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Jeff Babicz, President of Babicz Guitars and builder of this instrument, makes guitars that are meant to be played, and the Custom Koa Signature D’esque is packed with features that strongly define that philosophy.
I''ve never been a big fan of "museum piece" guitars. You know the type: beautiful, expensive guitars made with incredibly rare woods, sporting exotic inlays that are so precious their owners are afraid to take them out and really play them. When I first opened the custom embroidered case of the Babicz Custom Koa D''esque and saw nothing but perfectly finished koa, ebony and mahogany, I assumed that I was looking at just such a museum piece. Upon closer inspection, however, I was happy to see that my initial impression couldn''t have been more wrong.
Jeff Babicz, President of Babicz Guitars and builder of this instrument, makes guitars that are meant to be played, and the Custom Koa Signature D''esque is packed with features that strongly define that philosophy. From the Fishman Ellipse Aura pickup system to the secondary soundhole in the upper bout to the patented neck adjustment system, this guitar screams play me. One of the most impressive things about the guitar is that while it''s made entirely of high-end materials and could be considered a bit pricey for some - $8,000 as tested - most of the design innovations and features employed here are available in Babicz'' production guitars at prices accessible to almost any player.
While it would be impossible to overstate the beauty of this guitar or its impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail, the thing that really knocked me out about the Babicz has more to do with the way it''s designed than what it''s made of. Almost every feature on Babicz'' acoustic guitars has been rethought and designed to address the inherent problems with traditional acoustic guitar lutherie. The splayed string anchoring system, the lateral compression soundboard, the split bridge/string retaining system, the soundboard bracing pattern and the fully adjustable neck height system are all Babicz innovations that help the guitars sound great and play beautifully.
Neck & Body
It took me a little while to get used to the concept of being able to adjust the neck height on an acoustic guitar. Generally speaking, making adjustments to an acoustic outside of tweaking the truss rod are usually best left to professionals. However, the Babicz Continually Adjustable Neck makes neck height adjustments a snap for anyone. Simply put the hex key (conveniently attached to the back of the headstock) into the hole at the base of the neck heel and turn it until the neck reaches the desired height - that''s it. I was easily able to set the D''esque up with a super low string action that facilitated fast lead runs and quick chord changes. Alternately, with just a few more turns in the opposite direction, I was able to drop the neck back down to obtain a higher string height that was ideal for playing slide. Amazing! This neck system is incredibly stable and the adjustments had no effect on either the tuning or the scale length.
Another benefit of this system is that since the neck is not attached to the soundboard, it is able to resonate more freely than on conventionally constructed acoustics. This design also allowed Babicz to make the neck contour thinner with a zero taper. Because there was no need to employ a radius taper to add strength at the neck joint, the Babicz neck has an even radius throughout, translating into one of the smoothest and easiest-to-play acoustics I''ve ever come across - feeling almost like an electric. Access to the top frets is uncompromised; in fact, it''s as easy to play above the 12th fret as it is to play on the first fret.
I definitely enjoyed the size and shape of the D''esque, offering a big enough shape to provide a full, round-bottomed sound while still being very comfortable to play. The top, back and sides of the D''esque are all made of Hawaiian koa; even the front and back of the headstock features koa veneers. The grain pattern is absolutely beautiful and the finish is top-notch throughout. The neck is made from a solid piece of Honduran mahogany with a gorgeous ebony fingerboard. The tuning machine knobs, bridge/string guide and binding are all ebony, providing a very classy touch, worthy of the koa it adorns. However, for all of its beauty the D''esque is not overly ornate, instead using Paua abalone in dot shapes on the neck, brass dots for the side markers and mother of pearl for the Babicz logo - that''s it!
Soundboard & Bridge
One of the most identifiable features of a Babicz is the location of the string anchors, which are splayed across the back of the soundboard near the perimeter of the guitar, contributing to the instrument''s distinctive look. Their placement is once more a case of form following function in that they hold the strings to the soundboard and not the bridge, allowing the soundboard to resonate more freely and produce more volume with greater projection, resulting in a more focused sound.
Since the string tension normally focused on the center of the soundboard is distributed more evenly along the edge of the guitar, traditional X-bracing, which can limit the soundboard''s vibration, is no longer necessary. The D''esque employs hand-tuned, antique Adirondack spruce braces in an "A" type pattern.
Another innovative component of the Babicz is the Split Bridge setup, which combines a beautiful ebony bridge and companion string retainer. With this design, the bridge and the string retainer work in conjunction to create a more direct, downward string force on the bridge. By design, normal acoustic bridges cause more rotational force on the bridge and can limit soundboard movement. With the Babicz system, these limitations are sidestepped.
The bridge is anchored to the soundboard via three small hex screws that are attached in a way that affords enough movement of the bridge angle to fine-tune intonation. Again, the player is able to tweak the feel and playability of this instrument without getting major work done by a professional. It is amazing how easy it is to dial in your dream acoustic guitar setup on this guitar.
The D''esque features a Fishman Ellipse Aura, which is a "blend" type system that allows the user to combine a straight piezo signal with a signal that has been processed with digital microphone imaging technology. These images are based on famous, world-class microphones and produce remarkably realistic guitar tones. The Ellipse Aura allows you to access up to four onboard mic models, but you can go to the Aura Gallery at fishman.com and download other mic models to your guitar, via the mini-USB connector on the pickup system. I would have liked to be able to have more than four mic models available on the guitar at one time, but by blending in the straight piezo signal, guitarists will still be able to dial in a wide variety of tones. The Ellipse Aura also features a built-in feedback eliminator, phase switch and low frequency boost switch, allowing players to even further tailor their tone.
The shape of the control surface itself is a semi-circle that was designed to be installed in the soundhole of a conventional acoustic by attaching directly to the soundboard. At this point of the review, you''ve probably realized that Jeff Babicz is no fan of attaching things to the soundboard. Instead, he chose to mount the system just inside the secondary sound hole. This took a little getting used to and was perhaps not the most elegant solution, but once I played it for a while, it felt perfectly natural and making adjustments on the fly was not a problem at all.
The best thing about this pickup system is that it delivers microphone-quality tones without having an open condenser microphone in the guitar. Because of this, the level of gain achievable before feedback is very, very high, making the guitar perfect for live settings, regardless of stage volume. The only thing I had difficulty with was the lack of any EQ control outside of the low frequency boost switch.
The Final Mojo
The D''esque is an amazing instrument, offering an unparalleled level of flexibility, playability and beauty that can work for any style of player. The sound of this guitar is great both acoustically and amplified, with a well defined low-end and a brilliant, bell-like tone in the mids and highs. The D''esque is a perfect guitar for recording or playing live and would make an amazing addition to anyone''s collection. It might be out of the price range for some, but its performance and looks ably justify its cost. Bottom line: It sounds and feels great in addition to being beautiful. I''ll take two.
Babicz Signature Series Ltd.
as tested $8000
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