By Kate Koenig
With the Bella Tono acoustic series, Washburn set out to create a collection of compact and elegantly designed guitars with rich and full clarity and projection. I recently received a Bella Tono Elegante S24S for review, and it impressively checked all of those boxes.
The Elegante arrived without a case, but thankfully survived transit. It practically leapt into my hands, and I connected with the guitar immediately. A large part of that was due to the personality in the compact Washburn Studio shape and the warm colors of the solid spruce top and pau ferro back and sides. The neck is mahogany and blends in well with the overall sienna tone.
Further adding to the guitar’s classiness are the diecast gold tuners and the blue-green, marbled abalone featured in the purfling, binding, headstock logo, and inlays. There’s a special touch to the inlays in that they create a scene—a crescent moon at the fifth fret, followed by gulls, and concluding with a tiny mountain range at the 15th fret. The abalone in both the purfling and the rosette is lined on either side with fire-red padauk, and darker ebony binding offsets these slightly more flashy touches.
Clear and Singing Highs
Aside from the guitar’s out-of-the-box surface allure, the model I was sent was in need of a setup, with buzzing at several spots on the fretboard. The neck was straight, so the luthiers at Retrofret in Brooklyn, New York, fixed the problem by adding a shim under the saddle. However, during the process, they also discovered that the screws put in to secure the bridge to the soundboard for gluing had not been taken out and were poking through on the inside of the guitar—unfortunate, considering how appealing the guitar otherwise is.
The neck has a modern C profile with a satin finish, which creates the perfect grip and smoothness—zero stickiness or resistance sliding up and down. It also makes it easier to wrap your thumb around to grab the low E for certain grips.
The guitar has a warm, round sound, with a nice balance of highs and lows. The highs ring out clearly against the lows and mids—something that can be heard most notably on the last song I play in the demo video, where I’m strumming to produce a drone on the low E while carrying a high-pitched melody on the top three strings. Similarly, for fingerpicking patterns that have separation between the top and bottom halves of the strings, both low and high voices can be heard clearly.
If anything, the highs are the clearest, which would match Washburn’s goal of maintaining the clear highs commonly associated with larger body sizes. Checking around different spots on the fretboard, I found that the body was most sympathetically resonant at the first three frets, from low to high, but especially in the middle—around the fifth fret for the top three strings, the seventh fret on the third string, and at the 12th fret for the top three strings.
The body sings several seconds longer on the top strings in any given spot than the bottom strings. For me, this wasn’t much of a drawback, however, since I care more about getting the highs to ring out, and I feel as though the lows come into the game naturally with a more powerful advantage. It actually suited my playing style so well that I was inspired to write a song on it, which you can hear a portion of at the start of the video. But that difference is noticeable where I’m complementing the high riffs with a lower voice and the lower voice is slightly more subdued.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I found Washburn’s Bella Tono Elegante S24S to be a more-than-satisfactory instrument for its price, showing that it’s not always how much money you put down that gives you the best product. The guitar especially suits fingerpicking in the higher registers but balances out against heavier strumming. Plus, the compact body shape and modern C-shaped neck make it comfortable to hold and play, and the abalone and gold appointments meet the elegance of the guitar’s name.
BODY Washburn Studio shape; solid spruce top; select pau ferro back and sides; quartersawn scalloped bracing; ebony bridge; ebony binding; bone saddle; abalone purfling and rosette with padauk highlight; gloss finish
Get stories like this in your inbox
NECK 20-fret mahogany with modern C shape; ebony fretboard with abalone bird and mountain inlays; 25.5″ scale length; satin finish; diecast gold tuners; bone nut
OTHER: D’Addario EJ16 strings (.012–.053)
MADE IN China
PRICE $469 street