Boulder Creek Solitaire ECR4-NS Solitaire ECRM6-N and Jumbo ERJ7-N

October 1, 2010

gp1010_gear_1732CREATED LARGELY AS THE PUDDING IN which exists the proof of its Suspended Bracing System (SBS), Boulder Creek guitars sails under a credo that declares it has “restarted the stalled evolution of the acoustic guitar.” Within this bold statement lies a general assumption that the X-brace—popularized by Martin as long ago as the mid 1800s—is an outmoded support system, and is bettered by Boulder Creek’s SBS, which allegedly impedes the top’s vibrations less than the standard X-bracing system. Our review guitars, which are designed in the USA by Boulder Creek, all sport said SBS system, which includes a pair of aluminum bars which are anchored at the far ends of the top and “float” 1/2" below it, further contacting the soundboard only via a small aluminum plate beneath the bridge. In theory, the system allows free vibration of the top, but provides support when the guitar is strung up to tension. It must be noted, too, that a “slimmed down” wooden Xbrace of sorts does also exist, in the form of thin bracing strips glued in an “X” shape to the underside of the soundboard.

In addition to the SBS, each of these guitars shares the longer 25y" scale length that Boulder Creek espouses, the proprietary “mountain peak” headstock shape, and an AB4-T onboard pickup and preamp system manufactured for Boulder Creek by Belcat. The pickup is a cable-type transducer that’s designed to reduce the “clunk” and “quack” inherent in some traditional piezo systems, while the preamp carries sliders for Brilliance, Treble, Middle and Bass, a rotary Volume control, Phase In/Out button, and a chromatic tuner, and runs to your amp or board via either high-Z 1/4" or low-Z XLR outputs.

 

 

 

 

 

SOLITAIRE ECR4-NS

gp1010_gear_1719The cornerstone of the Solitaire series, which includes our first two guitars, is named for the assumption that guitarists spend 90 percent of their time playing with just themselves and their guitars. As such, the ECR4-NS sports only an upper-side soundhole, leaving its broad, solid-cedar top devoid of interruption, other than for the rounded cutaway at the corner of its dreadnought-style body. Its back and sides are rosewood (solid and laminated respectively), and its neck is mahogany, carved to a rounded “C” profile, with a rosewood fretboard. The absence of a traditional soundhole allows the inlay of the “Solitaire” logo in mother of pearl front and center beneath the strings, while the body and headstock are further adorned in mother-of-pearl purfling.

The guitar arrived nicely set up and played well right out of the case, although some fret ends were just a little sharp, and slightly tight nut slots caused a couple of the plain strings to “ping” occasionally while tuning up.

Played unplugged, the ECR4-NS exhibits decent volume and a lively tone, with some accentuation of upper-mid and high frequency components. The positioning of the soundhole—which shoots straight at the player’s ear—obviously impacts this perception, but the incidental use of a large, unbroken soundboard seems to contribute to the sparkle and presence in this guitar’s tone, too, and overall, the ECR4-NS offers a sweet and well-balanced voice. Cradle it too tightly and clamp that soundhole under your armpit, and the lows are choked off, leaving the voice a tad anemic, but it should be easy for most players to adapt and refrain from this. Plugged in to either an acoustic amp or a small vocal PA, the active pickup system translates the guitar’s acoustic tone well, and offers a range of control parameters to suit most performing environments.

SPECIFICATIONS

CONTACT Boulder Creek Guitars, (408) 779-3845; bouldercreekguitars.com

PRICE $1,099 retail/$769 street

gp1010_gear_1728NUTWIDTH 1 11/16"

NECK Mahogany, 25 5/8" scale

FRETBOARD Rosewood

FRETS 20 medium nickel (14 clear of the body)

TUNERS Enclosed diecast chrome 18-to-1 ratio OEM

BODY Solid cedar top, solid mahogany back, laminated

BRIDGE Rosewood with compensated synthetic (PPS) saddle

ELECTRONICS AB4-T preamp and cable transducer

CONTROLS Brilliance, Treble, Middle and Bass, Volume, Phase switch, chromatic tuner

FACTORYSTRINGS D’Addario EXP11 Light Gauge, .012–.05 set

WEIGHT 4.24 lbs.

BUILT China

KUDOS Attractive, original looks. Lively, responsive tone.

CONCERNS Some slightly snagging fret ends.

SOLITAIRE ECRM6-N

gp1010_gear_1725Also a member of the Solitaire line up, the ECRM6-N is nevertheless a very different guitar. Its smaller and shallower OM (“orchestra”) sized body includes a small upper-bout soundhole in addition to the upper-rim soundhole, and it is made from laminated koa top, back and sides, with a deep, rounded cutaway. It’s a beautiful guitar, with the kind of deep-amber finish that so sweetly accentuates koa’s subtly dramatic grain. The look is enhanced by body, neck, and headstock binding made from naturalfinished maple, and narrow mother-of-pearl purfling around both the headstock (which has a koa facing) and the small soundhole in the top. Its mahogany neck is slimmer, with a very slight V-ing to the center of its shallow “C” profile, and the fret ends on this one are dressed a little more smoothly.

Played au natural, the ECRM6-N presents a round, warm voice with enough sweetness to give it a little bloom and shimmer, though this guitar might be considered a touch “muted” in many circumstances. It certainly offers less volume than the ECR4-NS, which is no great surprise given its more trim dimensions and alternate body woods. Amped up, however, the ACUS-4TR pickup and preamp system livens up the guitar’s acoustic voice and minimizes any constraints of volume or presence, while the laminated construction contributes to an electric-acoustic instrument with excellent resistance to feedback.

SPECIFICATIONS

gp1010_gear_1733aCONTACT Boulder Creek Guitars, (408) 779-3845; bouldercreekguitars.com

PRICE $1,099 retail/$769 street

NUTWIDTH 1 1 11/16"

NECK Mahogany, 25 5/8" scale

FRETBOARD Rosewood

FRETS 20 medium nickel (14 clear of the body, further access in cutaway)

TUNERS Enclosed diecast chrome 18-to-1 OEM with ebony buttons

BODY Top, back and sides made from laminated koa

BRIDGE Rosewood with compensated synthetic (PPS) saddle

ELECTRONICS AB4-T preamp and cable transducer

CONTROLS Brilliance, Treble, Middle and Bass, Volume, Phase switch, chromatic tuner

FACTORYSTRINGS D’Addario EXP11 Light Gauge, .012-.053 set

WEIGHT 4.06 lbs.

BUILT China

KUDOS Great looking wood; versatile amped-up performance.

CONCERNS Acoustic tone is well balanced, but slightly muted.

JUMBO ERJ7-N

gp1010_gear_1729Styled along the broad, curvaceous lines of Gibson’s archetypal “Super Jumbo” models, the ERJ7-N also employs the flame maple back and sides (joined to a solid spruce top) that distinguish the seminal cowboy boom box, and takes the theme one step further by capping its slim “C”-shaped maple neck with a maple fretboard. From a distance, it perhaps looks more like a big-bodied archtop with alternative upper-bout soundhole, although its traditional rosewood pin bridge reveals its status as a flat-top. The diminutive front soundhole, body top, and headstock are all trimmed in mother of pearl, the latter framing a flame maple facing that nicely complements the back and sides. There are a few slightly ragged fret ends again on this one, though nothing to make it remotely unplayable, and the ERJ7-N is set up for smooth sailing otherwise.

There is no cutaway here, so we’ve got a lot of airspace to pump out the acoustic volume. Despite the broad and lightly supported top, the more evident bulk of the ERJ7-N’s sound still seems to come from its upper-rim soundhole, although the soundboard itself does seem to contribute some presence and sparkle. The guitar has a bold, full voice, though with maybe just a hair less of the pumping, punchy lows and lower mids you hear in some more traditional super jumbo-style flat-tops. With the more fully enclosed body attenuating this large guitar’s potential woofiness, though, the ERJ7-N might even be suited to a wider range of playing styles than the average super jumbo. All in all, it’s a well-rounded player, and a versatile electric-acoustic when plugged in, too.

Tested alongside a handful of mid-level and high-end flat-tops made with traditional X-bracing and full-frontal soundholes, all three Boulder Creeks proved no louder nor more responsive than said archaic technology (slightly less so, in the case of the ECR4-NS and ECRM6-N), but, next evolution or not, they do offer a clever alternative look, solid, lively, contemporary sounds, and three new voices that many players might really enjoy. The ERJ7-N is a bold performer for players seeking an update of the “super jumbo” formula, while the ECR4-NS is a good-value dreadnought for all-purpose electric-acoustic performance. Players seeking to tip the balance of their acoustic work toward the electric side, however, and who appreciate modern looks and alternative woods, might really enjoy the ECRM6-N’s plugged-in performance.

SPECIFICATIONS

CONTACT Boulder Creek Guitars, (408) 779-3845; bouldercreekguitars.com

PRICE $1,141 retail/$799 street

NUTWIDTH 1 11/16"

NECK Maple, 25 5/8" scale

FRETBOARD Maple

FRETS 20 medium nickel (14 clear of the body)

TUNERS Enclosed diecast 18-to-1 chrome OEM

BODY Solid spruce top, laminated flame maple back and sides

BRIDGE Rosewood with compensated synthetic (PPS) saddle

ELECTRONICS AB4-T preamp and cable transducer

CONTROLS Brilliance, Treble, Middle and Bass, Volume, Phase switch, chromatic tuner

FACTORYSTRINGS D’Addario EXP11 Light Gauge, .012–.053 set

WEIGHT 5.14 lbs.

BUILT China

KUDOS Clever update of the “super jumbo” theme. Big, bold tones with good balance.

CONCERNS Some fret ends just a touch rough.

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