Review: Lava's Me 2 carbon fiber guitar is a next-gen surprise package
Lava Music has attempted to push the acoustic guitar into uncharted territory with the Me 2. Its smooth one-piece body and honeycomb-reinforced soundboard are made from super-strong, super-lightweight injection-molded carbon fiber, for starters, giving it a strangely alien and minimalist look unlike anything else, as well as the ability to operate in a ridiculously broad range of temperature and humidity levels without warping itself out of tune.
And then there's the L2 preamp system and built-in Freeboost amplifier, which turns the back of the guitar into a speaker, giving you a form of unplugged amplification and access to reverb, delay and chorus effects, whether you plug it into an amp or not. It's a remarkably futuristic take on a classic instrument, and Lava sent one out so we could see how it performs.
On first look pulling this black one out of its travel case, I won't lie: I thought it looked pretty silly. Guitars are usually so organic in their look and feel. Wire, steel and wood, baby! This looked like an overgrown iPod with strings on it, cold and rounded and unfeeling to the touch, a bit of a toy. I wondered if I wanted to get caught dead with it.
Slinging it over my shoulder, though, two things became immediately apparent: it's beautifully lightweight, and so compact in every dimension that it's exceptionally comfortable to hold. The neck is shortish, with just 18 frets along its high-pressure laminate fingerboard, it's slim and nicely shaped, and very rigid thanks to new carbon fiber reinforcement rods running up the length of it. For something weighing just 1.7 kg (3.7 lb), with a soundboard just 1.4 mm thick, it feels strong and solid.
Lava has strung this thing from the factory with Elixir coated strings, 12-53s – exactly what I run on my Takamine dreadnought. They sound amazing, feel lovely and slick and last for ages. I start off without the electronics, to get a feel for the sound of this thing as a naked acoustic. And I have to tell you, I'm immediately surprised. It's bright and articulate and loud, and dare I say even warm?
Lava's standard setup, with its frets Plek-machined down to one-hundredth-of-a-millimeter accuracy, is designed for a nice low string action and perfect intonation straight out of the box. Ticks in both boxes there; the action lets you lay some muscle into your cowboy chords without any buzz that's not your own fault, and it's low enough to make the Me 2 easily playable all the way up the neck. And the intonation is spot on, to my ear, so you won't sound like a clown when you go up high.
In short, it feels like a nicely set up, genuinely musical instrument right out of the box. So let's switch it on then, shall we?
Powered up at full volume, unplugged and with all the effects off, the sound doesn't change too radically at all, it just gains a bit of depth and projection. Bringing the reverb in adds a subtle class to the sound, but again it's not overwhelming and I happily run it full blast, full-time.
The third knob can be set to either control chorus level or the delay on your, well, delay. In chorus mode, the sound phases gently and creamily against itself, doing a gentle but welcome impression of a 12-string. Switch it to delay mode, and you can set it from slap-back tight to an open and atmospheric echo.
I wasn't hugely impressed with the effects plunking away in my bedroom. They sound nice, but not magical. But when I took it down to the park to hack away while my kids muddied themselves all over and got chip bark up their noses, well, it sure made a difference outside. "What the hell is that," one other dad asked me. "It sounds like you're playing a concert in an auditorium." Now, I've been to a lot of concerts in a lot of auditoriums, and one strong theme is usually exceptional skill. It certainly wasn't that in my case. It was the guitar.
Where a regular acoustic can get carried away on the wind a little outdoors, the Lava's electronically vibrating back makes it sound full and rich at a greater distance. The reverb gives the sound an airy and expensive-sounding sheen, and adding in some delay gives it a touch of epic stadium ambience. Super cool.
Couple that terrific unplugged outdoor sound with its light weight, compact size, rugged build and backpack-strapped carry case, and you've got yourself a weapon of a travel guitar, spot-on for a beach trip or a campfire, if you can fit the super-futuristic Jonny Ive aesthetic in with your flannel shirt and board shorts.
And yes, you can plug it in too, if you've got a suitable acoustic amp. It took me a while to figure that out; I didn't spot the jack hiding in the strap button for weeks. I ran it through my little Spark modeling amp, with its full-range speaker, and thought the Me 2's rich sound translated well. There's a dial inside for a body mic, which comes into play if you're one of these percussive slapping types and gives the sound a different dimension even if you're not – although it's prone to feedback if you turn it up loud with the body mic up high.
Through an amp, the reverb and chorus sound much bigger. Where I'd run them at max settings unplugged, you really need to back them off through an amp, because the effects sound huge. That's good; they feel more useful this way. But here you run into a limitation if you switch to the delay; you can set the timing to a certain degree, but you can't set the volume – and the first echo comes in pretty much as loud as the original signal. So it's a pretty damn big delay sound, and that's not always what you want. There's also no EQ or tone control, which you'd find on pretty much any other acoustic electric setup, or a tuner, which are pretty standard too.
All in all though, this is still very much a giggable electric acoustic guitar, complete with some nice BYO effects even if you're playing through the most basic PA, and it'd be terrific for completely unplugged busking-type situations as well.
In terms of other negatives, well, I'm still not sold on the look of the Lava Me 2, although I'm coming around a bit, and the general response when I've had it out in public has been overwhelmingly positive; lots of people actively love the design the second they see it. That's regular folk, not other musicians, mind you, and I'd expect opinions to be a lot more polarized among guitarists. There's a decent range of very loud color options to choose from if carbon black isn't your style
The design is great for standing up and playing on a strap, but it's so smooth and rounded at the back that it slips right off my lap when I play it seated. So you'll always want to have a strap over your shoulder. And the charge port is inside the sound hole, meaning you've got to wedge a micro-USB cable in there and bend it 90 degrees just to discover you've got the damn thing upside down. That's a big pain in the butt – but on the other hand, the battery seems to last forever, so I guess it's not a problem you'll deal with often. I'd also call out the dials for feeling cheaper and more plasticky than you'd hope.
And then there's the price. The acoustic electric FreeBoost version as tested here sells for US$799, with an acoustic electric version for $699 and an acoustic-only version for $599 – mind you, there's a summer sale on between June 21 and 22 that'll get you a healthy 20 percent off those figures if you jump on it quick.
There's no getting away from it; you can get yourself some pretty nice wood for those kinds of dollars. On the other hand, wood has its idiosyncrasies, particularly where humidity or rain are involved. Nice wood also gets scratched and dented; this won't – and while I'd stop a long way short of calling this thing indestructible, the Me 2 does feel tough, roadworthy and robust in a way most nice-sounding acoustics don't.
With its all-week battery, figure-hugging travel bag, rugged build, feather-light weight and gorgeous, atmospheric outdoor sound, I think it'll serve many players as an outstanding travel guitar, and many others as a super-convenient do-it-all axe for round the house, busking and the odd stage performance. It's been a pleasant surprise to me; I've been throwing it it the back of the car and taking it places I wouldn't have bothered with other guitars just because it travels so well. I think Lava has proven the potential of materials and design innovation with the Me 2, and produced a flexible, simple and musically inspiring instrument in the process.
Check out a video below, featuring far better players than me, which gives an accurate representation of some of the different sounds the Me 2 can produce.
Product page: Lava Me 2