By Alun Lower October 05, 2015 Acoustic
Alun Lower finds a lot of love this new breed of laid back, all-purpose affordable acoustic.
By and large, us guitarists are always looking for more. After all, who among us can claim never to have stared slack-jawed at some hand-built wonder sat just out of reach in the shop, with a price tag stretching nearly the length of the neck?
Guitar reviewers are no better, creaking open the case of the latest stunner from Lowden or Patrick James Eggle and spending hours poring over the minutest of detail and attentively listening out for the subtleties arising from the latest innovations in bracing design. But we mustn't forget that sometimes a great guitar feels perfect just for getting the basics exactly right, and that's just what Breedlove is trying to do with the Discovery Concert CE SB.
There are no airs and pretences here – no lofty (and fictional) claims of intimate workshop construction, no endorsements from guitarists that are never seen with the guitar after the initial photoshoot. Instead, all Breedlove looks to do is give you an instrument with serious bang for the buck and the kind of playability that any player can enjoy, whether you're a die-hard enthusiast, a kid picking up his first six-string or someone that used to play that wants to rekindle their musical fire. The one promise you do get? That the result will be unmistakably Breedlove.
The Discovery Concert is supplied in a solid, if unremarkable gigbag that's just about fit for purpose and certainly adequate for storing around the house and taking on short journeys. It doesn't get the heart racing like a leather-bound, branded hardcase and as such we were really quite surprised when we first laid eyes on the guitar – turns out it's a real looker!
If we're honest, we're quite picky about sunburst finishes and are very quick to moan about them if they don't meet our standards. So it's with no small amount of delight (and almost relief) to say that the sunburst Breedlove has applied to the Discovery really is a delight. One of the complaints we usually have about these finishes is that they can make a guitar look flat and make you feel like you're playing something composite rather than wooden and organic – the Discovery, however, has a lovely dark, natural hue that enriches rather than distracts, and we'll happily admit we spent a good amount of time admiring it before we actually got to playing. Something about the finish just fits perfectly with the kind of guitar Breedlove has tried to make here, and this is one of the rare times where we would keep the 'burst instead of a natural top. Go figure.
Lovely finishing aside, the Discovery features the standard combination of a solid Sitka spruce top partnered with laminate mahogany back and sides. The concert body shape is partnered with a gentle cutaway, offering great upper fret access and giving the overall silhouette a very modern vibe.
The concert sizing is light and manageable without being too dinky, measuring in at 15" at the lower bout with a 9" waist and an overall length of 20". Combined with a depth of 3.75" it's pretty much exactly what you want with a concert guitar and it feels very comfy when played both sitting and standing. The mahogany neck yields 20 well-finished and fitted frets nestled soundly in a rosewood fingerboard met by Breedlove's ever-distinctive headstock at the top.
Breedlove has pitched the guitar with versatility in mind, and to that effect it has outfitted the Discovery with a second strap button and a Fishman ISYS-T pickup and preamp combo, meaning that transferring from the bedroom to the studio or stage is as simple as strapping in and rocking out. It's basic but covers everything you need, including a built-in tuner.
Acoustically, the Discovery offers a bright, snappy tone with a healthy dose of mid-range push and decent definition on the bottom-end. It might not set the world alight or feature a wealth of harmonic overtones, but then few guitars in this price range do. What the Discovery does have in its favour is a great deal of versatility – the tone is plenty suited to plectrum and finger alike, and the fairly slim dimensions of the neck mean that the guitar should be comfy and playable for all kinds of guitarists.
The Discovery can sound a little harsh when you really thrash it around, but the tone overall is rather sweet and definitely full of character. It's not top drawer but we don't want that to sound like a criticism – this guitar sounds as good as you would expect just about any guitar in this price range to sound – it's solid, dependable and versatile and there are hours of fun to be had.
The Fishman ISYS-T is a fairly common pickup/preamp combo on mid-range guitars so if you've tried any guitars in this kind of bracket before you're bound to have come across it. Tone shaping is limited but you do get a contour and phase switch for knocking any audible nasties out of the park, along with the usual volume control and a built-in tuner. It's a simple system designed for giving you a reliable platform through amplification, and tonally it's reasonably balanced and not overly artificial.
Applying a few effects works very well and the additional tone controls on your amp or PA will help shape your tone beyond the basic offering. If you're tempted to record you may need to invest in a microphone, but that again is a pretty standard expectation with most electro-acoustic guitars anyway.
As we reached the end of my time with the Discovery Concert CE, we found ourselves sitting back, looking at it and just thinking, "That is a damn good guitar". Like the Discovery itself, the statement is short and sweet but tells you everything you need to know. What we have here is a guitar that stands with the best mid-range instruments offering truly excellent value for money, and it does it with a modern slant and unmistakable style that is uniquely Breedlove.
The slim neck, pleasing tones and electro versatility combine for a very compelling little package that has the potential to provide many, many years of happiness and service. And where some of its rivals can look a little plain and workaday, Breedlove's superb styling and the eye-catching sunburst finish makes the Discovery stand out just that little bit more without being ostentatious or showy.
The bottom line is that for a simple guitar, the Discovery Concert hides a certain x-factor that just 'clicks' when you play it – and that's exactly what I'd recommend. Go out, grab one and play – we doubt you'll be able to put it down again.