From the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
One run through Mary Flowers’ “My Bluebird,” a blues in G major, finds Breedlove’s Concert Koa to be well-suited for fingerpicking. Same with J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze,” with its classic shuffle pattern. The guitar’s ample midrange is nice in this context, with a snap and crispness that lends itself well to palm muting.
Those are two songs that I had notated in the August issue of this magazine, and the ease and comfort of the Concert Koa with both shows this instrument can be versatile.
You can see why in the construction: It glows with intensely figured and richly colored koa and abalone purfling, and its rosette inlay work. It’s a jewel of a guitar, for sure, and a highly functional tool—no big surprise coming from a forward-thinking guitar maker like Breedlove.
The Pursuit Concert Koa is the latest member of Breedlove’s series of affordable guitars designed at the company’s Oregon headquarters and made in China. This line of instruments, intended for players looking to branch out into gigging and recording, pairs Breedlove’s signature design flourishes with Fishman electronics, including a USB output—good both for street-corner busking and capturing ideas on the fly.
However, my first tonal impression of the Concert Koa is that it doesn’t sound quite as handsome as it looks. The bass feels a bit meek, and overall the guitar sounds constricted. But it seems to open up fairly quickly after I spend some time with it.
The Test Drive
While the J.J. Cale and Flowers songs play well on this instrument—particularly the fingerpicking on “My Bluebird,” which takes little effort from the pick hand to coax the tune from the guitar—it doesn’t fare quite as well on Orville Johnson’s interpretation of “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” in open G tuned down a whole step. Some of the notes sound a little mushy, though perhaps heavier strings than the 12s it came with would bolster those lower notes.
For basic fingerpicking—despite the guitar’s nut width of 1 11/16 inches, as opposed to the 1 ¾ that many fingerstylists prefer—the instrument is responsive to the subtleties of finger placement. Any deficiency in the bass range feels like an asset, too—the low notes don’t overwhelm the interlocking patterns on Flowers’ “Bluebird.”
As for basic strumming in standard tuning, the Concert Koa sounds good. Though the guitar wouldn’t be the best choice for hearty bluegrass accompaniment, it’s easy to discern the individual members of both simple and complex chords in all regions of the neck. Flatpicked single-note lines don’t have the boldest presence, but they do have a nice warmth and also benefit from a subtle natural reverb.
That warmth is conveyed nicely through a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, thanks to Fishman Isys electronics, which also includes a built-in and easily readable tuner. The Fishman’s USB output makes it a cinch to interface the guitar with Apple’s GarageBand, where a recording novice can easily track a song and experiment with effects processing.
The guitar feels good to play, though the factory-set action could be lower—nothing a proper setup couldn’t address. The neck has a relatively shallow C shape that’s comfortable whether I’m playing barre chords or single-note lines. And Breedlove’s trademark deep cutaway makes it easy to play notes all the way up to the 20th fret across all six strings.
Speaking of Breedlove trademarks, the Concert Koa boasts some of the same special appointments as its much costlier US-made counterparts. There’s the Breedlove Bridge Truss, a rod that extends from under the bridge to the tail block, lightening the load on the top and allowing it to vibrate more excitedly. The guitar’s pinless bridge makes string changing easier while doing away with the six holes normally drilled into the soundboard to accept the bridge. The Concert Koa allows players to get these features at a fraction of the price of one of Breedlove’s domestic offerings, as well as the opportunity to purchase an affordable solid-koa top. The Pursuit’s sound may not be as refined as its Breedlove counterparts, but it’s an impressive gateway instrument for a player who’s venturing out of beginner territory and ready to gig and record.