The era of the smart electro-acoustic guitar is upon us and Lava Music is developing brilliant ideas on its first models.
They include the ME 3 carbon fiber, which is being reviewed here as well as the Blue Lava, made with a high pressure laminate, which will be reviewed next month.
Both models are equipped with the HILava system (HI = Human Interface) with intelligent L3 preamp, and this is a game changer.
The system is loaded with apps that offer everything from internally powered effects (not amp required) to a built-in workout program, recording and looping, all accessible with a multi-touch screen that functions like a smartphone.
Lava has even created a social element to allow users to share original creations via the Lava+ app, which pairs the guitar with a real smartphone and extends programmability.
Traditionalists may sneer, but Lava is squarely aimed at progressive gamers, and it makes sense to merge their two main obsessions: smartphones and guitars.
Lava Music was founded in 2013 and introduced its carbon fiber uni-body design on the first ME (pronounced “me”) model in 2017, followed by the ME 2 and Pro.
The ME 3 adds revolutionary smart technology with improved 4-Mass carbon fiber, engineered for deeper bass and longer sustain.
Lava created an extremely distinct body style, and their totally different take is nice to see. For my part, I appreciate the Futurama factor.
Although I ordered an ME 3 in blue finish, I got gold and ended up loving how the glossy finish added to the spaceship aesthetic of the rectangular body, with the oval audio port at the top.
The one-piece body is sturdy and smooth all the way through the finished neck, all the way to the headstock loaded with supple silver tuners.
The shape is a little weird to handle at first, and it’s likely to slip on your lap unless secured with a Lava Ideal Strap 2 (sold separately for $59).
The design is ingenious and the bracelet is great. Once it’s locked and loaded, the ergonomics of the guitar become quite impressive.
The relatively small 38-inch-long body is easy to manage (a 36-inch version is also available). When attached, it can be tilted upwards for playability benefits, such as Eddie Van Halen made with its small belly block, and the volume from the player’s point of view also increases.
Bells and whistles don’t mean much without a good organic tone, so ME 3’s first test was totally acoustic.
The sound was much bigger than expected, with a bass boom that belies the size of the body. The top end has a silky sheen and the sustain is plentiful. Mids are scooped heavily, as if someone were setting a smile curve on a graphic EQ.
Among guitar heroes, the sound of carbon fiber is most closely associated with Khaki King. It is very percussive but has a more rounded and deeper tone.
The sound when strummed was bushier than the wood, which has a lively attack and strong midrange presence. Fingerstyle notes are precise but somewhat softened.
Carbon fiber is, of course, extremely stable against fluctuations in heat and humidity. Set that neck right and it stays that way.
But there was a downside here in terms of tuning. I found the factory action to be a little high, and the remedy suggested in the manual requires shaving the underside of the saddle with heavy sandpaper.
It would be nice if a second saddle or maybe a wedge was included to increase the action to preference rather than the other way around.
A short scale length combined with a high action makes chords a little tricky, but using a capo at the second fret helps a ton.
The frets and fingerboard are nice and precise. The neck itself is a joy to hold, and the advanced profile with a fine finish makes sliding up and down super sleek.
As for the electronics of the ME 3, all I can say is “Holy Toledo!”
We’ve seen in-house actuator-driven effects on acoustics for some time now, starting with the ToneWoodAmp, leading to Yamaha’s TransAcoustic and early Lâg smart guitars.
The HILava system ups the ante considerably, as it’s essentially like having a rudimentary smartphone built into the instrument.
Access inside the audio port to find the on/off/sleep/wake button.
The only other physical control is a master volume flywheel. Everything else is indicated by graphics that appear on a 3.5-inch multi-touch screen facing the player from above.
HILava offers an immersive experience without a mobile connection, but for activation it immediately asks the user to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi.
Download the Lava+ app on your phone, register a Lava ID with an email address, then scan the QR code to activate.
You’re now a member of Lava’s online community, where players around the world share trending grooves and original recordings created with the built-in Loop and Record apps.
Record up to four tracks on loops and adjust the sound level of each independently. Compared to the acoustic tone, the recordings are a little tinny and heavy with effects, but the app is great for capturing ideas, and it’s handy as the system automatically syncs your music into Lava+ via LavaCloud.
It also keeps track of everything from total play time to your favorite effect models.
These effects sound amazing in this guitar, and they’re incredibly fun, with great graphical representations.
I could get lost in the swirling reverbs, delays, and reverse delays that populate Infinite Universe, Black Hole, and Moonwalk all night long, and spend days digging into the tremolos, phasers, and flangers that form the basis of Lollipop, Shadow and Mushroom.
Even better, you can edit them and put favorites in templates for immediate recall.
Although the Practice app isn’t perfect, it’s really cool. Choose from one of five sections – Chord Transition, Strumming, Scale Training, Ear Training and Single Note – then try playing at a given tempo.
Lava’s “intelligent detection” shows how successful you have been. It’s a fun way to learn and improve.
Even at the highest level, the built-in effects remain an improvement behind the acoustic tone.
But the script switches once the ME 3 is plugged into an amp. The sound of the effect becomes much more pronounced and the booming bass of the acoustic box gives way to the brighter, more mid-focused piezo pickup tone.
You can tweak the EQ curve, choose a line-out only effect like Slow Soul, or ditch the effects altogether and opt for one of the impulse response presets designed strictly for shaping the line signal.
But there’s no overall wet/dry control, and the effects don’t work once an IR patch is selected to make the guitar sound more like itself acoustically.
It would be a welcome update for performing artists.
In the final analysis, there’s a lot to like here, but also a lot of room for improvement.
HILava is the most advanced smart system we’ve seen to date, and it’s by far the most fun to use.
The guitar itself is brilliantly crafted in a travel-friendly size, with exceptional precision craftsmanship.
Progressive gamers will turn for it like so many car owners turn for the Tesla. On the other hand, much of what is offered here is based on this flexible HILava system, with its amazing applications.
What happens when that groovy electronic gadget malfunctions or shuts down completely beyond warranty?
Incidentally, the ME3 is designed more for personal companionship than for big-stage presentation, which limits its usefulness somewhat, although it does open up a universe of opportunities for writing, recording and sharing. .
For now, suffice it to say that Lava may be an outlier, but if the smart guitar takes off and the company plays its cards right, the sky’s the limit.
generalist applauds the innovative spirit of Lava Music and presents the ME 3 with an Editors’ Pick Award.
Check back next month when we take a look at the blue lava.
- NUT: Composite fiber, 1.73″ wide
- NECK: AirSonic 2 carbon fiber
- SLEEVE: High pressure laminate, 23.94” scale
- FRETS: 18
- TUNER: Ultra light aluminum designed by Lava. 18:1 ratio
- BODY: AirSonic 2 Carbon Fiber with Super AirSonic Carbon Fiber Top
- BRIDGE: High performance composite fiber
- ELECTRONIC: HILava system with L3 smart preamp and FreeBoost 2.0 effects actuator, 4G memory, 32G storage
- CONTROLS: Volume dial and on/off/sleep/wake button inside the audio port. 3.5-inch multi-touch display on top with status, menu and app icons
- INTEGRATED APPS: Tuner, metronome, recorder, loops, practice, effects
- EFFECTS: Over 50 presets including: reverb, delay, reverse delay, chorus, tremolo, phaser, flanger, ring mod, octave, stutter, wah, slow gear, pitch shift, shaper filter, distortion and impulse response for line output
- WASH+ APP: Syncs with the HILava system via LavaCloud to keep track of effects patterns, favorite grooves, practice summary, music, images and devices, plus the most popular and trending recordings other Lava readers
- CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ¼” line-out jack, USB-C jack for charging, contact charging available via Space Charging Dock (sold separately; $149 for 38″, $129 for 36″)
- POWERFUL: 8000 mAh/3.8 V lithium-ion battery (up to nine hours of battery life), USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cables included, 15 W USB-C charging adapter not included
- FACTORY STRINGS: Nanoweb Elixir .012–.052
- LESTER: 4.96 lbs (as tested)
- BUILT: China
For more information, visit lava music (opens in a new tab).