I was intrigued by the idea of Loog Guitars from the first time I saw Rafael Atijas' Kickstarter proposal this spring to manufacture a high-quality three-string guitar sized for kids (but playable for adults) intended to be assembled by both kids and adults.
How intrigued? Well, to begin with, I interview Atijas about the Loog. And then I became a backer of the project.
After some manufacturing delays -- which is one thing that Kickstarter has laid bare for a number of projects I've backed -- the guitars became production realities this fall, and sure enough last month a large package arrived.
I -- along with Little Boy Blue -- finally got a chance to assemble the Loog and play with it a bit and I thought you'd be interested in the process and some thoughts from my (our) hands-on with the guitar.
Despite the comparatively large shipping box, the actual product box is pretty reasonably-sized. That's it, right there -- kinda elegant, especially when you realize that the product box doubles as a guitar case. A cardbox guitar case, but a sturdy one nonetheless, and a heck of a lot more protective than, say, a cheap gig bag you might get with a $40 ukulele.
After using a knife to cut through the various tape seals around the box, open the box itself. What you see inside are various components wrapped in bags or protective foam along with a couple small brochures (one is provides a parts list and assembly instructions, the other gives basic playing advice). It's not quite Apple-elegant in its packaging -- I'd put it at maybe IKEA-level -- but it's been designed with some thought (exactly how so I'll get to later).
One comment: we ordered the "Loog II" body, the classic electric guitar shape. There's also a rectangular body (more like a cigar-box-shaped guitar) and a triangular body, but my recollection from the Kickstarter updates from Atijas is that the electric guitar shape was by far the most popular.
Once you've unwrapped and unpackaged all the items and laid them out on a family room rug in a slightly obssessively organized fashion, they might look like this. Those are five colors of pick guards on the left, the main body at the lower right, with the neck above it, and the rest of the various components between them.
The first thing you're asked to do is to screw the three tuning pegs into the top of the neck. You get six very tiny screws, and here's where the idea of building this guitar with your kids can break down a bit. Little Boy Blue is a kindergartner and besides that his strength and fine motor skills aren't as good as some of his peers. Which makes screwing a tiny little screw into solid wood -- even in pre-dilled holes -- somewhat difficult. I didn't bother getting out a cordless screwdriver for this, but even if I had, I think the drill bits would have been too large for these particular screws.
Next step: inserting the strap buttons into the guitar body. Relatively easy (slide the screw into the button, slip a felt washer over the end, and screw into the top and bottom of the body), and the size of the screws are a little larger, but again, screwing into wood is not the easiest thing in the world for little kids. And since the instructions repeatedly warned against overtightening the screws, using a cordless screwdriver wasn't a good option, particularly with kids.
Even this early in the process, I was impressed with the build quality of the guitar -- not once in the process did I have a problem with a misdrilled hole, for example.
Step 3 was inserting the tailpiece into the guitar body. Again, more screwdriver use on tiny screws. It might have been at this point that Little Boy Blue finally gave up helping as the manual dexterity required was exceeding his skills.
Next up, the bridge, which in our box came pre-assembled with the "saddle" (the white part) already inserted into the bridge. I actually assembled the guitar, then loosened the strings and flipped over the saddle because it looked like maybe there was a right side up (which was not up when we got it out of the box). I'm not sure about that, though.
After inserting the bridge, we had to attach the neck into the guitar body. We ordered a 21" neck, though a 24" neck is also available for the model. The neck is inserted into the notch on the body, and the (long) screws are screwed in the back through a metal plate washer with the Loog logo. Again the build quality was noticeable as the screws fit perfectly into the plate washer.
Finally -- and by "finally," I mean maybe 15-20 minutes after I started including the occasional interruption -- it was time to wind the strings onto the guitar. You tied one end of the (low) nylon A string into a small knot, ran it through the tailpiece and up through the tuners, then turned the tuners until it was tuned (relatively) properly. Repeat with the other two strings (D and G). Go ahead and add one of the snap-in plastic pickguards, and you have an honest-to-goodness electric-looking acoustic 3 string guitar.
After finding a guitar strap and putting it on the guitar, it was time to play.
While I am no guitar expert -- I'm barely even a novice -- I do think the guitar has a pleasant sound. There's a limit to the pleasantness of the nylon strings' sound, but the guitar sounds (and looks) miles better than a random $40 or $50 "toy" or introductory guitar. (Of course, it should for the three figures you're paying for the guitar.) It is not hard to picture serious guitar players wanting to play this instrument, not necessarily full-time, but at least as a pleasant novelty. Less-serious players may enjoy it even more.
The second brochure included with the guitar, as I noted above, provides some guidelines for playing the guitar. "Level I" is Open A tuning (A-E-A), which provides a nice major chord (minus the III note) which means if you're playing a single-finger chord (i.e., your finger is barred across all 3 strings), it always sounds good. "Smoke on the Water" guitar riff FTW! The instructions then provide guidance for playing power chords (Level II: A-D-G) and standard chords (Level III: G-B-E).
One of the (non-kid-related) reasons I was interested in the Loog was precisely the 3-string nature of the instrument. While the strings relate to the guitar -- Level II is equivalent to the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings of a guitar while Level III matches the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings -- it is simpler to master, or at least learn. Rather than needing to remember finger placement for six strings, I (or Little Boy Blue or Miss Mary Mack) only need to learn 3.
Now, based on some initial playing on Little Boy Blue's part, it will take him a little while to figure out how to play chords of more than one finger, so I'm planning on keeping the guitar tuned to Level I for the most part for now. And frankly, even Level II will take some while for me to master. (Hey, I'm a violin player -- I'm not used to playing chords.) But he totally looks like a little rockstar when he drapes the guitar strap over his neck.
The downsides to the instrument I've noticed thus far are pretty minimal:
-- As I noted above, only older kids are probably going to be able to assist in its construction in any meaningful way.
-- The distance between the top strap button and the neck made it very difficult to put on the guitar strap we had in the house.
-- The product box doubles as a guitar case (and a decent one at that). The cardboard fits pretty snug around the guitar, which is great... as long as you don't have a guitar strap on it.
Really, the biggest downside isn't really a downside, just a fact of life -- it's not cheap. Right now it's selling for $199, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that price go up before it hopefully comes down as a result of production scales of economy. So it's not cheap. But the difference between that and a $40 introductory guitar is immediately noticeable -- this is a guitar I fully expect to be used in our house for ten or twenty years or more. All I can say is that I think you get $199 worth of guitar, and if you're willing and able to spend that much money, I think you'll be very pleased with the Loog.
As I (and Little Boy Blue and Miss Mary Mack) play with the guitar some more, I'll be sure to post an update regarding its use and our adventures in learning how to play the Loog. All I can say is, I'm glad it's in our home.