What made me go ahead with this purchase was what appears to be a very innovative bracing system under the top that combines graphite and wood at certain pressure points, the idea being that the top can vibrate to its maximum capability with this system, thereby producing the best possible volume, sustain and resonance. There are dozens and dozens of testimonials on the company’s web site by professional and advanced players confirming this. Also, the overall fit and finish and quality of the wood used appears to be excellent. So I went for it.
But in the back of my brain there is still the little voice that says – hey, pal, haven’t you gone down this road before? Over my many years of playing there have been many latest/greatest guitars on the market. Some have managed to gain a bit of a foothold, such as the round backed Ovation guitars. For some reason they are still very popular with Irish bands and some older single performers still used them. I do have to say that in many cases the top wood on Ovations, particularly the Elite series is spectacular. In fact, many years ago I had a student who owned one of the very first Elites and it was a great instrument with good, even tone and superb action and “play-ability.” I even offered to buy it but he wouldn’t sell. A year or so later I bought the less expensive thin-line electric/acoustic Legend and while it played well and sounded pretty good amplified it was a total dog without amplification. It didn’t last long around here.
Some small manufacturers have experimented with different shaped bodies on acoustic guitars based on theories of better sound but few if any of them survive for long. Most of the real R&D comes down to an area that few of us see: the bracing system under the top. Simply put, the quest is to brace a guitar as lightly as possible to encourage maximum vibration of the top – and still keep the guitar from imploding due to the pressure of the strings. This quest has been going on for literally hundreds of years and there have been some good results. Unfortunately for most of us, they tend to be in very expensive guitars like the aforementioned McPhersons and Goodalls.
In the world of electric guitars the design horizons are expanded as much by a search for better sound as by economic factors. Let’s face it, the majority of electric guitar buyers are young men who are at least somewhat impressed by flash over substance, and of course which of their guitar heroes are playing a particular instrument. I confess to falling into that trap back in the 1970s when I bought an electric that featured a solid aluminum neck that extended through the body with two very handsome pieces of walnut on each side. It supposedly had really revolutionary pickups but to be honest, I bought it because it looked very much like the super expensive Alembics that Jerry Garcia was playing at the time. Problem was, the thing weighed something like 15 pounds and was very neck heavy, making it a real core to hold and play. That company, whose name I’ve forgotten is long gone. Lesson learned, I hope.
I guess the bottom line is that there’s a reason Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Larivee and dozens of boutique makers have stuck to standard guitar designs. In the case of Martin for over 150 years, with a few tweaks now and then. Exotic woods have become all the rage and some look spectacular, particularly the ones in Taylor’s Fall and Spring Limited Edition series. But walnut, bubinga, cherry, Tasmanian blackwood and others are unlikely to supplant spruce, cedar, rosewood, mahogany and maple as the luthiers’ woods of choice. Not until supplies of those woods run out at least.
But in spite of all this I am still psyched to see and play that Boulder Creek. The price was attractive too and if it performs as advertised it could be a real find. And isn’t the search as exciting as the results?
Peace & good music,