Breedlove Voice Auditorium Review

AG 239 November 2012 Cover

Posted by Adam Perlmutter

When luthiers Larry Breedlove and Steve Henderson set up a small shop in Oregon two decades ago, they began by building innovatively designed steel- strings—guitars that were at once traditional and modern with all-wood construction and unusual silhouettes. As Breedlove Guitars grew, it introduced instruments with a range of styles and prices while continuing to offer variations on the company’s original designs.

These designs are the basis of half of the exciting new Voice Series, in which Breedlove (now owned by the Two Old Hippies company) has collaborated with pickup manufacturer L.R. Baggs to create custom-voiced versions of Baggs’s acclaimed Anthem system that are factory-installed in the guitars. The Voice Series includes three Original designs—concert, auditorium, and CM body sizes, all with cutaways—and three Revival (traditional) designs, including 12-fret 000, OM, and dreadnought body styles, all non-cutaway. For this review, we checked out the Voice Auditorium, which has classic Breedlove styling in a Sitka spruce and walnut package.

Original Breedlove Design

The Voice Auditorium’s body has a 1558-inch lower bout and 9316-inch waist, which is often referred to as a “mini-jumbo” shape, as well as the company’s standard smooth cutaway. Our review guitar boasts a finely grained solid Sitka spruce soundboard free from imperfections and with a lovely flaxen tint. The back and sides are built from solid Oregon black walnut—for Breedlove, a locally sourced hardwood. The set used for the back is particularly nice; subtle chevron-patterned figuring can be seen at certain angles. Honduras mahogany was used for the neck and ebony for the fingerboard, bridge, peghead overlay, and heel cap.

As with all original-design Breedlove guitars, the Voice Auditorium has some special attributes designed to enhance its tonal performance. The top is tapered so that it is thicker on the treble side and thinner on the bass. According to the company, this, in concert with the cutaway (which of course makes the guitar shorter on the treble side and longer on the bass), promotes a balanced sound. The bridge is not only pinless, but uses a JLD truss system—a rod that runs from a cedar post beneath the bridge to the tailblock, which is said to relieve the pressure that strings exert on the top, thereby enabling it to vibrate in a more resonant way.

The smart-looking Voice is decorated with streamlined appointments— five-ply black-and-white body binding, a simple but elegant abalone rosette, a small script B logo on the headstock, and just one position marker, in the shape of a V (for “voice”) at the 12th fret. The Voice also exhibits excellent craftsmanship throughout. The frets are meticulously seated and polished, and the bone nut and saddle finely notched. On the top, back, and sides, the polyurethane finish is polished to a perfect silky gloss, while the neck’s hand-rubbed semi-gloss finish is smooth and fast.

Comfortable Feel, Rich Sound

The Voice Auditorium is comfortable to hold and play. It sits nicely on the lap and balances well when strapped on. Its C-shape neck, which has a 134-inch nut and 25.5-inch scale, seems to discourage the fretting-hand fatigue that can set in when playing barre chords for any length of time. To put it another way, the guitar just feels ergonomically correct.

And it sounds as good as it feels. After I strummed a few chords and played some natural harmonics, it became obvious that the instrument has an intriguing sound: balanced as promised but somehow both darker and more brilliant than expected— perhaps on account of the walnut back and sides. The overall tone is richly detailed and the instrument is very responsive to picking-and-fretting-hand nuances, so I tried fingerpicking some cluster chords in the style of jazz pianist Bill Evans. In this context, the Voice was truly a lap piano with a bell-like sound and a satisfying sustain.

Alternating-bass fingerpicking patterns also really came alive, especially on chords with open and fretted notes. These patterns sounded excellent not just in standard tuning but also in double dropped D, D A D G A D, and open G—a definite plus for a guitar designed to excel in fingerpicked idioms.

The Voice also responded well to strummed approaches ranging from traditional boom-chuck to a Pete Townshend–like frenzy and even Gypsy jazz–style comping. The guitar has an impressive amount of headroom and a bold presence in these settings. Similarly, single-note lines in an assortment of styles sounded thick and authoritative.

Natural Amplified Voice

While the Voice is an excellent-sounding guitar when played unamplified, the real draw of this instrument for some players will be its electronic element, the L.R. Baggs Anthem Tru-Voice. The Anthem Tru-Voice is a lightweight, noise-canceling microphone mounted to the guitar's bridge plate, working in tandem with an undersaddle Element pickup and a crossover to distribute high and low frequencies—an arrangement intended to capture the guitar’s sound with greater fidelity than a traditional under- saddle unit alone. This straightforward system is powered by a nine-volt battery, and its only control is a volume thumb wheel that is tucked discreetly in the soundhole on the bass side.

I used a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier to assess the guitar’s amplified voice. Thanks to the Anthem Tru-Voice, the Voice The overall tone is richly detailed and the instrument is very responsive. sounded uncannily similar to its unplugged self—without extensive tweaking of the amp’s EQ section. The bass was warm and rich, the mids muscular, and the treble smooth and clear. Both fingerpicked and strummed, the guitar was robust and free of feedback and other unwanted effects, even with the volume turned up high.

Being more accustomed to playing guitars with standard undersaddle pickups than internal mics, it came as a bit of a surprise that the Anthem Tru-Voice was particularly sensitive to such transient noises as string squeaks and a shirt sleeve brushing the soundboard—an attribute that will be desirable to some players, because it adds a bit of life to the sound, and seen as intrusive by other players. These extraneous sounds would be minimized, however, in an ensemble setting.

Any thoughtful modern guitarist looking for a fine, high-performance flattop with an incredibly accurate pickup and top-shelf electronics system will definitely want to check out this compelling collaboration between Breedlove and L.R. Baggs.

SPECS:  Auditorium-size body with cutaway. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid walnut back and sides. Scalloped X-bracing with JLD bridge truss system. Honduras mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. 25.5-inch scale length. 1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 5/16-inch string spacing at the saddle. TUSQ nut and saddle. Semi-gloss finished back, sides, and neck; gloss finish top. Gotoh 381 tuners. L.R. Baggs Anthem Tru-Voice electronics. D’Addario EXP16 strings (.012—.053). Made in the USA.

PRICE: $3,999 list/$2,999 street.

MAKER: Breedlove Guitars: (877) 800-4848; breedlovemusic.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar November 2012

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