Boulder Creek is a brand new guitar company based in sunny Morgan Hill, California.
We were initially introduced to their innovative line of guitars at this summer’s Dallas
International Guitar Festival.
The Solitaire acoustic immediately caught our eyes, as
it boasted a ballsy design – bypassing the traditional sound hole on the soundboard
in favor of one on the side of the guitar for a striking look. Of course,
what kind of magazine would we be to judge this book by its cover?
This month, we put the ECR1-B Solitaire acoustic through its paces.
For all of the technological advancements made in the world of guitar
luthiery over the past 150 years, the X-pattern bracing system used on a
large majority of acoustic guitars has remained a constant. And while traditionalists
might wince at anything other than an X, Mike Shellhammer,
Guitar Designer for Boulder Creek Guitars, was interested in scratching
out a new method of bracing that would increase sustain and
vibration. After producing numerous prototypes and logging countless
playing hours, he introduced the acoustic community to the
Shellhammer Suspended Bracing System (SBS), thus finally supplanting
that years-old X.
In brief, the SBS system utilizes featherweight aluminum tone bars
that brace themselves vertically to the soundboard’s posterior, as
opposed to the traditional X-pattern. This new approach to construction
not only provides maximum strength (in terms of supporting
the bridge to avoid collapse) but also allows the top to flex and
vibrate freely. This essentially turns the board into a massive suspended
speaker. If you need more description to properly envision the concept,
imagine dropping a piece of aluminum on the ground. It bounces, vibrates and
sustains, as opposed to landing with a dead “thud.” Think about a killer vintage Les
Paul with a lightweight aluminum tailpiece
and an ABR-1 bridge. In my mind, the same
principal applies here.
The Solitaire’s unique visual style mentioned
earlier is undoubtedly the first
thing you’ll notice. With the sound port
located on the upper side of the guitar,
this instrument was initially designed with
the player in mind, but the end result was
an expanded range that increased overall
volume, midrange and treble, and resulted
in a noticeably enhanced low-end response
(remember, the top acts like a giant floating
speaker). The non-conventional look of the
guitar is quite attractive in my mind, but it
may be a turn-off to some. For the player
that digs a more traditional look, Boulder
Creek does offer the SBS bracing system in
their Stage & Studio models.
Within the first few strums, I noticed there
was an increase in sound projection; to
put it plainly, this thing was louder than I
expected. The low-end was full and thick,
working nicely with a chimey, articulate
high-end. It was apparent that the suspended
soundboard isn’t just some marketing
gimmick – it flexes and projects. The side
sound port is really something to hear, as it
vents the music directly towards the player’s
ear, meaning that you can hear more of
yourself. It could also double as a cup holder
if you feel like having a drink while you
unwind with your guitar (although, strangely,
Boulder Creek doesn’t recommend this).
Friend, colleague and monster player, Brad
Carlton and I were discussing the Solitaire’s
dynamic range during a recent video shoot
and he said it best: “You can hear it ringing
with energy – so many modern stringed
instruments appear to have something sucking
the life out of them, but this guitar sings
out nicely.” The guitar has a great range from
subtle and soft to robust and huge, and it’s
remarkably responsive to the player’s touch.
Feel and Features
The Solitaire I received for review had a
nice, medium C-shaped neck profile with a
rosewood fretboard. It’s meaty enough for
tone and comfort, but not too fat. The action
was set to a comfortable medium/low
height, but this guitar has plenty of room for
any player’s feel, via the truss or by bridge
adjustments. I should note that Boulder
Creek uses a 2-way adjustable truss rod for
maximum control on relief and tension during
neck adjustments. The bridge saddles
are staggered for better intonation.
The Solitaire series comes equipped with a
very quiet AB4-1 onboard preamp system.
The player has the option of a balanced
XLR or unbalanced 1/4” output. The system
utilizes a spiral cable with a flexible, all-inone
piezo pickup. I noticed that it had a
much more natural sound, free of that synthetic
piezo clunk. The AB4-1 system also
features a four-band EQ (brilliance, treble,
mid and bass) for additional sound shaping.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention
the Solitaire’s onboard mutable tuner – a
killer feature for tuning on the fly live or in
the studio. No additional tuner is needed in
your chain and the preamp’s output is silent
while you are tuning.
The Final Mojo
Unless done carefully, innovation in guitar
building can often come off as gimmicky
or unnecessary. Boulder Creek has done an
excellent job executing a noteworthy innovation
that one can feel and hear immediately.
The Solitaire is well-made, in terms of
construction and quite competitive, giving
many guitars at higher price points a run for
their money. Players will get a hell of a lot
of guitar for the money and the side sound
port makes the Solitaire a ton of fun to play
on stage or on the couch.
Morgan Hill Music