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This article was originally published in issue #32
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Blueridge is one of America's better-kept acoustic guitar secrets. Despite being admired by connoisseurs on both side of the Atlantic for its vintage-style authenticity, the brand has a lower profile than it deserves. But do the newer Blueridge models still live up to the reputation? Tom Quayle checks out the 12 fret 000 sized BR-162.
Designed in the USA and built in China, Blueridge guitars hark back to the vintage days of acoustic guitar design and aesthetics, incorporating traditional build techniques and visual appointments. The company’s aim is to provide guitars at attractive price points but with none of the corner cutting that can occur with guitars built in the Far East. The guitars have proved very popular in the US where the market for vintage style acoustics is very fierce indeed.
The Blueridge BR-162 is a medium to small bodied ‘000’ design featuring a solid Sitka spruce top, East Indian rosewood back and sides with a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard. From first inspections it’s obvious that the BR-162 is a very pretty and understated guitar with classic good looks. The headstock is a small, squared off design with open back tuners and vintage tuning pegs and features an elaborate but classy inlay with the Blueridge logo adorning its upper section. The tuners are high quality and look superb with the gears exposed, although I can’t help thinking that a slotted headstock would have looked even classier here.
The fretboard features medium sized vintage frets with some lovely and well executed snowflake style inlays and a bone nut. Moving onto the body, things stay equally understated and classy with a delicate and traditional rosette around the sound hole, a vintage style tortoiseshell effect scratch guard and cream double binding around the body contour. On the back there is a lovely zig-zag inlay that matches the front rosette, resulting in a guitar that looks very much like a true vintage classic from the pre-war period of acoustic design.
One immediate impression upon picking up the BR-162 is the fantastic build quality and attention to detail. The wood quality is very high with nice grain patterns and no obvious flaws. Fretwork and finishing is fantastic and as good as anything else you’ll find on the market at this price point and some way beyond. The neck joint is superbly crafted and assembled with a very solid feel and easy access up to the join at the 12th fret. Inlays and detail work such as the rosette and binding are also beautifully achieved giving the impression of a high end US-made instrument. There is no on-board pre-amp system so the guitar is left unspoiled visually by any controls, leaving the user free to install any system they desire and keep the classic good looks of the instrument intact. Internally the guitar is built using ‘hand carved parabolic top braces’ which are the same X position as the early and much loved pre-war designs. This aids strength and gives vintage tones whilst giving the guitar a lovely clean and well-crafted look internally.
Playability is very good with the BR-162 thanks to a very friendly neck profile and whilst this reviewer appreciates a slightly lower action than the factory shipped spec, it is very easy to adjust thanks to truss rod placement under the sound hole. The neck and body shape are both very comfortable even for smaller players and the neck suits both chordal and lead playing up to the 12th fret body join, after which a cutaway would be required for comfortable access.
The BR-162 is certainly not just a pretty and comfortable face though, as tonally it really stands out as something special for the price. Almost all acoustics in this price range are made from solid woods these days but the Blueridge BR-162 sits above a lot of the competition though thanks to its superb, piano like tone and response. It literally sings for strumming, finger picking and lead lines with a very even tone throughout that is never plasticky or cheap sounding. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that this guitar sounds every bit as good as some of the better known brands on the market costing three or four times as much. Corner cutting, it seems is not part of the Blueridge ethos and achieving this level of tone and dynamic performance at this price is a superb achievement. You’ll just need to factor in a case and some kind of pre-amp into your budget if required.
Although the brand is not as well known as some of the industry's 'big guns' , it would be a real shame if people overlooked the BR-162 for that reason. Before you go out and spend a huge deal of your hard earned cash on a very expensive acoustic I would urge you to check out the Blueridge range. You may well be very surprised at what you can get for your money.