If the name is unfamiliar to you then it might come as something of a surprise that Breedlove has been making guitars for more than 30 years.
It may not be at the forefront of an acoustic player’s mind or a name ready to trip off the tongue when the subject of hand-crafted acoustics enters the conversation, but its reputation as a builder of a broad range of fine instruments has been long established.
The company was founded in Oregon by Larry Breedlove and Steve Henderson, both having worked previously for Taylor Guitars. In 2010 Two Old Hippies – in the form of Tom Bedell – bought the company, now established in Bend, Oregon, where the workshops remain until this day.
“Breedlove has continued, really, from the dreams of Larry and Steve,” Tom tells us. “Everything we’re doing today is still based on innovation and customisation. Those are the themes that inspire us. We’re constantly learning. It’s just this real passion to create the best-sounding instruments possible.”
The company’s USA facility now has a team of around 30 builders, turning out approximately 2,000 guitars per year, and its dedication to sustainability is still high on its list of priorities, with the company manifesto declaring: “Travelling throughout the world we go to the forests and work with local families and mills whenever possible. Sustainable sourcing is the right thing to do…”
Furthermore, the company wasn’t happy to base its instruments on the established designs of yore, either, choosing instead to innovate with body shapes of its own. The Concertina is joined by its larger-bodied siblings the Concert and Concerto models, each sleek and elegant in its own right. We have the baby of the family on test, so let’s open the case and take it out for a whirl.
The Premier Concertina CE mixes traditional good looks with some endearing flourishes – the distinctive asymmetrical headstock shape and that deep cutaway catch the eye immediately.
To give you a set of proportions to consider, the Concertina’s lower bout measures in at 375mm (14.75 inches), which means that it sits in between the size of a Martin 00 and 000. And, at 107mm (four inches) deep, it shaves a tad from both those models in terms of depth, too.
When you add in the tight waist at 219mm (8.6 inches) and the upper bout’s sleek 274mm (10.8-inch) dimension, you can see that we’re dealing with an instrument that orbits around the parlour area.
But while the 12-frets-to-the-body also aids the guitar’s diminutive appearance, Breedlove is quick to point out that the presence of an Adirondack top means that we’re dealing with a little powerhouse and there’s a surprise in store for the idle strummer when the strings are summoned into action.
To be sure, Adirondack has a reputation for dishing out volume and its presence here might be seen as akin to putting a powerful engine into a smaller car. We’ll have to wait and see.
Supporting the spruce top there is East Indian rosewood at work in the guitar’s back and sides, and here its dark chocolate appearance acts as contrast to the pale spruce and the Concertina’s general good looks.
We would imagine that if we were to see this instrument in a few years when the spruce has become a mellow yellow, it will be an absolute stunner. The neck is one-piece Honduran mahogany, the familiar grain of this prince among timbers evident along its length.
African ebony is the choice for the fingerboard, with a Graph Tech Tusq nut and string saddle at either end of the Concertina’s 635mm (25-inch) scale length. There’s an LR Baggs EAS VTC under-saddle pickup installed, with volume and tone controls concealed within the soundhole for amplified fine-tuning.
In much the same way as a good dish is the result of its ingredients, the recipe above leads us to believe that we’re in for a treat.
But before we adjudicate its performance, we must just mention Breedlove’s Sound Optimization Process.
No two pieces of timber are the same – even those from the same tree – and so all the woods used in Breedlove’s instruments are subject to rigorous testing and analysis to make sure that every component part of the guitar is acting together to produce the best possible sound.
Every guitar has a top that is thinned to suit its capabilities, and braces are shaved accordingly to form a compatible supporting cast.
Feel & Sounds
We’re told that the Concertina suits a lighter touch and so our natural inclination to belt out a bit of Delta blues is shelved in favour of some gentle strumming and polite fingerstyle. Immediately, it’s possible to hear the Adirondack earning its crust.
The sound is surprisingly full and rich – more power than we suspected, despite being aware of this timber’s reputation. There’s a full range of dynamics available, too, as everything from a whisper to a yell – a restrained yell, you understand – is rewarded by a sweet sensitivity.
We were unable to find any boxiness or nasal midrange that sometimes darkens the sound picture of smaller-bodied instruments, either. The slim neck and generous nut width mean that nothing is out of reach, stylistically speaking.
Through an amp, the LR Baggs Element VTC (that’s Volume, Tone and an analogue Compression circuit that kicks in below 400Hz) pickup swings into action and does an excellent job of delivering the Concertina’s aural charms into the electronic domain with deft transparency. Overall, this guitar sounds rather lovely…
At a price point that sits north of £3k, the Concertina is set against the big league players such as Martin and Taylor. But it’s also in competition with bespoke makers, too; the advantage there is that you can sculpt a guitar to your precise requirements, rather than settling for something that’s ‘off the peg’, so to speak.
The downside, though, is that many builders have long waiting lists to endure before the instrument arrives at your door. But the Breedlove plays the part of a supremely able everyman – and if body size is an issue then you can look at the Concerto or Concert models.
If you’re not particularly a fan of spruce tops, Breedlove introduced redwood tops into the range last year, and so there really is something for everyone within the range. We found the Concertina to be a refreshing surprise.
It’s a breeze to play and it really does sound beautiful, with a pickup that will guarantee a great sound at gigs. We loved what we found here and, if the name is unfamiliar, we can assure you that Breedlove is worth adding to your potential shopping list.
- PRICE: £3,299 (inc case)
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Concertina acoustic
- TOP: Adirondack spruce
- BACK/SIDES: East Indian rosewood
- MAX RIM DEPTH: 102mm
- MAX BODY WIDTH: 375mm
- NECK: Honduran mahogany
- SCALE LENGTH: 635mm (25”)
- TUNERS: Breedlove branded, chrome-plated
- NUT/WIDTH: Graph Tech Tusq/44.4mm
- FINGERBOARD: African ebony
- FRETS: 18
- BRIDGE/SPACING: African ebony w/ compensated Tusq saddle/57mm
- ELECTRICS: LR Baggs EAS VTC
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.86/4.1
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISH: Natural gloss poly
- CONTACT: Breedlove