By Adam Perlmutter
In 1990, Larry Breedlove and Steve Henderson, both former employees of Taylor Guitars, ditched San Diego for central Oregon and got to work on a small line of subtly innovative instruments, made in limited numbers and geared toward the modern fingerstyle guitarist. Two decades later, Breedlove, alongside makers like Collings and Santa Cruz, is one of the dominant players in the American specialty acoustic market.
Breedlove now offers a comprehensive selection of instruments—guitars of all sorts, mandolins, and even ukuleles—to fit any player’s budget. While instruments in the Atlas Series (from $499) are made by a team of workers in an overseas factory and set up at Breedlove’s headquarters, in Bend, Oregon, the Private Reserve Series (up to $50,000) includes singular creations that are designed and built entirely by Larry Breedlove’s brother, Kim Breedlove.
The American Series sits somewhere in the middle of Breedlove’s line. It includes boutique-level modern guitars that are built at the company’s custom shop and competitively priced. New for the 2011 line is the C25/SMYe, a smart, modern acoustic-electric that boasts smooth playability and sound. The C25/SMYe has a concert-sized body that measures 4 9/16 inches deep at the tail block, 3 3/4 inches at the heel, and 15 1/4 inches across the lower bout.
The top is cut from tightly grained Sitka spruce, and the back and sides are made of extensively figured myrtlewood, a locally sourced, multi-hued species that has the robustness of rosewood and the clarity of maple. The neck is carved of sapele, an African wood whose density and appearance are similar to that of the more commonly used mahogany, and the fingerboard, bridge, and headstock overlay are all ebony.
While at first blush the C25/SMYe appears to have been constructed in a standard manner, a closer look reveals trademark Breedlove details. These include an asymmetric winged bridge that accommodates the ball ends of the strings in the manner of an electric guitar’s stop tailpiece, thus eliminating the need for pesky endpins.
The design facilitates string changes, does away with holes in the soundboard, and reportedly transfers string energy to the top more efficiently than a standard bridge. Beneath the top, working in tandem with the bridge, is a JLD truss system, consisting of a cedar post mounted at the same longitude as the bridge and supported by a thin dowel extending to the tail block. The system removes tension from the top and thereby further enhances the guitar’s resonance.
Few acoustic guitars are as comfortable out of the box as the C25/SMYe. The 25 1/2–inch-scale neck has an excellent low action from the first position to the 20th fret and feels smooth and fast thanks to its hand-rubbed semigloss finish. The C-shaped neck is ample but not cumbersome, and it accommodates swift single-note runs as well as extended barre-chord gripping.
With its 1 3/4–inch nut and concert-sized body, the C25/SMYe is friendly to the fingerstyle guitarist, but it responds equally well to fingerpicking and strumming. Regardless of picking style, the guitar’s bass is uncommonly tight and articulate, even in drop C tuning.
The L.R. Baggs Element System includes an under-saddle pickup and thumbwheel volume and tone controls inside the soundhole. I tested this system through a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, and it behaved commendably—the pickup simply made the guitar louder without unduly altering its handsome tone.
Clearly, Breedlove has achieved something special with the C25/SMYe: a custom shop guitar featuring excellent tonewoods, superior craftsmanship, and great-sounding electronics, all at a price that won’t make you afraid to take it to gigs. It’s a superb addition to the company’s American Series, and to any fingerstyle guitarist’s personal collection.
List Price: $3,329
Breedlove Guitar Company, breedlovemusic.com
Photo: Massimo Gammacurta