April 20, 2014 by Guy Little
True to its name, Breedlove shows that there is much to adore with its line of sustainable beauties. Alun Lower falls head over heels….
There’s no denying that sustainable construction is a hot topic in the world of guitar construction, with the prices of legendary tonewoods soaring and some companies like Walden even pledging themselves too 100% FSC-certified materials. Breedlove’s contribution to this movement comes in the form of a special line of sustainably-built instruments made with tonewoods sourced in the Pacific Northwest. This is then partnered with Breedlove’s usual assortment of modern appointments, resulting in a guitar that on paper should find itself poised to impress on both a visual and sonic level. But where some see sustainable building as responsible, others are bound to see it as a potential compromise, so the C20/SMYE is inevitably going to have to work extremely hard to impress.
One of the things I have long admired about Breedlove as a guitar manufacturer has always been its sharp, modern eye for design, and the C20 certainly reinforces that belief. The guitar’s concert body shape is practically the definition of the modern classic, providing much of the accessibility and comfort of a parlour or orchestra model without feeling like you’re pigeonholed into a particular tonal spectrum or style of playing.
While Breedlove might not score any points for innovation with its choice of solid Sitka spruce for the top, the choice of solid myrtlewood back and sides is something you don’t see too often with other guitar makers. It certainly adds a generous dash of custom shop desirability to the guitar; the range of colour is simply stunning. Those lovely tonewoods are then accented by a herringbone decoration inlaid into the binding and soundhole rosette – a classic touch that keeps the guitar from straying too far down the path of decorative embellishment. The pinless bridge is another inclusion that adds a touch of modern flair; one that has the happy side effect of making the chore of re-stringing your instrument just a touch simpler and quicker. The body is then finished with a lovely gloss top and semi-gloss back and sides. It’s thin, clear, smooth and discreet, with no build-up to be found anywhere near the neck joint – everything you could want from a high quality finish.
A maple neck, topped with an ebony fingerboard, partners the body; this makes for a good visual match to the rest of the guitar. The headstock is classic Breedlove also – distinctive without being gaudy, and complemented greatly by the discreet and elegant Breedlove logo and a set of tasteful dot markers tucked away neatly along the fingerboard. The carve of the neck too is a very modern slim profile, making chords and lead work a doddle while also letting you comfortably switch between fingerstyle and flatpicking. Unfortunately, the one flaw I could find with the construction is also one of my pet peeves, and that’s rough frets. While certainly nowhere near the worst I have encountered, the fact remains that, in my opinion, the frets should be silky smooth and near inaudible when applying any kind of vibrato or string bends. And sadly that’s not the case with this particular example at least, with a bit of scratching detracting from an otherwise stellar performance. It’s something that can be fixed, of course, but the fact it’s there in the first place is a bit of a disappointment.
Fishman Ultra-Tone electronics are also included, a proprietary system that, while relatively minimal with its range of options nevertheless remains exclusive to the Oregon Series, adding some extra value to proceedings. Last but not least, there is also an included Breedlove deluxe hardshell case to keep your new guitar safe from inadvertent disaster.
All in all, the C20 makes one hell of a first impression, and I’ll happily admit that it took me much longer than usual to actually sit down and play the thing – an inescapable result of poring over every last fascinating detail. Save from a slightly disappointing fret job the guitar is immaculately constructed and superbly presented, all of which bodes extremely well for the imminent play test…
Concert instruments such as these are renowned for their versatility, and the C20 manages to live up to that reputation, albeit with a few twists. The relatively compact body shape partnered with the spruce and myrtlewood combo makes for an incredibly precise, clear and bright tone. Where a choice of rosewood would offer a little more low end and extra mids the myrtlewood offers a few extra highs instead, making for a tone that sits somewhere between rosewood and maple in character. It’s a very reactive and articulate tone that suits strumming particularly well, whilst also catering quite nicely to fingerpicking and lead work; offering a little extra definition on the low strings alongside the sizzle of the higher notes.
The distinctive high-end tonality might seem slightly jarring at first if you are expecting a bit more low-end, but in practical situations it’s a tone that should sit nicely when paired with other instruments. Ringing out each note also yields some lovely, complex harmonics – a real testament to the overall build quality and balance of this guitar.
Plug in to an amplifier or mixing desk and you’ll be very pleased to discover that the Fishman Ultra-Tone carries those tones across extremely well indeed. There may not be an awful lot of control on offer (a tone and volume is all you get), but the pure sound in itself is very impressive and natural, and should suit almost any need admirably. Dialling in some extra low end on your amplifier is a great way of adapting the C20 to its environment, especially if you need to tailor the output to match another instrument or voice.
The C20/SMYE really is a very impressive guitar with a lot of admirable qualities. Thoroughly modern but never gimmicky, it’s the very definition of restraint and class and that quality somehow manages to permeate into the overall tone also. Think bright, defined and full of character and you’re getting close. It’s an addictive combination that seems to ensnare and mesmerise any who come into contact with it; and at this price it manages to stay competitive with comparable instruments from the likes of Taylor, Martin, and Larrivee. The only downside is the slightly rough finishing to the frets, which is a relatively minor annoyance but one that could be enough to put off a potential buyer if the example they try in the shops suffers from the same affliction. Regardless, the C20/SMYE is a fantastic instrument that is sure to ignite the flames of desire within you and inspire you to create beautiful music.