Boutique design touches and silky playability distinguish this Baby Jumbo from the mid-price pack.
There was a time when the words “budget guitar” conjured images of a junky, laminated-wood dreadnought with super-high action and non-existent intonation. Improved quality control in overseas plants changed all of that. These days, budget guitars aren’t just good—they are starting to appear with design features that you only saw on boutique guitars.
The hand-built Faith FNCETB Neptune Baby Jumbo Cutaway/Electro is an excellent example of boutique influence in a guitar well under a grand. It’s designed by British luthier Patrick James Eggle, who has teamed up with Faith guitars to produce his designs at the company’s factory in West Java, Indonesia. If the Neptune is typical of the fruits of this collaboration, the affordable acoustic scene may have just become a fair bit more interesting.
A Solid Offering The Neptune boasts all-solid-wood construction: FSC-certified Engelmann spruce for the top and the more unusual choice of Trembesi—harvested from the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia—for the back and sides. The spruce on our review model was high-grade, pretty timber with fine grain and a notable absence of irregularities. The Trembesi was uniquely and strikingly figured.
The simple but elegant appointments include a single-ring abalone rosette and a lone mother-of-pearl F inlay on the fretboard at the 12th fret, to say nothing of gold Grover Rotomatic tuners with wooden buttons, figured Macassar ebony bridge pins with abalone dots, and solid rosewood binding on the body.
The guitar is put together exceptionally well. The interior is more or less spotless. At the base of the neck you’ll see a label that conceals the bolt-on joint. It’s a design that eases adjustability and repair, which, as Taylor has proven, can be executed without sacrificing tone. The guitar’s 20 medium-jumbo frets are carefully crowned and polished, and seamlessly seated. The Tusq nut and saddle, too, are notched and glued with precision. On the fretboard, headstock cap, and heel cap, a thin poly finish has been buffed to a perfect gloss. It’s too bad that the back and sides have a satin finish instead of the more luxurious gloss, which would highlight the striking grain of the Trembesi, but this is an understandable measure to keep the guitar affordable.
Smooth As The Summer Sea The Neptune feels fast and comfortable. The C-shaped neck feels modern—not at all chunky. And the easy action and deep cutaway make trips to the upper frets and single note leads very inviting. It’s worth noting, too, that this guitar feels very easy on the hands. I rarely experienced any kind of fatigue. Even bending the high E and B strings a whole step is easy.
Our Neptune sounds as satisfying as it plays. The voice is crisp and clear when you strum the guitar. And the ease with which you can hear individual notes and shimmering harmonics reveals excellent balance between taut, present bass and sturdy treble tones that aren’t at all harsh. The guitar’s sustain and projection are impressive, though the easy action means it buzzes just a little when strummed with force. The fret noise is most noticeable on the lowest strings at the lowest frets—especially in drop tunings. It’s an issue that’s correctible with a set up, though you might sacrifice some of that slinky playability.
The Neptune is responsive and sounds natural in many settings. Carter-style strumming highlights its robust presence (and just a bit of that fret noise). It shines when used for chord-melody style jazz—complex harmonies sound vibrant and individual notes easy to parse. Single-note lines really sing as well, and in this context you can hear the extra power and presence the Neptune delivers from the highest strings.
The Neptune is great for fingerpicking. Although at 43 mm (about 1.69 inches) the nut and string spacing are on the narrow side, it doesn’t feel crowded. Whether the guitar is in standard tuning, open G, or DADGAD, it’s remains touch-sensitive and the notes cascade together beautifully—again highlighting the great balance of the instrument. Fret buzz was also a lot less apparent in fingerstyle applications, unless I really dug in with my thumb.
The Neptune comes with a Performer preamp and tuner and a Nanoflex undersaddle pickup, both by Shadow. With its tiny LED indicators, the tuner can be a little hard to read, but it does the job. Plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp, the guitar sounds natural, if a little treble rich, and relatively noise free. The top-end situation is easily addressed with the treble control on the preamp or on the amp, and the electronics will do a more than good-enough job for most performing situations.
The Verdict Faith’s FNCETB Neptune Baby Jumbo Cutaway is as easy on the wallet as it is on the ears, eyes, and fingers. It might not have some of the extra refinement of a boutique guitar, but it’s a tiny fraction of the price and, frankly, feels and sounds much more expensive. PG
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