaps the ultimate aspect that sets the S6 apart from other guitars, even those that are more expensive, is the Seagull's sound. The Seagull S6 has a boomy, but crisp tonal quality. It is a most excellent instrument for strumming or fingerpicking.

La Patrie is a small community in eastern Quebec. Godin employs almost half of the population.

Seagull guitars are wonderful instruments. I own a Seagull Grand, which is a parlor-sized guitar. I love the tone it produces. As I have said before, as these guitars get older, they sound better. The S6 is the first guitar that Seagull produced back in 1982. It is not just an excellent instrument, but a great value as well.




4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A curve to the top of a guitar actually hinders resonance. The compound curve you refer to is not at the bridge. The curve is very slight (I believe about a 7 meter radius)and runs across the body from the top of the soundhole to the top of the body. The compound curve adds strength to this weakest part of the body in order to counteract the downward force of the neck under tension on this area. This prevents the fingerboard from "diving" into the body. The area around the bridge is left flat to allow full resonance. They are great guitars for sure.

Gee Tars said...

The s6 is a great guitar and seagull now has the Entourage series guitars which are fantastic guitars, just a step down from the s6 but still have that great Seagull Tone. We sell both as well as their other models like the very nice Artist series models in our store Guitarasaur Guitar Store at 5633 watauga Rd In North Fort worth- keller Tx. www.guitarasaur.com
We are always pushing the seagull because of the low cost and high performance.
http://www.guitarasaur.com/image/cache/data/99/350770969399-500x500.JPG

Anonymous said...

The seagull s6 is a great guitar. I have one and really enjoy playing it and would definitely recommend it.
http://www.squidoo.com/seagull-s6-acoustic-guitar-review

Morris Bouman said...

Canada down to North America??? Canada is in North America
Duh