From the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY GREG OLWELL, VIDEO DEMO BY MATT BLACKETT
B&G Guitars made a modest splash in the electric guitar world with its Little Sister model, which managed to evoke vintage excellence and flair while not quite looking like anything else out there. Now the Tel Aviv-based company is trying the same tact with its first foray into the acoustic guitar market, the Caletta Private Build line. The basic model is inspired by the prototypical small-bodied prewar guitar, but B&G throws in some of its own ideas to create an instrument that is a more of an individual interpretation than any kind of replica.
The idea of updating a vintage classic is familiar even to the folks that invented the original designs—just look at the success that legacy brands like Martin and Gibson have had reviving their lightly built, small-bodied guitars of the prewar era. Makers like Waterloo have also jumped aboard and made waves with players who are discovering the powerfully convincing argument that small-bodied guitars can offer ergonomic comfort and sterling, well-balanced tones that are acoustically powerful enough to hang in most circumstances.
At Once Vintage and Modern
The B&G Caletta is fairly petite—some will no doubt call it a parlor guitar—but with its 14.6-inch-wide lower bout, 12-fret design, and 24-3/4-inch scale, the instrument shares some essential DNA with something larger than a parlor: one of the all-time great guitars, the Gibson L-0 flattop of the late 1920s. From this basic scheme, B&G developed the Caletta to have a deeper body with a tighter waist and smaller upper bout to bring out some bass response, but also have some punchiness and a balanced sound. And instead of a classic dovetail neck joint, B&G uses a deep-set tenon with an extended footprint, to help with long-term stability for the neck angle, while also offering much larger glue surface for a solid connection.
Our test guitar has a Sitka spruce top perched on a mahogany body. B&G also offers the spruce-topped Caletta with koa, ziricote, or pau ferro back and sides, as well as an all-mahogany model. The body is bound around the top and back with a single layer of binding that accents the handsome matte sunburst of the finish and the body’s shapely silhouette. Also, B&G includes a small pickguard that you can attach if you care to, but I prefer the look without it.
Though laws appear to be changing regarding rosewood on musical instruments, for fingerboards and bridges, B&G chose to avoid the issue entirely by turning to one of the more promising rosewood alternatives, ziricote. The test guitar’s bridge and fingerboard are slightly lighter in color than rosewood, but they look very pretty with the contrast of the handsome diamond inlays.
The neck and the body’s back and sides are finished with an open-pore nitrocellulose finish that many are turning to these days for a lightly finished feel and the idea that the guitar is more resonant in the absence of wood filler between the wood and the finish. Plus, the wood and the finish made for an intoxicating smell that lasted throughout my test time with this guitar.
Fewer Obstacles to Making Music
Players who would rather fall on their swords than play a guitar with anything less than a 1-3/4-inch-wide string spacing might not take to the Caletta’s 1-11/16-inch nut and 2-1/4-inch string spacing at the bridge, but they would be missing out on an instrument that feels intimate and easy to play. I’ve grown accustomed to a wider spacing, so playing this was a bit of a shift for me, but I adapted and felt thankful for how easy the guitar made a few troublesome ragtime passages easier to play. The effect was more like having fewer obstacles in the way to making music.
With some moderate flatpicking, the Caletta sounded lovely, rich, and present, with real midrange sweetness. But it felt like it ran out of steam under some more aggressive chord comping and harder strums. That’s not a shock—the Caletta is a small guitar and it seems best-suited for agile fingerstyle and strummed accompaniment under a singer-songwriter, not backing Count Basie on a bandstand.
We don’t often discuss cases or gig bags during our guitar reviews, but in this instance, it seems important to share that B&G provides each Caletta with an Ameritage Gold hardshell case, a pretty deluxe shelter for your guitar, included in the cost (along with shipping).
Many guitar makers go for that familiar-yet-different vibe and with the Caletta, B&G captures some of that vintage feel in a petite and pretty guitar that is comfortable to play and supplies warm, smooth sounds that beckon you to play more. Its cozy neck makes it particularly appealing for fingerstyle players with smaller hands who want a guitar that can deliver impressive tone in a snug package—or people who simply like a good-sounding guitar for old blues, modern fingerstyle, ragtime, or classical. And, the company puts its individual spin on a classic formula that is likely to charm to players who like to put their own personal spin on music they create.
BODY Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing and hide glue bonding; Honduran mahogany back and sides; ziricote bridge with 2-1/4″ string spacing; single-layer ABS binding, top and back; matte nitrocellulose finish
NECK 24-3/4″ scale, one-piece mahogany neck with open headstock, soft-V shape; one-way truss rod; 1-11/16″ nut width; 19-fret ziricote fingerboard with 12″ radius; acrylic diamond-shaped position markers; Waverly 3-on-a-plate tuners with ivoroid buttons; nitrocellulose finish
OTHER Tusq nut, compensated saddle, and bridge pins; Elixir 80/20 Bronze strings, .012–.053; pickguard with adhesive; Ameritage Gold deluxe hardshell case
MADE IN Israel
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PRICE $3,499 direct, as tested
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.