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This article was originally published in issue #3
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Recent years have seen Breedlove become one of the top-selling quality acoustic guitar brands in the USA. But if you fancy a Breedlove and don't quite have that much cash to hand, there is another way of getting your hands on that distinctive styling. Jamie Humphries reviews the Korean-built Stage C25/SRe.
It's common these days for American guitar manufacturers to offer more affordable models built in countries like Korea, China or Indonesia. Inevitably, it raises a question in the buyer's mind as to whether he is getting a poorer quality instrument, but the rapid pace of change in guitar manufacturing means that what was once seen as a cheap source of labour can, almost overnight, be transformed and the best Korean factories now produce guitars as good as any, which means it's best to leave your prejudices at the shop door when buying a new guitar these days!
Breedlove is known for its high quality instruments including guitars, basses and mandolins, handmade in Bend, Oregon and designed by Kim Breedlove himself. Until 2003 all Breedloves were made in the USA but in that year the company launched its Atlas series of Korean-made instruments. US Breedloves offer some very distinctive ideas to match their looks (they're a far cry from the usual Martin clones) and the Atlas models feature traditional bracing designs but maintain the distinctive looks and the unique Breedlove bridge truss system (which is claimed to counterbalance the top and increase sustain) across a range that comes in Stage, Studio, Solo and Retro models and includes six-string Concerts, Dreadnoughts and Jumbos, twelve-string Concerts and Jumbos and four and five-string acoustic basses.
Importantly, a lot of work was done on getting the electrics right, Breedlove says, notably with L.R. Baggs, who developed his Stage Pro Element pickup system for the range.
OK, so on to the guitar! Straight out of the box this instrument has a vibrant tone and feel. The guitar features a deep concert style body with what Breedlove describe as a soft cutaway. The top is made from AAA Sitka spruce matched with with rosewood back and sides. The neck, fingerboard and headstock are also made from rosewood, with the fingerboard embellished with abalone inlays, giving this instrument a striking finish. The truss rod is situated in the sound hole for easy and quick neck adjustment; no fiddling around removing a truss rod cover at the headstock! The neck also has a satin finish, which I am personally a big fan of. This means the neck is not sticky, giving it a comfortable played-in feel. The finishing of the frets was also very good; no sharp edges, or high spots, a great set-up out of the box, which is always very encouraging to see and, surprisingly, not always the case with review instruments!
The Breedlove's sound acoustically was bright and loud, with a lush bottom end, and sparkling highs. This instrument really has a high-end sound and feel to it, and would record beautifully if mic'd up.
Now let's move onto the electronics. The L.R. Baggs pickup and preamp system has the controls situated on the side, top position when the instrument is being held in a playing position. They include volume and EQ to help tailor your sound and also to cut unwanted frequencies to eliminate feedback. A full demonstration and explanation of the electronics can be found in my demo video. A very useful addition to the control panel is the inclusion of a chromatic tuner. I'm always a little unsure of built-in tuners, as regards to their accuracy and also how visible they are but this tuner works great, is very accurate, and also has a clear visual display. Once again a full demonstration of the tuner can be seen in our video.
So did I like it? I found this Breedlove to be a very well made and set-up guitar that felt and sounded great straight out of the box. I also think it's is visually stunning. Never mind that it isn't built in Bend, Oregon, because Breedlove says all its Atlas series models are shipped there to be properly inspected and set-up, before they are shipped: so maybe that explains why this was such a high quality instrument?
The guitar was comfortable to hold, with a fast and very smooth feeling neck. Its includes a very high quality pickup and preamp system. Is it value for money? Well it's not cheap. It inhabits a small part of the market where you just start to see instruments from the big names in US acoustic guitars, like low-end Martins and Taylors, as well as Takamines and others of that ilk. Certainly, this Breedlove is their match and can stand comparison with anything at that price that we've yet seen. All guitars are personal, though, so you need to audition as many as you can. Just make sure you include this one on your list! I'd add that it comes with a deluxe fitted hard shell case, which you need to consider. If you are a serious acoustic guitarist in the market for a higher quality instrument a league above the usual mass-produced models, then this guitar may be the instrument for you. it could be (Breed)love at first sight. Sorry!