Cedar sonics mean super value in a smooth-playing contemporary concert flattop.
Rich, balanced output. Smooth, easy playability. Excellent bass resonance for a concert-sized body. Great build quality. Excellent value.
In spite of great overall balance, midrange might be too strong for some. Modern styling might estrange some traditionalists.
Breedlove Discovery S Concert CE
Good affordable acoustics are wonderfully plentiful these days. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for a guitar like the $499 Breedlove Discovery S Concert CE to make an impression. It's surprisingly punchy and robust in the low-end, for a flattop of its size, and uses a solid Western red cedar top and layered African mahogany back and sides to achieve a balanced, colorful, and complex voice. It's also a pleasure to play—feeling fast under the fingers and as accommodating to haymaker blues leads as to a soft fingerstyle approach or rowdy strum-around.
Purebred Ply and Singing Cedar
One of the nicest things about Breedlove's affordable, China-built Discovery series is the option for a solid cedar top, which we selected for our review version. (Sitka spruce and African mahogany tops are also available.) Fondness for particular top-wood tonalities are as individual and subjective as favorite ice cream flavors. But I love Western red cedar's balance of warmth, reactivity, and focus on the bass side of the frequency spectrum—qualities that make it equally well-suited for a classical guitar top wood or a baritone acoustic. All three of these attributes can be heard and felt when you play the Discovery S Concert CE.
The back and sides are crafted from a 3-layer African mahogany laminate that Breedlove calls Eco Tonewood. Structurally, Breedlove's mahogany laminate differs from many other laminates in that the middle ply is African mahogany rather than a softer wood like poplar or a sheet of wood composite. It can be difficult to gauge the effects of such construction methods on overall tone and playing dynamics. But it's clear that the all-mahogany ply laminate is not a liability. It's easy to discern many classic qualities of a mahogany back—especially the pronounced midrange and focused overtones— working with the snappy and resonant top to create a very detailed composite tone and a dynamic playing experience.
The strength and complexity of the bass fundamentals and overtones are a nice surprise in a cedar-and-mahogany guitar of this modest size.
Bass With Backbone
Most of the bold midrange and pronounced-but soft-around-the-edges treble sounds you hear from the Discovery S Concert CE are representative of what a carefully designed and well-built cedar and mahogany concert-sized body can deliver. But the strength and complexity of the bass fundamentals and overtones are a nice surprise in a cedar-and-mahogany guitar of this modest size—not to mention its price category. In de-tuned settings in particular, the guitar exhibits low-end resonance that inhabits a near-ideal balance between the lowest and highest strings. It's a great guitar for fingerpicking, in this respect, but that balance also makes it shine as a strumming guitar. And unlike a lot of concert-sized instruments with similar tonewood make-ups, the Breedlove's output doesn't turn brash or into a messy, muddy overtone soup when you put a little muscle behind it.
Breedlove bills the Discovery S Concert CE as a beginner-friendly instrument. And while that's certainly true, the label might do a disservice to how complete and pro-friendly the guitar really is. It's very well put together. It's a smooth, easy player and feels fast, and if you're not dogmatic about traditional acoustic styling, you'll dig how much the cutaway extends its already impressive playability. If a jack-of-all trades flattop is what you're after, this Breedlove gets mighty close at a very appealing price.
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Watch an in-depth demo of a brand-new series of mid-priced acoustics that use sustainable tonewoods.
Breedlove's new ECO Collection Rainforest S Series of affordably priced guitars honors the sounds of the magnificent, mysterious Congo River Basin—the caws of colorful birds and calls of the chimpanzee. Crafted with Breedlove's earth-conscious, sonically superior EcoTonewood technology, all African mahogany Rainforest guitars bring you a warm, immediate sound with a strong midrange emphasis and a ringing sustain, along with true environmental sustainability! Versatile Concert body Rainforest guitars come in dazzling finishes like Papillon, Midnight Blue, Black Gold and Orchid, and feature Side-mounted Fishman Presys I electronics (with built-in tuner, volume, contour and phase controls).
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Photo by Holly Whitaker
Brit post-punk guitarists Anton Pearson and Louis Borlase take minimalism to the max on their band's debut album.
"There's a certain magic, or trance-like quality, that you get from pushing repetition to the extremes," says Anton Pearson, one of two guitarists in Squid, a U.K.-based post-punk quintet that draws its power from a minimalist aesthetic. "It is definitely a big part of how we write things. We'll keep going with ideas and lose ourselves in them." So, hypnotic, repetitive guitar figures—often edging towards dissonance and played with a warm, fuzzy tone—are, naturally, a prominent feature on Bright Green Field, Squid's debut full-length release.
"When you hear repetitive music, it strikes this inner chord on a purely biological level," co-guitarist Louis Borlase adds. "For example, if you have a thought, and you hear it over and over again, you start to make sense of how you are thinking. That same thing happens with minimalism and repetition. If you can let an idea ride for long enough, you realize that it has enoughscope [to reflect] a kind of microscopic adjustment over time. That is central to the way we enjoy listening to music, but also the way we enjoy writing music."
Squid - Narrator (Official Video) ft. Martha Skye Murphy
Pearson adds, "There's the psychology of the repetitive firing of neurons, where we're constantly breathing and our heart is beating—it's a whole world to think about, which is quite fun. But, for us, I think there are loads of things we find interesting about repetition that we don't really talk about. A lot of how we write is unspoken. If something feels good, it feels good, and we don't always have a shared goal of where we want things to go. We just let them happen."
"When you hear repetitive music, it strikes this inner chord on a purely biological level."—Louis Borlase
Letting things happen—even while committed to a demanding, well-defined set of principles—has been the band's working M.O. from the outset. Squid started while the band members (who also include lead singer and drummer Ollie Judge, keyboardist Arthur Leadbetter, and bassist Laurie Nankivell) were still students in Brighton, a hip, artsy city on England's southern coast, and their first gig was a semi-regular residency at the Verdict, a local jazz club they chanced upon.
Squid are, from left to right, vocalist/drummer Ollie Judge, bassist Laurie Nankivell, keyboardist Arthur Leadbetter, and guitarists Anton Pearson and Louis Borlase.
"I was out looking for somewhere to have a drink with some friends," Pearson says. "We saw this jazz venue that we hadn't noticed before, and went in. The guy was super nice and let us watch for free. At the end, I asked if it would be possible for us to put on a show there, and he said yes. We didn't realize at the time that it was one of the most renowned jazz venues in Europe—it was in The Guardian's top five list of jazz venues in Europe—and here we were putting on a night there. We formed the band because we agreed to curate a night of music, but we didn't have any music to play, so we just wrote a set for that."
Despite getting their start in a jazz club, Squid isn't a jam band. They improvise, although they approach improvisation more like a stimulant. It's how they get the ball rolling, and a big part of how they interact as an ensemble. But extended solos aren't their thing.
TIDBIT: Squid's debut full-length was recorded in a small London studio during a heatwave, and the air conditioning was turned off for tracking. "It was so sweaty," says Louis Borlase. "If we'd done any extra takes, we would have all probably lost about two liters of water."
"Improvisation is a compositional tool," Borlase explains. "But it's also—maybe on a more implicit, subconscious level—something that is very key to how we capture music in the studio, and maybe on a live level as well. None of us has this precious attachment to our parts to say, for example, 'I want to make sure that this certain guitar line or keyboard riff is captured at exactly the two-minute mark.' Jamming is the way in which we find an inception of musical ideas. People bring in ideas—nobody ever brings a song to a Squid writing session—and we listen to what that person has brought, as opposed to thinking about what we could do over the top of it. We very much leave that up to chance, and I think that's very important."
"Anything longer than four seconds is a bit like, 'What's this guy doing?'" says Pearson. "We have an understanding that you should never be attached to ideas, because what's the point? If you bring something small in, let that be an impetus for a process rather than a means to an end. Part of how we get to finished tracks is that someone brings in something small, it changes completely, and we realize that the thing that was brought in originally doesn't work, so we take it out. What's left are the beginnings of something new."
Anton Pearson's Gear
Anton Pearson explains that Squid's compositions evolve from musical micro-ideas brought in by various bandmembers. "Anything longer than four seconds is a bit like, 'What's this guy doing?'" he says.
Photo by Piran Aston
- Fender Duo Sonic
- Mexico-made Fender Telecaster
- Fender Vibrolux
- 1967 Selmer Treble-N-Bass (on loan from a friend)
Strings and Picks
- D'Addario XT (.010–.046)
- D'Addario Duralin .85 mm
Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
Dunlop Cry Baby
Electro-Harmonix Superego Synth Engine
Dwarfcraft Devices Wizard of Pitch
JHS Tidewater Tremolo
Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
The band members were friends first—the band came later—and that energy is an important part of the group's dynamic and compositional process, too. "Our music is a total reflection of the way we interact on a purely hanging-out level," Borlase says. "When you hang out with your friends that you respect, and you're having a conversation or debate, you listen to each other and let that thought play out before you put your thought into the conversation. That transfer from conversation to music is key."
Not that informal, friendly, musical conversations were possible once the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns canceled a year's worth of gigs. That also impacted the types of songs Squid wrote. "We were ready to hit the road, but then, suddenly, we were left with these embryonic pieces of music that were just starting to take form," Borlase says. "Usually when we write music, we tune in to how the audience responds.
"I don't think any other instrument can keep me on my feet as much as a guitar, for better or for worse." —Louis Borlase
Seeing people dancing at certain sections, or looking focused at other sections—that naturally feeds back to us for how we choose to make certain musical moments within a track stand out. We didn't have that, so we sent ideas to each other via the internet. There are certain examples where you can feel there's an idea that snowballed and gets out of control. Take a song like 'Narrator.' [The intense, emotionally grinding, rhythm-shifting first single from Bright Green Field.] In a parallel universe, we'd run the risk of it being less of a mind fuck than it actually is. It starts with an idea and it ends up a million miles away. It is a microcosm of that idea of starting with a thought and allowing that thought to take over your mind, and you end up somewhere else in a completely different state of being. But that piece of music would have been so different if we hadn't been faced with this pandemic. We played it very rarely because there was rarely a gig where we could play it in front of people."
Louis Borlase's Gear
"Improvisation is a compositional tool," explains Louis Borlase. "But it's also—maybe on a more implicit, subconscious level—something that is very key to how we capture music in the studio, and maybe on a live level as well."
Photo by Piran Aston
- Burns Marquee
- Fender Jazzmaster
- Fender Twin Reverb
Strings and Picks
- D'Addario XT (.011–.056)
- D'Addario Duralin .85 mm
- MXR Carbon Copy
- Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
- Boss Blues Driver
- Alexander Pedals Syntax Error
- TC Electronic Sub 'N' Up Mini
Bright Green Field was made with award-winning producer Dan Carey at his one-room studio in South London, where his console and outboard gear share the same space as the bands he records. His production style—immersive and focused on live takes—was key to capturing Squid's loose, improvisatory energy.
"It was the middle of the summer, and it was boiling hot," Borlase says about cutting "Narrator." "The track that you've heard is the second take. There was never any need for a third or fourth take, because so much of it is based around improvisation. We never play it the same way twice. I guess the reason that second take of 'Narrator' felt so good is that, early on, you capture that nervous energy. It was so sweaty. If we'd done any extra takes, we would have all probably lost about two liters of water."
Live, Squid play with the same intensity and precision as exhibited by minimalist punk progenitors Wire—another two-guitar band noted for their carefully knit interplay.
Photo by Piran Aston
As a guitar band, Squid's approach to the instrument doesn't have much to do with the glory days of tight pants and arenas—or even '90s-era flannel and grunge. "There is a whole history you're engaging with when you touch the guitar," Pearson says. "And we're still interested in that history. We're interested in finding ways of making new stories. They say the electric guitar is so successful because it is that perfect marriage of technology and a gestural nature you get from acoustic instruments. You can go as far as you want in terms of electronic technology with it—right up to plugging it into a computer—but at the same time, you still have the gestural nature, that kind of visceral nature that you get when you see someone play it live. I studied West African music at university, and for a lot of communities, like in Mali and Niger, it is still such an important symbol—not just for music, but also resistance. It is still an interesting tool and it still has relevance, but it is important to keep thinking of ways to innovate and change people's perceptions of it, and I think we're trying to do that a bit."
Innovation, at least according to Borlase, may also just be the nature of the beast. "The guitar is as much a cultural object as it is a musical object, and that still hasn't faded away," he says. "Guitar is something that you feel you're saying something with, regardless of what notes you're playing. The guitar is a confusing thing, unless you're super high-tech and everything makes sense in your head. It's this thing that allows you to have a voice and be able to always aspire to those people who came before you. For us, there are a lot of bands before us that have not only played guitar, they have also challenged their own ways of thinking. If you continually confuse yourself, not to mention if you knock into something mid-song and realize, 'Why does this sound so bizarre?' I do that all the time—plus juggling three or four tunings and then using a capo. I don't think any other instrument can keep me on my feet as much as a guitar, for better or for worse."
Squid - The Dial | Stolen Sessions
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The Collector's Edition is limited to 19 Explorers and 81 Flying V's and feature Murphy Lab aging, Brazilian rosewood fingerboards and historic recreation of the cases, covers and case candy.
In 1958, Gibson introduced, and shipped only 19 Explorers and 81 Flying V's. With their space-age, futuristic designs that were ahead of their time, the instantly recognizable guitars are now highly--collectible cultural icons. After three years in development, the Gibson Custom Shop is proud to release these rare and desirable guitars re-created by the luthiers in same limited-edition numbers for the exclusive Collector's Edition 1958 Flying V and Explorer.
Made with Korina and Brazilian Rosewood, every one of these Collector's Edition Flying V and Explorer's vintage features have been re-created through 3-D scanning technology right down to the historically accurate brown cases which feature a stunning period-correct plush pink inside, and brown leather outside which complement striking golden-brown color of the Korina wood finish. The pink and brown Flying V and Explorer replica cases also include a vintage-style cable, strap, guitar picks, and a historically--legitimate pennant of the era.
The Gibson 1958 Flying V and Explorer
"The Custom Shop Flying V and Explorer project took three years to develop through the magic and artistry of the Gibson Custom Shop teams, including our shop luthiers together with Tom Murphy, Mat Koehler, Mark Agnesi, Cody Higbee, and the rest of our Gibson Lab team," says Cesar Gueikian, Brand President, Gibson Brands. "We utilized 3D scanning technology to scan multiple museum model Flying V and Explorers (made in 1958) to create the most authentic and identical clones humanly possible.
The Collector's Edition is limited to 19 Explorers and 81 Flying V's and feature Murphy Lab aging, Brazilian rosewood fingerboards and historic recreation of the cases, covers and case candy." The limited-edition Collector's Edition Flying V and Explorer will only be available in the continental USA; an extended Gibson core run will be coming in September 2021 and will be available worldwide.
For more information:
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An articulate, immaculately constructed Annapolis native that speaks in many voices.
An extremely well-made guitar boasting easy playability, stand-out looks, and super-impressive sonic versatility.
It's pricey. You'll want to ensure you're onboard with the Narrowfield voice before you invest.
$4,660 with 10 Top, as reviewed ($4,000 with standard top)
Even among a stable of instruments known for their versatility, PRS's Studio model is arguably one of the company's most sonically and stylistically malleable instruments. Reintroduced to the U.S.-made Core lineup for 2021 after first appearing in 2011, this new Studio is hyper-flexible, configured with a distinctive humbucker set and modified switching that takes that versatility up a notch.
Whether or not you're a habitual PRS player, it's almost impossible to cradle a guitar like the Studio and not find yourself in free flow—playing away without pausing to think "is this neck right for me?" or "maybe I'll tweak the action." The Studio feels good right off the bat.
It looks right, too. PRS is fond of fancy dress in general, and our review sample is gorgeous in person, without being over the top (a perspective dependent on your own tastes, of course). The "Eriza verde" finish lends a lively, three-dimensional sense of motion to the flame in this maple 10 Top, and beautifully contrasts the dark-brown rosewood fingerboard and stripy rosewood headstock overlay. The natural mahogany of the back and neck display a premium grain, while the abalone bird inlays and mixed gold-nickel hardware add further visual excitement.
The set neck is carved in what PRS calls their "pattern" shape, which many players consider ideal. It's a full-feeling '59 Les Paul-inspired profile with a very slight V, soft shoulders, and an easy playing feel. The nut width is 1 11/16" and the scale length is PRS's traditional 25". Put it all together, and the playing weight is around 8.2 pounds, which is quite reasonable for a chunk of solid mahogany and maple.
So, with many of these features being familiar components of other PRS Core models, what makes a Studio a Studio? It's the pickup selection, by and large. In addition to the 58/15 LT humbucker in the bridge position, the guitar comes with a pair of PRS Narrowfield pickups in the middle and neck positions. Narrowfields have returned to the lineup for 2021 in the Studio and just one other model. These narrow humbuckers possess a more single-coil-like magnetic field, delivering a tone that's somewhere between a full-sized humbucker, a P-90, and a narrower single coil—all with the benefit of hum cancelling performance. Add a push-pull coil split for the 58/15 LT on the tone control and a 5-way blade switch, and you've got seven distinct pickup settings.
These narrow humbuckers possess a more single-coil-like magnetic field, delivering a tone that's somewhere between a full-sized humbucker, a P-90, and a narrower single coil.
Hardware includes PRS's well regarded Gen III tremolo, and Phase III locking tuners. They pair with a lubricated nut to keep the guitar in tune, regardless of heavy vibrato use. Playability is faultless all across the board.
Bucking the Trend
Played through a 50-watt Friedman Small Box head and 2x12 cab, a custom tweed Deluxe-style 1x12 combo, and a Neural DSP Quad Cortex into studio monitors, the Studio delivered the versatility that the design promises, hopping confidently between varied sounds and styles. It pivots from grinding heavy rock to mellow balladry at the flick of a switch. The sounds are meaty, original twists on the HSS range of tones you once encountered on the average superstrat. The middle, neck, and in-between voicings are thicker, fatter, and gutsier than genuine single-coil pickups would be. That, of course, is entirely the idea.
By sacrificing some of the single-coil glassiness and the trebly spikiness of a traditional Strat single-coil, the Narrowfields add extra grunt to near-clean tones, edge-of-breakup settings, and overdrive sounds from a Tsakalis Six, JHS Angry Charlie, my amps, and the Neural. These pickups shine when you ask them to crunch and wail.
The 5-way switch, varied voice of the Narrowfields, and coil-split humbucker mean you can ably deliver convincing Strat-like sounds in the in-between positions, though they are generally darker than a true Stratocaster—a tone signature that's further colored and re-enforced by the mahogany/maple construction and glued-in neck. The format is a great alternative for HSS superstrat players of old who came to regard the high-output pickups typical in such guitars a touch too spiky and yearn for more grit and gristle to go with the snap and chime. And when you want to skip approximation of single-coil sounds entirely, you can revel in Les Paul-like girth and grind when the bridge humbucker is unleashed with all coils blazing.
The PRS Studio provides a super-solid foundation that's defined by great woods, great components, and high attention to detail that closely allies it with other PRS cornerstone models like the Custom and McCarty. What really differentiates the Studio, though, is the pickup set, and while this configuration might not be for everyone, it's a fatter, thick-sounding twist on the do-it-all HSS template that offers maximum flexibility to so many players. It's not cheap. But it isn't meant to be, and both longtime PRS fans and newcomers to the brand will likely appreciate the substance and versatility that investment delivers here.
PRS Studio Demo - First Look
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