By Adam Perlmutter | May 01, 2017
The first thing I noticed about the Breedlove Premier Concerto is how eminently playable it is. The neck is shallow, in a very good way, and it’s easy to play complex chord progressions and fast single-note runs, and to bend strings. And though the nut is a wide 1.75”—the specification preferred by most fingerstyle players—it feels almost like playing a nice electric guitar.
It sounds terrific, too: airy and resonant, with a cello-like richness on the low notes, not to mention a shimmering natural reverb. I’ve only played a few minutes—heck, I’m just two paragraphs into this review—and already I can tell that Breedlove, a company known for consistently refining its designs, has produced another winner.
The Premier is based on Breedlove’s Concerto body, which is 5” deep at the end block and 16” wide at the lower bout. The dimensions are engineered to deliver the booming sound of a dreadnought without sacrificing comfort. And, indeed, the Concerto feels great in both seated and standing positions.
The guitar is built around the classic combination of a solid Sitka spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, and a Honduran mahogany neck. Breedlove also employs a practice called sound profiling when they select wood for a given guitar. It’s a combination of tapping and computer analysis that determines ideal tonewood thicknesses. It’s impossible to quantify the effects of this process as a player, but the projection and complexity of tone suggests it’s had a positive effect on the end product.
The luthiers at Breedlove’s Bend, Oregon, shop crafted the Premier Concerto with care. It’s spic-and-span, inside and out. The bracing and kerfing are smoothly shaped and sanded and precisely glued. The nut and saddle are both perfectly shaped and slotted, and the fretwork is smooth and tidy. The body’s thin finish is rubbed to a faultless gloss.
It’s a great-looking guitar. too. The top sports what Breedlove calls a copper sunburst finish, which is a warm brownish-orange at the edges and a lighter orange in the center. It contrasts nicely with the deep brown coloring of the rosewood back and sides, and the dark ebony fretboard and bridge. The appointments are few and very tasteful. Tortoise binding adds a subtle shimmer to the top and back of the body, while a simple shell rosette and dart-shaped fretboard inlays lend a dash of elegance.
Sounds for All Styles
The Premier Concerto is a superb fingerstyle instrument. It’s got an articulate, brilliant piano-like sound, and really seems to amplify nuances of picking-hand dynamics—which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the strength of your technique.
I used it for arrangements of everything from a Scott Joplin rag to a Bach cello piece to Buck Curran’s “River Unto Sea.” In each case, I heard and felt consistent responsiveness from string to string and from the lowest fret to the highest, and notes cascaded together beautifully with an almost orchestral feel.
The Premier Concerto works just as well, for the most part, when played with a pick. For traditional approaches like Carter strumming, where the bass notes take on a melodic role, the guitar has great drive and definition. Better still, the low end doesn’t overwhelm the chordal accents, which can happen with a dreadnought and other big-bodied guitars. Flat-picked, single-note lines sound great, too. The guitar has a fast response, and individual notes are full bodied. But when I really dig in with a heavy pick there’s just a hint of brittleness on the notes on the first string and a subtle amount of fret buzz on the low strings. These small idiosyncrasies are far from deal breakers, and in this case a setup more specifically tailored to heavy flatpicking would probably help enhance the resonance.
The Premier Concerto comes complete with onboard electronics in the form of L.R. Baggs’ Element Active System undersaddle pickup and preamp. It’s a low-profile, virtually invisible amplification system that doesn’t compromise the integrity of the guitar’s design. The battery pack is mounted on the neck block, well out of sight, and the tone and volume controls are inside the bass edge of the soundhole.
When I dialed the tone flat and plugged the Premier Concerto into an AER Compact 60/3 amp, the guitar sounded warm and lifelike. Its voice also paired nicely with a touch of reverb or chorus. This instrument is definitely gig ready.
With its beautiful design and execution, fine, versatile voice, and excellent playability, Breedlove’s Premier Concerto is a standout flattop by any standard. And at just over two grand with a deluxe hardshell case, the guitar is a good buy for an American-made, all-solid-wood guitar of such exceptional quality and design.