When I first started playing guitar, I always wanted something different. I didn’t want to play the same guitars that everybody else played. I guess on some level I knew then that having an identity on the guitar was one of the trickiest things to come by, and a unique instrument would get me one step closer. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the reason so many players choose the same instruments is because those instruments are awesome, and I’ve added a few tried and true classics to my collection. But I never completely lost that desire to play something unique. That’s part of the reason I wanted to check out the Babicz line of acoustics. I was intrigued by the way the strings splayed out over the guitar’s top, creating a look that was reminiscent of bike spokes or bridge cables. And although that may be the most noticeable feature of these instruments, it’s clear that Babicz has a lot of unique ideas going on.
Babicz Jumbo Rosewood Cutaway
The Jumbo Rosewood Cutaway ($1,895 retail as tested with L.R. Baggs iMix system/$1,515 street) is part of Babicz’s Identity Series of handcrafted acoustics built in Indonesia. Aside from the obvious visual component of the Jumbo Cutaway—the array of strings anchored around the guitar’s lower bout—there are plenty of other cool cosmetic features. The solid spruce soundboard looks sweet. The gloss-finished solid rosewood back and sides are beautifully rich, as is the use of rosewood for the headstock overlay, bridge, and string retainer. The black tuning machines and string anchors bring a rock-and-roll toughness to the Jumbo Cutaway.
Structurally, there is a lot going on with this guitar. Let’s look first at the way the it’s strung. Rather than a standard bridge, Babicz guitars employ an “Adjustable Torque Reducing Split Bridge.” The design is meant to address what Jeff Babicz sees as drawbacks to traditional designs. Basically, the strings don’t terminate at the bridge, which is what causes the bellying effect on acoustic tops. Instead, the strings pass over the bridge, through the string retainer (which in turn puts downward pressure on the bridge), and on to the string anchors on the lower bout. Attaching the strings to the top not only looks bitchin’, it also spreads out the string pull to the entire soundboard—not just the center, which is actually the weakest part of the top. This method also allows Babicz to employ much lighter bracing—bracing that can be designed for sonic, rather than structural, considerations. This results in a soundboard that can move more freely for better tonal balance and truer bass response.
If that’s not forward-thinking enough for you, there’s the Continually Adjustable Neck. Anyone who has tried to adjust the action on an acoustic knows that it can be a risky, invasive procedure. Lowering the saddle changes the tone and resetting the neck can only be done by a skilled pro. What Babicz has done is to give players the ability to change their action on the fly with an ordinary Allen wrench. Not to be confused with the trussrod adjustment (which these guitars also feature), using this Allen wrench at the neck heel moves the neck up and down in relation to the strings. There is no change in neck angle and thus no real change in pitch. It really works. In a matter of seconds, I took the Jumbo Cutaway from a robust strummer to a low-action flatpicking shred machine. I took the action so low that it buzzed and then cranked it up high enough to play slide. It’s really amazing and the handy clamp to hold the Allen wrench on the back of the headstock takes me back to my Floyd Rose days—yeah!
So enough about all the high-tech stuff—how does this guitar sound? In a word, great. The Jumbo Cutaway has a full, clear voice with excellent balance. It has a present, articulate sound with uncommon clarity from string to string. Maybe because of the neck design or the string arrangement, this guitar has incredible sustain, particularly in the upper register. On the Babicz website, he talks about avoiding the “dreaded fretboard ‘dropoff’” past the neck/body joint and that problem certainly seems to be solved here.
The Jumbo Cutaway sports the L.R. Baggs iMix pickup/preamp system, making it a great gigging guitar. In fact, when you plug in, the adjustable neck becomes an even cooler feature. I found that a lower action, when played with a light touch, made for a great amplified acoustic tone that was easy on the hands. But whether you play it as a straight acoustic or plug it in, this guitar rocks. Very cool.
Babicz Signature D’esque
The D’esque ($9,995 retail/street N/A) represents Babicz’s high-end Signature Series and they do a great job of presenting this beautiful instrument in the most flattering light. First you have the bomb-proof hardshell case that appears to be covered in faux rhino skin. Open it up and there’s gorgeous purple velvet on the inside that would have made a great coffin for Elvis when he (allegedly) died. There’s a temperature/hygrometer gauge inside to ensure that the D’esque is comfy.
The body shape is similar to a dreadnought (which explains the name, as in “dreadnought-esque”) but with a narrower waist, smaller upper bout, and a rounded lower bout. Visually speaking, this guitar is simply stunning. Everything about it is top-notch, from the German spruce top (with a nitrocellulose, high-gloss lacquer finish) to the figured Brazilian rosewood back, sides, and headstock veneer to the one-piece Honduran mahogany neck, this is one of the sweetest looking acoustics I’ve ever seen. The tortoiseshell binding is luscious and the abalone inlay is very classy. The gold Grover locking tuners (with ebony buttons) reinforce the notion that this is a serious, high-end instrument.
The D’esque is sonically beautiful as well. It’s loud and full and has a very present quality, helped out by the awesome side port that serves as your own personal monitor. Compared to the Identity, I hear more highs, more lows, and more volume out of the D’esque. It’s inspiring to play, with a clear, distinct voice that works great for fingerpicking or strumming. A term some testers used was “modern” to describe the D’esque’s timbres, and that seems fitting. Certain passages have a clarity on this guitar that I had a hard time matching on other acoustics—almost like a 6-string high-definition TV.
I once again had a blast raising and lowering the neck on the D’esque and I discovered another cool thing: Babicz’s Continually Adjustable Neck System makes it much easier to use more extreme tunings, both above and below standard pitch. For instance, dropping most acoustics down to DADGAD or below (say, to open C) typically necessitates using heavier strings to avoid the rattling and buzzing caused by the decreased string tension. Not with this guitar. I took out the trusty Allen wrench and simply raised the D’esque’s action until the rattles went away. It took about five seconds. Conversely, I found that higher tunings, such as open e and eBeABe (DADGAD up a full step)—unadvisable if not impossible on most acoustics—were actually manageable on the D’esque because I could lower the action.
Unless you’ve tried a D’esque, it’s fair to say that you’ve never played anything like this. It’s not cheap, but it is in line with many handcrafted, top-of-the-line acoustics. This guitar would be perfect for players—admittedly well-heeled players—who don’t want what an old-school acoustic offers. Or, more likely, the D’esque will appeal to players who already have some benchmark acoustics in their collection and want to add a future classic.