“In my earlier years, I was able to make instruments that were more affordable to guitarists,” says Benedetto. “Inevitably, I was led away from that end of the market, but, thanks to my association with Fender, models like the Bravo take me back into the trenches with the player again.”
All of which implies that the Bravo is an “affordable” guitar, and although such a claim seems contradictory for a model that retails for $5,000, Benedetto’s carved-top La Venezia goes for $26,000, so you can see the relativity at play here. The hand-carving of an arched, solid-wood guitar top is one of the most labor-intensive jobs in all of guitar-making, and the Bravo saves many craftsman hours by using a formed, laminated top made from three plys of select spruce, along with back and sides of laminated maple. Otherwise, it is made very much to the standards of the higher-end Benedettos, and, like them all, it receives a final inspection by Benedetto himself.
A somewhat compact, “thin-body” guitar (at least in hollowbody terms) at 2w" deep and 16" wide, the Bravo achieves other savings by employing a plastic finger rest and headstock facing, a gold-plated metal tailpiece (rather than the ebony parts of upscale models), and a double-bound body (instead of the painstaking bindingless craftsmanship of the La Venezia). However, the rounded C-shaped, three-piece flamed maple neck is the same in both materials and specifications, as are the jet-black ebony fretboard, ebony button Schaller mini tuners, and two-piece adjustable ebony bridge.
From every angle, the Bravo is a gorgeous guitar. It speaks of quality the moment you set it in your lap. Laminated or otherwise, the spruce top has a tight, straight grain that looks three-dimensional beneath the honey blond nitrocellulose finish, and it is rife with golden flecks and medullary rays. The dark-chocolate ebony board makes a delicious contrast, and I think Benedetto’s decision to leave it unadorned (aside from the petite abalone floral inlay at the 12th fret) adds a further touch of class. The flaming exhibited across the guitar’s back, sides, and neck is also extremely impressive.
There are two distinct breeds of archtop guitar, and while both types fall under the umbrella of “electric hollowbody,” one leans more toward the acoustic in design, while the other leans toward electric. The raison d’etre of the carved-top, solid-woods variety with a floating neck pickup is to amplify as closely as possible the natural acoustic sound of the instrument, while that of the laminated-woods, pressed-top guitar with pickups mounted into the top is to maximize the performance of the guitar as an electric instrument—albeit with a hint of the air and grace of a hollowbody. Gibson, the inventor of the archtop guitar, embraced the latter parameters in 1949, when it introduced its groundbreaking ES-175, and the Bravo is definitely in the same camp. The Bravo’s parallel spruce bracing, rather than the X-bracing of most of today’s finest acoustic archtops, further enhances the rigidity, punch, and “electrified” nature of the design, although it’s nice to see the laminated spruce here rather than the traditional maple—a detail that Benedetto says maintains a visual link with his carved-top guitars.
The standard Benedetto neck has a relatively wide, thin profile (the 1e" nut width is partnered with neck depths of 26/32" at the first fret, 29/32" at the ninth, and a 12" radius), but its smooth curve and tapered shoulders fit nicely in the hand, and I didn’t experience any of the cramping that might intrude with some really skinny necks. The setup and intonation are flawless, and the medium-high action yields plenty of ring, along with an easy playability up and down the neck. Strummed unplugged, the Bravo has a decent blend of warmth and sparkle, and reasonable volume, too, but this guitar was made to be amplified.
Through a Fender Twin Reverb, the Bravo attains an easy depth, clarity, and richness that point you directly toward Coolsville, but this is absolutely not a one-trick guitar. The air, body, and overall creaminess of tone provide the character and warm presence to pull off solo chord-melody arrangements with aplomb, while there’s still enough snap, sizzle, and articulation to carry you front and center of a band mix. While the Bravo’s voice is generally well balanced, there’s an emphasis on the low and low-mid registers, but a useful degree of harmonic sparkle—as well as an absence of boominess—keep these frequencies from overpowering the sound. The only flaw I could find with this instrument, and it’s a slight one, was a minor drop in output level of the wound G-string, which was easily alleviated by raising the appropriate polepiece.
For crossover stylings, the Bravo also makes a fine electrified blues alternative through a cranked Dr. Z Z-28 or tweed Fender Tremolux, and if you add a distortion pedal to the signal chain, there’s even some hard-rock fun to be had. At any advanced volume level, however, feedback howl is always crouching over your shoulder—especially in a small room.
Make no mistake, the Bravo—which feels a little steeply priced for a laminated-wood instrument—doesn’t have the sylvan, multi-dimensional timbre or tonal succulence of Benedetto’s Manhattan, Fratello, or La Venezia models, but it gets you a portion of the Benedetto pedigree, and that’s still a pretty sweet deal.
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