The Bourgeois L-DBO’s strong voice and shimmering reverb inspires an approach that’s different from normal, requiring fewer notes to say more with its luxurious tone.
The latest in Maine luthier Dana Bourgeois’ line of fine steel-string guitars, the L-DBO is a wonderful instrument. On the surface, it’s a tribute to inexpensive prewar flattops like Gibson’s L-00. The guitar has a sass that works well for country-blues fingerpicking, and in a blindfold test you’d swear it was 80 years old.
But the L-DBO feels like a whole lot more guitar than its original benchmark. For one, it’s incredibly playable compared with many vintage examples. The neck has Bourgeois’ trademark profile, super comfortable with a gentle V shape that’s ample, but not cumbersome. The action is moderately low and the guitar is set up for a range of techniques and approaches.
Even more impressive is the guitar’s depth of sound. The notes have a lively, three-dimensional quality, whether picked or strummed. It’s a particularly responsive instrument and has an almost symphonic range of tonal colors: a small-bodied boutique guitar with a much broader range of applications than its old-school appearance suggests.
The Old & The New
Vintage acoustic guitars are prized for their color and responsiveness, and—in what is no mean feat—Bourgeois has captured these attributes uncannily with the L-DBO. It is part of the company’s Aged Tone series that comes with a torrefied top, meaning the Adirondack red spruce used for the soundboard has been baked so that it behaves like it’s been aging for decades. The guitar was assembled with hide glue, which many luthiers find better than modern adhesives for the transfer of sound. A super-thin Aged Tone (cyanoacrylic) finish, mimicking decades-old nitrocellulose lacquer, completes the package.
Bourgeois also has rendered the perfect vintage sunburst finish, ranging from a warm, dark brown to a rich, deep amber. (The guitar is also available in a natural or opaque black finish.) Other details, including nickel Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons, add to the instrument’s old-school vibe while lending modern performance. The L-DBO, like all Bourgeois guitars, has a bolt-on neck that allows for an easier reset than a traditional glued-in dovetail joint.
The craftsmanship on the L-DBO is stunning. The fretwork is superlative and the body’s gloss finish is free of imperfections. Similar meticulousness is seen inside the guitar, where everything has been sanded and glued with great care and attention to detail.
A small-bodied boutique guitar at its very best, one with a much broader range of applications than its old-school appearance suggests.
A Winner in All Styles
Specialists in country-blues, ragtime, and similar old-timey styles should find the L-DBO delivers the goods, sonically speaking. It’s got that familiar midrange bark and is a terrific instrument for fingerpicking. But the guitar fares as well in a range of other contexts, both fingerpicked and with a plectrum. When I play tunes from the Great American Songbook using modern reharmonizations, including lots of closely voiced chords, the guitar has a brilliant clarity—nothing sounds even close to muddy.
I used the guitar when I transcribed the guitarist and luthier Buck Curran’s “River Unto Sea,” in an open Csus4 tuning (appropriately, as Curran is a former Bourgeois employee). The instrument loses none of its luster even when the sixth string is tuned down to C, and when I play the minimalist tune, with its repeating arpeggios, the guitar rings much like a piano.
Whatever I play on the L-DBO, I’m wowed by the robustness of its sound, projection, and sustain. It’s an addictive guitar to play—but not a cheap one. With a street price of around six grand, the guitar is much more expensive than its 1930s benchmarks. (In 1932, Gibson’s L-00, for instance, had a list price of $25, or $439.14 in today’s money.) Given its quality, sound, and adaptable personality, though, the L-DBO is a good investment for the discerning guitarist in search of the ultimate small-bodied companion.
At a Glance: Bourgeois L-DBO
14-fret 00 body size
Aged Tone Adirondack red spruce top
Mahogany back and sides
Gloss sunburst finish
1 23/32-inch nut
Waverly nickel tuners with ivoroid buttons
$6,670 list/$6,003 street
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.