The new company, launched by the founder of the EART brand, gets off the ground with an affordable ES-style copy.
Cost: $379.99 from Amazon.com
Overview & Final Score: 6.1 out of 10
I first got turned onto Latitude Guitars by a Facebook group I stumbled upon one day. I was really quite interested in a brand that would launch an ES-335 clone as their flagship model, so I quickly worked out how to get one in my hands. The spec sheet is quite impressive, with a Roasted Maple semi-hollow body and a Roasted Mahogany neck that holds 22 stainless steel frets, an Indian Rosewood fretboard, and a bone nut as well. Latitude loades the SE-1819 with Alnico V pickups spec’d out to replicate ’59 Gibson tones, with standard controls of volume/tone for each pickup. A 3-way selector switch rounds out the electronic controls. Another unique feature is their C+U neck shape, which feels slim compared to the baseball necks of most Gibson-influenced hollow bodies. A tune-o-matic bridge holds roller saddles, a nice touch for tuning stability (at least on paper), and a feature you don’t often see on import guitars at this price point.
The pickups in the Latitude SE-1819 are pretty impressive, with a chime and top end sparkle that isn’t always common on affordable humbuckers. They are allegedly designed after the ’59 Gibson humbucker sound that is favored by many guitarists, but they have a distinctly modern sound in my opinion. It is true that they are closer in output to the lower end, like vintage buckers would be. But Latitude’s SE-1819 has a very “indie rock”-like quality to the tonal fingerprint, with great clean tones and a very smooth neck pickup for rhythm patterns. It certainly sounds better than I anticipated it would, though I still feel like I can’t get a 100% read on it due to the playability issues. Perhaps it will come alive a bit more when I can actually use the first 3 frets to kick out some AC/DC riffs. Overall, the SE-1819 seems to sound a bit above average and is impressive to me in how quiet the pickups are (in terms of buzz or hum) and how sensitive the control knobs seem to be.
While there are a lot of things to like about Latitude Guitar’s inaugural product, the truth is the set-up is just awful. The neck is way over adjusted, making the first 3 frets unplayable. Even after trying to correct this with the truss rod, the guitar showed serious evidence of high frets. The buzz is simply not going away with my easy at-home hacks. It’s a shame too, because the neck looks and feels really good in many other ways, with a slimmer feel than most Gibson or Epiphone-style copies. Even the hardware on the Latitude feels a bit more impressive than expected, meaning this guitar definitely has some real potential if you can sort out the fret buzz and dead notes in a timely manner. With these issues, it is a bit hard for me to get a good read on the tuning stability of the SE-1819.
Finish & Construction: 7
I would have easily given this category a much higher rating if the set-up wasn’t so poor. The overall fit, finish, and hardware installation is quite impressive for the cost. Latitude definitely makes the SE-1819 feel and look more on par with a high end Epiphone product, and I appreciate the detail in the sunburst finish and wood grain. The decision to use roasted Maple and Mahogany is really interesting, and quite nice. Latitude also delivers on the lightweight but comfortable reputation of this semi-hollow guitar design. It feels solid and like a real tool of the trade that can serve beginners or pros alike if properly dialed in.
One reason for the relatively high value score is that many of the fatal flaws here could be corrected by spending $50 on a professional set-up. If the pickups, wiring, or finish were equally disappointing it would be a different story. Those issues are especially hard to correct on a semi- or hollowbody instrument and thankfully check out very good on the SE-1819. You can turn this Latitude product into a very competent and solid ES-335 alternative with just a proper set-up. And the guitar isn’t too expensive that this extra $50 is too much of a burden. It is disappointing and frustrating, but not a death sentence on an otherwise nice feeling and sounding guitar for the sub-$400 price tag.
Good for: Players Who Want To Learn How To Set-Up A Guitar, ES-335 On A Budget, Modification Platform