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 has smooth playability and sound.
The C25/SMYe (the C stands for concert, S for Sitka top, MY for myrtlewood back and sides, and e for electronics) 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, multihued 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.
Great care was evident in the C25/SMYe’s construction. The medium nickel-silver frets were cleanly seated and polished, and the body’s high-gloss finish was buffed to perfection, without a hint of orange-peel effect. Craftsmanship on the inside of the guitar was similarly unimpeachable; the bracing and kerfing were finely sanded, and no excess blobs of glue were to be found.
Very few new acoustic guitars are as comfortable out of the box as the C25/SMYe, which immediately felt as good as a faithful electric companion. 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. All notes ring true and clear, even those at the very highest frets. The C-shaped neck is ample but not cumbersome, and it accommodated 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. Free from the boominess that sometimes afflicts flattop acoustics, the C25/SMYe comports itself commendably in drop D, open G, and even drop C, making it excellent both for rocking out and more introspective fare. The bass cooperates nicely with the ample midrange and the crystal treble, resulting in a timbre that is well balanced from the lowest note to the highest.
Electronics consist of a built-in L.R. Baggs Element System, which includes an under-saddle pickup and two thumbwheel controls, volume and tone, mounted discretely 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.