Takamine GD20 NS Review: Can the electro Master go Unplugged?

Takamine is famous for producing electro-acoustic guitars that sound awesome plugged in. But the GD20 NS is a completely acoustic guitar with no electronics to speak of. Is it any good? Check out Kevin’s Takamine GD20 NS review to find out.

Kevin performing his Takamine GD20-NS review at Steve's Music.
Kevin performing his Takamine GD20 NS review at Steve’s Music
👀 Looks4/5
🛠️ Build quality5/5
😃 Playability2/5
🎵 Sound2/5
💰 Value for Money2/5

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A full view of the Takamine GD20 NS
A full view of the Takamine GD20 NS

Takamine has carved itself a place in acoustic guitar lore. Their instruments have been in the hands of several noted artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Steven Wilson, Garth Brooks and several others. 

Takamine makes both high-end and affordable instruments, and the Takamine GD20 NS falls in the latter category.

Takamine GD20 NS Review: The Specs

– Solid cedar top
– Mahogany back and sides
– Dreadnought body
– Ovangkol bridge
– Mahogany neck
– Ovangkol fretboard
– 25.3″ scale
– 12″ fretboard radius
– Die-cast chrome tuners
– Synthetic bone nut

The Takamine GD20 NS features a solid cedar top with mahogany back and sides – a common combination in the acoustic guitar world. 

The neck is also made of mahogany and feels very solid. The fretboard is made of ovangkol, which is a close relative to rosewood. It is dark but has a crisper tone, reminiscent of koa. 

The bridge is also made of ovangkol and features a pinless design. Rather than using traditional bridge pins, which can break or get lost (have fun securing your string if you don’t have spares), it’s a pull-through design, much like any top-loader bridge on an electric. For people like me who would rather not fiddle with pins while changing strings, this is a nice feature!

The saddle is a split saddle, which offers better intonation than traditional single-piece or compensated saddles. This is common on many Takamine models. 

A close up of the Takamine GD20 NS showing its split compensated saddle.
The Takamine GD20 NS has a split compensated saddle

Takamine is famous for its Palathetic pickup system. This is a unique under-saddle pickup system that connects the string directly to the pickup. This gives the guitar a louder, more articulate sound when plugged in. The company revolutionized the live acoustic guitar experience when the Palathetic pickup system was introduced in the late 1970s.

However, the one I tried was not equipped with a pickup, and retrofitting an undersaddle piezo may be hard with this design. For anyone wanting to use this live, a soundhole pickup is your best option.

The guitar sports a “C” shaped neck which does feel nice on the hands. The nut is made of synthetic bone.

Takamine GD20 NS Review: Test Results

Let’s see how the Takamine GD20 NS did when we tried it out.

Looks: 4/5

The Takamine GD20 NS is nice and clean. The finish is well done and the lack of pickguard, white binding and the split saddle design do offer a couple of unique touches. The satin finish is also nicely done.

The wow factor for me comes from the white binding against the darker hues of the cedar and the mahogany. The contrast does make for a striking appearance. This look is also carried over to the logo on the headstock, where we see a white outline of the Takamine logo over the darker mahogany wood.

Close up of the Takamine GD20 NS headstock, showing its striking design.
The Takamine GD20 NS has striking looks that carry over to the headstock

There are no other special appointments on these instruments (no fancy fret markers, no decorative rosette, etc.) Then again, I would not expect them for the price. 

Build quality: 5/5

Takamine has put together a very solid guitar. Fit and finish checks all the boxes for me in terms of construction. Everything is well attached, the nut and saddles are properly cut and the frets are well dressed. The tuners were nice and smooth and helped keep the guitar properly tuned while I played it.

Cedar is not a typical tonewood that you find on most acoustics (spruce, or some spruce laminate, is probably the most common). While it typically has a nice and warm sound compared to spruce, it’s also a softer wood that will likely wear away faster and also tends to scratch more easily. 

If you’re worried about this sort of thing, I would recommend adding a pickguard to the instrument to help mitigate some of that wear.

A close up of the Takamine GD20 NS body. It's made of cedar which isn't as strong as spruce.
The Takamine GD20 NS top is make from cedar which isn’t as strong as spruce

Playability: 2/5

This guitar is what I would call a “strummer” because that’s the best way to play this particular instrument. 

Strumming regular campfire chords was okay, but moving up the neck for barred chords was challenging. I had to press hard with my fretting hand to get even the simplest of barred chords to sound out. 

A side view of the Takamine GD20 NS
The Takamine GD20 NS is best for strumming

I found myself fighting the guitar to get out any nuance in my playing. It was not very responsive to more complex chords or fingerstyle playing. 

Picked passages also required more work from my picking hand to get the guitar to respond. The satin finish on the neck, though lovely, felt sticky as I was trying to move up and down. 

Overall I felt I had to work harder just to do the same things that were a breeze on other guitars. 

Just to prove that I wasn’t crazy, I grabbed a Yamaha FG800J off the wall to compare. This more inexpensive instrument played way more easily and was way more responsive than the Takamine. A real shame since the guitar is well-built and well-priced. 

Sound 2/5

The guitar, when strummed, does have a balanced sound but no wow factor. It was very average, with no real character to it. Frequencies just seemed even, as if someone set all the bars on a graphic equalizer to zero. 

The back of the Takamine GD20 NS headstock
The Takamine GD20 NS has a flat sound

The lack of response that I got to my playing made for weak notes with little tone or sustain. Short of strumming campfire chords, notes don’t project from the instrument. Because of that, nuance and subtlety are lost in the fold, with no real dynamics to speak of. 

The Yamaha I grabbed was more responsive with a louder voice. It had a nicer chime on the top end with some more midrange. It was way better in handling nuance and subtlety, and it projected way more than the Takamine for half the price. 

Value for Money 2/5

I typically struggle with this one and usually say it’s all subjective, blah… blah… but not this time. 

When compared to the FG800J, which is half the price and plays and projects better, the Takamine does not deliver the goods for the money you pay. 

While the construction is solid with some nice aesthetics (cedar, mahogany, etc.), it doesn’t make up for what it lacks in sound and playability. You should not have to fight a guitar to get what you want out of it, playing-wise, especially when there are more inexpensive options that outshine this one.

A rear view of the Takamine GD20 NS showing its cream binding.
The Takamine GD20 NS has nice aesthetics – especially its cream binding.

Takamine GD20 NS review overall rating: 15/25

I have some friends who use higher-end Takamine guitars that sound and play well, but those come with a much higher price tag than that of the GD20-NS. 

If you want a Takamine, I would recommend saving up for a higher-end model. If you’re on a budget, I would recommend going with one of the Yamaha guitars I previously reviewed. 

Big thank you as always to Dan Sauvé at Steve’s Music in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada) for letting me take these instruments for a spin!

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