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This article was originally published in issue #17
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The acoustic guitar is very much based around a design tradition that was patented almost 150 years ago. To be specific, the X-bracing pattern that was either developed by the original C.F. Martin, sometime around the 1840s, or brought with him to the USA from Germany, where it was in common use. You decide! Either way, ever since it was created, an X-shape brace on the inside of the top of the guitar to add support and stability whilst allowing the top to vibrate as freely as possible, has been pretty much standard. Other systems have come (and mostly gone) but the majority of acoustics you will find today still use the original X-bracing design. The technology has stood still in many ways. US maker, Boulder Creek, although not a household name in the field of guitar manufacturing, claims to: 'have restarted the evolution of the acoustic guitar' with its 'Suspended Brace System' or 'SBS' as they call it, and I'd have to agree that the design is very interesting both as a concept and in practice.
The Gold Series ECGC-7VB is the company's high-end Grand Concert Cutaway model and features very pretty flame maple back and sides, a solid spruce top and maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. So far, all very traditional, and the guitar looks great with its 'Violin Burst' finish and unique, wave topped, three per-side headstock.
When you start to look more closely, though, the first thing that really hits you is the lack of a central sound hole, which has been moved to the upper bout above the neck and reduced significantly in size. This sound hole is accompanied by a second, larger one on the topside of the body, allowing easy visual access to the internals of this interesting guitar.
Of course this second sound hole isn't there just for show. It's designed to allow the player to hear a much better representation of the tone of the guitar that his/her audience is experiencing, something which any acoustic guitarist will appreciate. Admittedly, it does make miking-up the guitar a rather more problematic proposal, but there are ways around that and, in any case, Boulder Creek has included a good quality and very nice sounding AB4-T Balanced Pre-amp with XLR and jack outputs, complete with on-board tuner and effective EQ shaping controls, to help you get your performance across.
The build quality of our sample model was superb throughout, with finishing and construction all at a top level. The woods are all very nice specimens and are on the understated side of the scale as opposed to all out, over the top visual splendour. Looking inside the guitar you can see the very clever SBS attached to the top at the neck and bridge ends, giving the guitar a very unusual internal appearance, which calls for some explanation.
The SBS is designed around two aluminium rods that are suspended from the underside of the top at the neck and bridge, combined with a very simple wooden X-brace. Unlike other, traditional, designs where extra bracing is needed to give the top strength and rigidity, the suspended rods allow the top to vibrate more freely whilst giving the support required and adding resonance at the same time. Obviously, this system requires that the sound hole be relocated but this doesn't detract from the sound in any meaningful manner and the level of resonance and vibration achieved by the SBS system is astounding. A single strum of the open strings reveals a guitar that feels alive and resonates like an instrument twice or three times its price. This is certainly a very clever system from Boulder Creek and is something I believe more manufacturers should be looking into.
Tonally the ECGC-7VB is a very solid performer, handling strumming, fingerpicking and lead work with ease thanks to its highly resonant and musical design. The real revelation for the player is that upper sound hole pointing straight at your ears, allowing you to hear the 'real' tone of the instrument as you play, meaning I really enjoyed the tone as I was performing and played with more subtlety and dynamics.
We experimented by covering up the sound hole whilst I was playing and the difference was remarkable. Plugged in, the onboard preamp gives a very realistic tone that is rich and clean with plenty of options for sculpting your EQ settings and phase inverting for feedback issues. The addition of an XLR output is a very welcome addition and adds to the professional feel of this guitar at a very good price.
I can imagine some traditionalists being put off by this new design and that the Boulder Creek may well be a 'love or hate' guitar. Personally, I loved it and found the refreshing construction to be both innovative and effective, creating a guitar that really feels and sounds much more expensive than it actually is. For me, this combination of innovation, value and quality make this a very hard package to resist and I cannot recommend this guitar highly enough - it gets top marks.