september 2011

Scott Ian, Rob Caggiano, and Charlie Benante discuss the long-awaited, new studio release from Anthrax, reuniting with original singer Joey Belladonna, and how an Anthrax song comes together.

Anthrax members Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Joey Belladonna, and Rob Caggiano enjoy the moment onstage in front of a sea of thousands at a Big Four show in Warsaw, Poland.

Hear two tracks from Worship Music:
As Hurricane Irene pummeled away at New York City, the PR team for Anthrax contacted me at 2 a.m. that Sunday to begin the process of scheduling my interview with the band. Even with the hurricane essentially bringing the city to a halt by forcing the first-ever shutdown of its mass transit system, it’s clear that nothing gets in the way of Anthrax. And there’s no greater proof of the band’s tenacity than the story of Worship Music, Anthrax’s first studio album in eight years. Worship Music’s path to fruition was plagued with so many setbacks that its release is nothing short of a miracle.

To fully appreciate just how monumental this album’s release is, you have to understand a bit about Anthrax’s history. As one of the pioneers of thrash metal, Anthrax came into prominence in the mid- to late ’80s with Joey Belladonna as the voice behind classic albums like Spreading the Disease and Among the Living. In 1992, shortly after crossing-over into the mainstream with the thrash meets rap “Bring the Noise” collaboration with Public Enemy, Belladonna was fired and replaced by John Bush, who had just disbanded Armored Saint. In 2005, Belladonna was asked to perform with the band again for a one-off reunion tour. Bush, who was still officially the vocalist at the time, was also asked to take part on the tour and share the vocal duties, but declined. Although Belladonna sang on that tour, he was not asked to rejoin the band. The slot was saved for Bush, but he had quit the band by the time the tour was over. Anthrax then recruited vocalist Dan Nelson in 2007 and began work on what would become Worship Music. After recording most of the album, Nelson unexpectedly quit the band (or was fired, depending on who you ask) in 2009, leaving Anthrax with a mostly-finished album and no vocalist.

Metallica’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame turned out to be the catalyst for change. Founding members Scott Ian and Charlie Benante were having a drink with Lars Ulrich when Ulrich brought up the possibility of a Big 4 tour featuring Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. The tour materialized and in 2010, Belladonna was brought back onboard since he was the voice of Anthrax from 1985 to 1992, the years the Big 4 came to prominence. The third time proved to be the charm for Belladonna—he ended up re-recording the vocals forWorship Music and is now officially back in the band. The album, co-produced by guitarist Rob Caggiano and producer Jay Ruston, marks Anthrax’s 30th anniversary and is Belladonna’s first studio album with the band since 1990’s Persistence of Time.

Many feel that Worship Music blows virtually every metal release this year out of the water. Songs like “In the End,” an homage to the late Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrell, the knock-your-head-off thrash of “Earth on Hell,” and the Anthrax-meets-AC/DC riffage of “The Devil You Know” (streamed above) will quench the thirst of fans that consider Belladonna to be the Anthrax vocalist and who have waited more than two decades to hear his voice on a new Anthrax album. A few days before their Big 4 hometown gig at Yankee Stadium, Premier Guitar caught up with guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, and drummer/principal songwriter Charlie Benante.

Worship Music was just about finished when singer Dan Nelson left. What was the game plan at that point?

Caggiano: We didn’t really know what to think or what to expect. The only thing that was inevitable was that we had to put the thing on ice for a while, until we figured out what we were going to do. We actually got pretty far with the album, all the way up to the mixing stage. I’d say it was about 85 percent done when all that stuff went down.

Benante: He quit the day we were going to Europe to finish up a festival. He quit that day.

That’s really screwed up.

Benante: Uh, yeah. Think about how we felt. That day I had all of these thoughts in my head, like “Now what?” But the thing is, I’ve been doing this for so long that I couldn’t let a little bump like that hurt me.

How did Joey Belladonna get back into the picture?

Benante: I had written some acoustic songs that didn’t really fit with Anthrax. I was looking for a vocalist to do a side project with so I had actually reached out to Joey awhile back. I sent him some songs, we started to talk, and our relationship started to become good again. Then Metallica dropped this Big 4 thing. That’s when we started taking the idea of Joey coming back into the band more seriously.

Ian: We literally just called him up. It was early 2010 and we all ended up getting together to meet. We just sat around and bullshitted for a little while and then made the decision to move forward with this being the band until there is no more band, hopefully.

You had most of the songs done by the time Joey came back in. Did you have to rework them to accommodate his style?

Ian: We had about 13 or 14 songs in some state of being finished or almost finished. And after not listening to them for about a year, we pretty much spent all of our time in the dressing room listening to the songs last fall when we were on tour with Slayer and Megadeth. We took a song per day and then made decisions. Does it still hold up? Are we still in love with it? Do we still think it’s awesome?

After that run, we narrowed it down to the 10 that we felt either completely held up or just needed some rewriting and re-recording. There were about three or four other songs that either got thrown in the trash or just got put on the shelf until we could spend more time on them.

Benante: Joey’s approach to it was way different, at least different than I imagined. He brought a different flavor to it and it was so apparent that we found what was missing. It sounds like Anthrax now.

Caggiano: Joey basically came in and did his own take on the songs, injecting his own sound on them. There were three songs that we actually went in and re-tracked. “Fight ’Em ’Till You Can’t” is one of them. That song didn’t really change—it’s just that we’d been playing it live, so we felt that we could play it better after doing it for a couple of years. “In the End,” which was originally called “Down Goes the Sun,” was also re-cut, re-tweaked, and rewritten.

Benante: I really fought for “In the End.” I felt it needed to be on the record because it was so different than anything else.

Charlie, what kind of resistance did you face with that song?

Benante: These guys just felt like it wasn’t ready yet. We had a problem with the chorus of the song and it went back and forth like, “Yeah I like it” to “Nah, I don’t like it.” It was that type of thing. And then the guys said to me, “Work on it some more.” I did, but the song turned out to be seven minutes long. But it was good because it didn’t feel like seven minutes, and who cares if it’s seven minutes long?

I sent everybody a demo version and that was it—everybody liked it. It has a melancholy feel, which is probably why I thought of Dimebag. If he were here, he’d probably be playing on this album. We would have asked him to.

I understand that this record is the first time you guys were not present at the vocal sessions. That’s a pretty big level of trust especially considering it’s been so long since you’ve recorded with Joey.

Benante: Joey has a pretty good relationship with Jay Ruston and Jay was pretty much producing the vocals, so we felt like we didn’t need to be there. Plus, I don't think we needed to be the jury in the room. Personally, I wanted to give Joey the room and the freedom to do whatever he wanted.

Ian: We got mp3s sent to us every night. We made notes and stuff but we weren’t sitting in the room with them all day long.

Why was Joey fired the first time?

Benante: I really should clarify a lot of this stuff. I must say that back when this all went down, we were all very young men [laughs]. I don’t think we were mature enough to handle certain high-pressure situations and I think the easiest way to handle them was to just get rid of them. Certain people had issues with other people, they just built up, and that was it, basically.

So it was a personality conflict?

Benante: Correctamundo.

Is Joey here to stay now?

Benante: Oh he’s definitely here to stay.

Caggiano: Absolutely—as long as he wants to. I mean we love him, the vibe is great, and the shows are great.

The music business has totally changed since your last album, with piracy at an all-time high. Considering what an affair it’s been to get this album out, are you worried about this?

Ian: No. Why would we worry about that? We’ve never been the kind of band that had any use for the industry other than it being a distribution channel for getting our music out there. We’re a thrash-metal band that started in the underground and we’re still here 30 years later. We do everything ourselves—the same way we’ve always done it. We worry about things that we can control like making records and playing live.

Benante: I don’t think there’s a quick fix or even a long-term fix for the music business. They totally screwed it up and now we suffer for it. You go through all this hard work making an album, and what happens? A certain demographic out there considers it free. It’s like, “Hello idiots. It’s not free. It costs money to make this.”

As much as I love Apple and iTunes, I think they’re partly responsible for a lot of this too. I miss those days of going to a Tower Records and shopping for hours just discovering new things.

Ian (signature Jackson in hand) and Rob (with his ESP Custom Shop Horizons)

Even with your enormous fan base, eight years is a long time between album releases. Were you concerned that you’d lose fans because the wait was so long?

Ian: I never thought about that in my whole life.

Caggiano: Even though we took a long time, I think it worked to our advantage because we had all of this time to really sit with our songs and tweak them. We were tweaking things to the 11th hour and the songs are as good as they could possibly be. I think they’re great.

Benante: I was just talking to someone else about this. The problem we have nowadays is the immediacy of everything. Everything is “get it done right now,” and I think it hurts in a sense because as fast as it comes is as fast as it goes. It has no longevity. So I think making people wait for something is good.

Can you talk us through the writing of an Anthrax song from beginning to end?

Ian: We get in a room and we jam. We arrange it and we just know what sounds right. “Okay, this sounds like a verse and okay, this sounds like a chorus.” And you just start arranging things until you’re happy.

Benante: Either I’ll come in with the basic framework for a song or I’ll come in with a whole song. Then Scott, Frankie Bello, and I will sit in our rehearsal room and I’ll show them the ideas. It grows from there where I’ll bounce ideas off them and they’ll add something to it. “Earth on Hell” was one of those songs that was already done when I brought it in and “In the End” was another one. Sometimes they just come out that way, but sometimes the guys will modify a riff or add something to it. Once we have a start and a finish, Scott will take the song and come up with some lyrics and Frankie will work on the melodies. This time, I wrote a lot of the melodies with the guys too. Joey also added his two cents to it.

Caggiano: Charlie’s been one of the main songwriters in Anthrax for a long time and he definitely has that whole shtick down, so the tunes are in a pretty good place when he brings them in. There’ll be arrangement tweaks or like, “Play this chord here instead of that.” We just mold it into what the band is all about.

Benante: The songs stay pretty much true to the way they were when brought in, although sometimes they’d get altered a little bit.

What about something like that catchy riff in “Judas Priest?” Was that added in later?

Benante: Yeah. Rob came up with that lead section. It was one of my favorite parts that he did on the record. Rob has a really good ear for that kind of stuff and I like his leads because they’re like songs within a song.

Caggiano: Each one of us brings our own stamp to the music and it definitely gets to the next level that way. It’s funny that you mentioned that one because that’s another one of the songs that we went back and re-tracked. It was originally called “Maniacal,” and the original solo on that song was my favorite on the entire record. I was really into it but after all that shit went down with the singer, we kind of felt like that song had a negative vibe to it. We felt like we needed to rework it. Charlie came in to recut some stuff and the song is completely different, other than that opening riff.

Rob, you played some great solos on this album, like the one in “The Devil You Know.” Are your solos worked out?

Caggiano: I don’t really like to plan things out because I find that it makes it sound stale. I like to keep the spontaneity and the fire. What I do is put the song on really loud in the studio and just jam to the track. I’ll do like three or four passes and then it’ll start to take shape in my head. I’ll listen back to the performances and I might like that part from this take or that melody line from that take, and I’ll just make mental notes. Then I’ll come up with the plan in my head and go for it. It’s not practiced or rehearsed—it’s very off-the-cuff.

“Crawl” begins with some haunting chords. Can you tell us about that?

Benante: It was played on a 12-string. I have a Jackson doubleneck that’s like a Jimmy Page replica and I played it down near the bridge. I wanted Allison, the cellist on that song, to give it a John Williams, Jaws effect. That’s probably another one of my favorite songs because it’s so different. I remember being a little worried about showing everybody that song, but they liked it.

Charlie, a lot of the songs you write have very rhythmic guitar parts. Does that come from being a drummer?

Benante: Most of the songs are written from a guitar point of view, but the drummer is still inside of me so it’s a very rhythmic thing. I like to be rhythmic and percussive on the guitar. Honestly dude, when I’m there in my room writing riffs, I’m almost possessed by the whole thing.

“The Giant” is very rhythmic.

Benante: It is very rhythmic. You know, I gotta say if there’s one song I wish I could do over, drumming-wise, it would be that one. I hear it in a different way now.

Then how will you play it live? The way it was recorded or the way you’re hearing it in your head now?

Benante: That’s a good point. I don’t know [laughs]. It may start off the way I played it on the record and it may evolve later on. That happens to a lot of our songs when we play them live. They evolve, they change, and they become something different. There’s a great quote from Sting where he said, “The way we do music is wrong. We write a song, record it, and go out and play it. But after you play it through a tour you’re playing it different and so much better. That’s when you should go record it.”

Tell us about your guitars.

Caggiano: I use ESP Custom Shop Horizons and I have a signature model on its way. Most of my guitars are loaded with Dimarzio Tone Zone pick-ups but Dimarzio is working on a brand new signature bridge pickup right now based on some ideas I have. I use Sperzel (or ESP) Locking Tuners on all my guitars and I play a fixed bridge most of the time.

Benante: I have a Van Halen “Shark” replica with Dimarzio Super Distortion pickups, a 1980 Charvel Starbody also with Super Distortion pickups, a Gibson Howard Roberts "fusion" with stock pickups, and a 2005 Jackson custom double-neck Jimmy Page replica, just to name a few.

Ian: Which guitars? I have about 70 guitars. On tour I use all my new Jackson signature models. In the studio, two Jackson signature models as well as a 1982 Randy Rhoads model and old Soloist model (the one with the NY logo on it).

Scott, as I understand you’ve used that NY Yankees Jackson on every record.

Ian: Yeah. I used those two and my 1981 Gibson V on every record.

Charlie, a Gibson Howard Roberts guitar seems like an odd choice for a guy in Anthrax. What prompted you to get it?

Benante: Okay, I’ll tell you a funny story about that guitar. Back in 1992 we had just signed to Elektra and I got some money and I always wanted a Howard Roberts so I went and bought it. The reason I got that guitar is that the guys from the Cure spoke highly of it. And I was totally absorbed with that whole sound they were getting back then.

The Cure! Who would have guessed? Have you used the Howard Roberts guitar on any Anthrax recordings?

It’s been played on some Anthrax songs like “Black Lodge” and “Walk All Over You,” an AC/DC cover song that we did. I tried to use it on this record but it didn’t work.

Charlie, who made your Van Halen Shark replica guitar?

Benante: A friend of mine named Mark. I also have two other Van Halen replicas.

What about amps?

Caggiano: I use Fryette Pitbull Ultra-Lead heads with KT88s and matching cabs.

Benante: My Vox amps are still my favorites. I have two AC30s—my original from 1990 and a newer model from 2006.

Ian: I use my Randall Signature series amp exclusively. Dave Friedman made three modules based on tones from previous records. The first one called “Malcom,” has clean rock AC/DC-type sounds, the middle one is called 1987 and it’s basically my main rhythm tone that I’ve had forever, and then the last module called “The Nuts” is more high-gain and modern sounding, comparable to an EVH. Dave Friedman re-built my Randall cab from the ground up. I always thought the Randall cabs sounded like shoe boxes. Dave pointed out a few problems that made them sound that way and we fixed it for them.

Scott, you’re a really heavy hitter yet you use .88 mm picks, a relatively light gauge.

I used to use 1 mm picks. At some point someone said to me, “Try using a lighter pick,” and there was an .88 mm lying around. I used it and it felt good. Way, way back in the early ’80s, I actually used a .73 mm, but I felt those were too bendy. Then I jumped to the 1 mms and later the .88 mms.

Staying in tune is important to me and I have a pretty heavy right hand. I really dig in and when playing live, the last thing I want is for the chords to ring out of tune. I use a custom set of strings with a heavy top and a heavier bottom—I think it’s .011, .016, .022 (wound), .030, .044, and .059.

Anthrax Gear Boxes

Scott Ian
Guitars: Jackson Scott Ian Signature, 1982 Jackson Randy Rhoads (studio only), 1987 Jackson Soloist with NY Yankees logo (studio only), 1981 Gibson Flying V (studio only. All guitars outfitted with Seymour Duncan JB pickups.
Amps & Cabs: Randall Scott Ian RM100SI with EL34s and Dave Friedman modules based on tones from previous records, Dave Friedman-modified Randall SI412 cab, Marshall JCM 800 (Rebuilt by Steven Fryette, studio).
Effects: MXR Carbon Copy Delay, MXR EVH Flanger, MXR Micro Chorus, DigiTech Whammy, and Dunlop 404 CAE Wah. Effects controlled by Ground Control switcher.
Accessories: D'Addario custom set: .011, .016, .022 (wound), .030, .044, and .059, Monster Cables, Shure wireless, Mono Cases strap, Dunlop .88mm picks.
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In June of 1984, I had the opportunity to inspect the “Peter Green” Les Paul Standard.

A week doesn’t go by without my being asked about obtaining the “Peter Green tone.” Usually the seeker has narrowed their possibilities down to this or that pickup, and just wants some final guidance. Though I’m always surprised to hear the question, it actually begs another. Which Peter Green tone?

Most players, regardless of their stylistic leanings, are aware of Peter Green’s genius. The English guitarist is revered for his amazing tone and fluid vibrato, and his work is as inspirational today as it was 40 years ago. Clearly influenced by Chicago blues greats like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, Green had the vocal and songwriting chops to stand alongside his American idols. In early 1969, Green and his bandmates made the sojourn to Chicago’s Chess Studios to do just that. To my ears, the slightly restrained playing on the resulting Fleetwood Mac in Chicago reveals the raw sound of Green’s technique more clearly than the balls-out jams Mac was known for at their live shows. Regardless of the session, Green’s use of multiple pickup settings—sometimes within a single solo—demonstrates his adventurous spirit and desire to extract the maximum emotional effect from whatever instrument he was playing. For him, it was about the surroundings—the song itself.

I was lucky enough to see Green and Mac at a 1968 New Year’s Eve show in Chicago. The pure power of their signature loping shuffle could make a believer of a stone wall. During the show, Green alternated between a Les Paul and Stratocaster. At the time, my limited understanding of the inherent differences between the two guitars did not allow me to detect a major difference. In his hands, the instrument did his bidding.

Fast-forward 15 years: In June of 1984, I had the opportunity to inspect the “Peter Green” Les Paul Standard. At the time, it belonged to the late Gary Moore who was in town supporting Rush on their Grace Under Pressure tour. We’d been working together for a while and had become friends, so he called me up when he hit town. Moore had some free time during the day and expressed an interest in visiting the workshop. We were both big Peter Green fans and he mentioned he’d acquired the legendary ’59 ’burst directly from Green himself. Moore was eager to show the guitar to me—so much so, that when I picked him up at the hotel, he pulled it out of the case before we even got in the car. I remember thinking how surreal it was to be standing on Clark Street in Chicago holding that guitar. We were grinning like little kids with a cool new toy.

Back at the shop, I gave Gary a tour of the place and introduced him to all the guys. Then Gary and I went into my office to play some guitar. I fired up a ’68 Marshall plexi and plugged in the ’burst for him. Sitting directly across from me, Moore launched into a note-for-note cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Stop Messin’ Round.” The dual-pickup position yielded a convincing tone that was both recognizable and unique. Moore handed me the guitar and urged me to give it all I could. We traded the axe back and forth to the delight of the entire shop.

To be honest, when Moore played, it sounded a lot like Gary Moore even when he channeled Green’s licks. When it was my turn, I did my best to replicate Green’s signature riffs on the very instrument that made the recordings I’d learned from. Moore managed to be gracious about my playing. Still, with both of the guitar’s pickups selected, we acknowledged that something was special about the tone. If it had been any other guitar, we might have stopped there.

Up to this point in time, I’d been the owner of a few original Sunbursts, and our shop had bought and sold plenty more. But none had the eerie tone that Green’s guitar demonstrated in the middle selector position with both pickups on. I’d always assumed that the hollow tone on particular Mac recordings was the result of an out-of-phase condition. On my guitars, I’d been able to replicate it to a good extent by reversing polarity on one of the pickups. With the actual instrument now in my grasp, I suggested to Moore that we disassemble it and determine the cause once and for all. To my delight, Moore jumped at the chance.

Back on the bench, I carefully removed strings and hardware. A quick look inside the control cavity revealed that everything was stock. Hot to hot, and ground to ground—original pots and caps. It didn’t appear to have been resoldered or disturbed in any meaningful way. Carefully removing the pickups yielded the same results. The pickup covers retained their original undisturbed solder joints. Still, I knew that something lurking within gave this guitar its unusual sound. Removal of the pickup covers showed nothing unusual either.

A pickup creates current through the use of a magnetic field coupled with coils of wire. Both the wiring and the orientation of the magnetic poles determine polarity. If you alter either of these, you change the phase of the pickup relative to another pickup. So, with the wiring intact, I decided to test the magnetic polarity with a compass. Bingo! The magnet was reversed on one pickup. Because the pickup internals looked undisturbed, I concluded that it must have been a mistake at the factory. With Gibson having made over ten thousand electric guitars that year, the odds of the mistake showing up in Green’s guitar seems incredible. But strangely enough, Joe Bonamassa recently acquired an original ’burst with the same condition!

Much to my surprise, the story of my examination of the Green/Moore guitar has now entered the lore surrounding the instrument, which explains the stream of inquiries. As for the Peter Green tone—here’s one more sidebar. Not long after our meeting, Moore received delivery of a guitar we’d built for him. It was equipped with Slammer humbuckers designed for me by Steve Blucher. Standing on the shop’s loading dock, I took a call from Moore who was almost screaming with enthusiasm. “What pickups are in this guitar?” he demanded. “They sound better than Greenie’s guitar!” He asked me to ship him a half dozen sets immediately for his other guitars. I agreed and hung up the phone, but the depth of his statement didn’t sink in for a few days. I laughed as I realized that tone is often “Greener” on the other side.

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With its walnut back and sides and redwood top, the 25 1/2"-scale Focus SE has a recipe that’s hard to beat for this reviewer—and the tonewoods are just the start.

Like a lot of successful guitar companies, Breedlove maintains a guitar line with a little something for everyone. Last year, I reviewed an under-$1000 American Series C20 with solid Sitka and solid mahogany that blew me away with its value and playability (July 2010 web exclusive). But Breedlove still makes beautiful high-end guitars of the sort that put the company on the map in the first place, and the company’s Passport series are a fine example of how to mix quality, style, and sound in an affordable instrument.

The walnut-and-redwood Focus SE reviewed here tends toward the pricier end of Breedlove’s product spectrum, but it demonstrates why Breedlove remains a major player in the high-end acoustic market and a favorite of players from Jeff Tweedy to Ed Gerhard and ex-Byrd and Burrito Brother Chris Hillman. This is an exceptional and unique guitar.

Walnut and Redwood
With its walnut back and sides and redwood top, the 25 1/2"-scale Focus SE has a recipe that’s hard to beat for this reviewer—and the tonewoods are just the start. Subtle ornamentation, a bound ebony fretboard, and ebony tuner buttons all exude a soft-spoken luxuriousness. The delicate abalone rosette and redwood top complement each other perfectly, and the asymmetrical winged, pinless bridge almost seems to wink at you when you look at the guitar. With its compact, cutaway body and signature headstock, the Focus SE is unmistakably a Breedlove. It’s tough for any guitar manufacturers to move successfully beyond the lines of tradition, but this guitar gorgeously illustrates how Breedlove has helped bridge forwardthinking and old-world styles.

The neck is a fingerstyle-friendly 1 3/4" at the nut, and the slim, one-piece mahogany neck has a 16" radius. Our Focus SE also came with an L.R. Baggs Element Active undersaddle system with a simple Volume and Tone control, though it can be ordered with other electronics, if desired.

Warm and Snappy
From the very first strum, the deep-bodied Focus SE sounds full and brilliant. And it begs one to question why more luthiers don’t take advantage of the walnut-and-redwood combination. It’s quite loud, projects extremely well, and is responsive to a light touch—all of which translates to great dynamic range. Play it whisper-soft and you’ll get a crystalline, delicate tone. Dig in, and the Focus SE rocks without significantly blurring overtones. That dynamic range is great news for fingerstylists who work in alternate tunings. DADGAD sounded simultaneously dark and brilliant, thanks to the snappy-but-deep qualities of the walnut back and sides—which sound a bit like a cross between rosewood and mahogany—while the redwood has the warm detail of cedar. Likewise, C–G–D–G–B–D tuning became deep and swampy—almost hypnotic—as it sustained. There’s plenty of punch and power for expressive use of the lowest and highest ranges, and the essential voice of the guitar remains intact and consistently lovely.
One reason for this Breedlove’s impressive sustain may be the 91.5 degree neck angle, which increases tension a touch without sacrificing playability. The JDL Bridge Truss also makes it possible to put a bit more tension on the top. The combination of the two construction elements makes the guitar exceptionally lively. The action on the Focus SE was a little high right out of the box, but I used the included hex wrench to crank the neck relief a hair, back where I like it.

I tested the Focus SE at a solo festival gig, and I was so confident that it would handle whatever I threw at it that it was the only guitar I took with me. I had no regrets. With an L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic DI in front of a rather shoddy PA, the guitar still sounded warm and lovely. And throughout a set in which I employed three different tunings in brutal heat, harsh humidity, and a fierce wind, the Focus SE hung tough, and the pickup sounded fantastic. If you’re a gigging musician, that’s what you want—a guitar that’s versatile, rugged, and sweet sounding in a multitude of musical and performance environments. I can’t imagine putting a guitar through a tougher gigging situation, and the Focus SE navigated all if it while sounding great and looking mighty stylish.

The Verdict
The Focus SE is a stellar acoustic in almost every respect. It’s gig-ready and at home in a lot of playing situations— though it really works best as a fingerstyle machine. The warm-but-snappy tone is something you can get lost in. The active pickup system is outstanding and a great match for the guitar. Factor those gorgeous looks and the buttery playability, and this guitar is ready for all comers—even in this rarefied price range. If you’re ready for a 6-string that’s something out of the ordinary but playable under every situation, the Focus SE will not let you down.
Buy if...
you need a professional, gorgeous workhouse that plays like a dream, sounds like an angel, and is ready for any gigging situation.
Skip if...
your playing style veers away from fingerstyle-friendly realms and toward more traditional fare.

Street $3999 - Breedlove Guitars -