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Recording King RAJ-16 – review of a fine slope shoulder dreadnought acoustic guitar

The RAJ-16 by Recording King is a great, budget slope shoulder dreadnought. This model is no longer produced. Don’t let that bother you. You can still probably find it used or even in mint shape in shops. Or you can get the newer slope D models, they are fairly similar. Recording King brand already existed in the 30s for a short time. Later (in 2007), it has been revived again by the company The Music Link Corporation, to make affordable “Americana” instruments. Of course it means the actual production is in China. But let’s go back to the RAJ-16 model.

RAJ-16 – Gibson J with another logo

The RAJ-16 guitar made by Recording King is a beautiful little acoustic slope shoulder dreadMy guitar was made in 2011. The headstock is black, and it sports the old Recording King logo. A rather nicely made mother of pearl inlay of a crown and the brand name under it. The shape of the headstock sort of resembles a crown as well. It’s quite a bit larger than the regular Gibson headstock. The tuning machines are vintage style, 3-in-line Grovers. I’m okay with vintage stuff, but man, these tuners will teach you how to tinker precisely. Their ratio is pretty low, and the chrome plated buttons are fairly small. It means you have to grab and hold them firmly, and there’s quite a resistance when you turn them. When you pair this with the fact that the middle four strings go across the nut slots at a sideways angle, well… it’s not the smoothest tuning experience. The headstock is scarf-jointed, so there’s not a high chance of breakage there, unlike in the case of some real Gibsons. The cattle bone nut’s width is 1-11/16″. It’s pretty much a standard when it comes to acoustic guitars, and should work great for anyone except those with the largest hands. Unless you’re used to classical or flamenco guitars, of course. I wasn’t; my electric-trained hand acknowledged the slightly wider nut as a breath of fresh air. The neck was made of mahogany with white plastic binding, with a rosewood fretboard on top and with 20 frets. It means the end of the fretboard is slightly covering the edge of the sound hole, unlike old style 19 fret Gibson models. The scale length is 24 ¾”. It’s like the old Jumbos, not the 25 ½” Advanced Jumbos. The fret markers are small white dots. Interestingly, even the 12th fret marker is just a single dot. The C-shape neck is connected to the body with a dovetail neck joint.

Awful truss rod access – DIY solution

Yeah, the quality control was probably asleep. Because the first (and so far, only) time I needed to straighten the neck a bit, I’ve run into a problem. After I took off the black truss rod cover from the headstock, I realized that the allen key won’t fit. They’ve left too much wood behind the nut, so I couldn’t insert the shorter part of the right-angle tool. And I couldn’t fit the longer part either, because of the protruding wood on the other end of the truss-rod access route. So I took out my trusty Dremel (actually a Kinzo) tool, and carefully ground some wood away. It’s okay, that’s what the truss rod cover is for, right? It turned okay and I could finally set the neck how I wanted. Don’t try this at home.

Recording King – period correct sound

The guitar itself is pretty much like a Gibson Jumbo (original Jumbo), or J-35, or even an older J-45, down to the construction and sound. By that I mean, they got the sound fukken right. It’s mellow and woody (pun!), never harsh and never uncontrollably boomy. No wonder many people love them slope D’s in the studio. The top has a hand scalloped spruce X-bracing, and is made of solid AA grade sitka spruce. In reality, it means that the grain is fairly straight and tight. Up until the part behind the bridge, where the grain lines move towards the center slightly. I’m not too picky about wood grain, so it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it gives the guitar some individual character. The back and sides are laminated mahogany. This should alarm acoustic guitar snobs, but the truth is, you won’t notice it in the sound. Check out Russ Barenberg; his main guitar is a 40s J-45, with laminated maple (!) back and sides. That fine old thing sounds pretty darn good, just like it should. The guitar, too.

The one bridge pin that got away

Anyway, the RAJ-16 has a straight, rectangular bridge. It’s again like on old school Jumbos. The bridge is well glued to the top, there’s an ever so slightly visible glue-line giving it away. It’s good cause your bridge won’t lift on ya like in the case of other, not so well made budget guitars. The bridge pins are ivory colored plastic ones with black dots. The 2nd little problem – much smaller than the truss rod misery – occurred here. One of the bridge pin holes was simply drilled a tad too large, so the bridge pin fits into it a little bit looser than in the other holes. To prevent the pin from falling out, someone came up with the excellent idea of putting a couple wraps of adhesive paper tape around it. I removed it at the first string change, and it works fine without it, though that one pin is pretty loose. The body of the Recording King got the same white PVC binding the neck did. The top has a nice vintage Gibson-esque 3 tone sunburst on top, and the traditional brown stain color on both the back and sides. There’s a light, glossy polyurethane finish on the whole guitar on the outside, including the neck. For some strange reason, my hand doesn’t want to stick to it like it does with other glossy necks; must be the shape of it. The guitar also comes with an optional medium size black pickguard, with self-adhesive on its back. You either put it on or you don’t, it’s up to you. I didn’t.

Slope D – sings with mediums

It came from the factory with D’Addario medium top/heavy bottom .012-.054 phosphor bronze wound strings. I asked Recording King about the safety of using .013-.056 medium sets, and they said I should be okay with them. So I use mediums now, both 80/20 and phosphor bronze (slightly stiffer) sets. It’s been over 2 years without problems. The guitar really shows a difference with the thicker strings. They drive the top properly, especially when played with picks (I use Dunlop celluloid fingerpicks). The guitar sounds okay when played with bare fingers + nails, but it remains kinda soft and quiet. Steel string guitars were not invented for that kind of playing, at least not without the help of amplification. It records well with microphones, you can get all kinds of sounds with the right mic placement. As I said earlier, it never gets boomy, harsh and ice picky, unlike many square shoulder dreads. Midrange is your friend, slope D. For all of you people who can tolerate the sound of under-saddle electronics, there was a Fishman Sonitone EQ equipped version as well.

Won’t warp on ya

Humidity doesn’t seem to affect the RAJ-16 all that much, so don’t be alarmed. If it gets very dry and the action drops onto the line of 2mm at the 12th fret, I just take out my trusty DIY humidifier (wet foam piece in a moth killer’s plastic case) and hang it in the sound hole. In the humid periods, silica gel thrown in the case brings some help. No problem.

All in all, if you are sure you will be able to check it out thoroughly, I can recommend this guitar to you. If you are planning to buy sight unseen, either go with other brands, or I wish you a good amount of luck.

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