From the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Emile Menasché
Designed in the U.S. and built in China, Breedlove’s Pursuit Exotic S series was conceived to be more than just another entry-level import line. Yes, starting at $749, these guitars cost a fraction of their American-made counterparts. But according to Breedlove, they also demonstrate both the need for and the benefits of using unusual and sustainable tonewoods—and of sourcing those materials responsibly.
Breedlove’s website lists 11 Pursuit Exotic S models, with a range of wood and finish combinations, from $539 street. At $1,399, the single cutaway acoustic-electric Pursuit Exotic S Concert Edgeburst CE featured here sits at the top of the series’ price pyramid—but it’s still about $700 less expensive than Breedlove’s lowest priced U.S.-built Concert model.
Handsome and Well Built
Right out of the box, the Pursuit’s appearance lives up to the Exotic handle, thanks to a dramatically figured solid koa top highlighted by Breedlove’s Edgeburst gloss finish. Photographs don’t quite capture the beauty of the koa’s contrasting grains, with dark stripes flowing along the length of the top, offset by rich tobacco brown. The back and sides are made from layered koa and African mahogany. Though less eye-catching than the top, their grain and finish continue the visual statement to give the guitar a cohesive appearance.
The 25.3-inch scale 20-fret fingerboard is made from ovangkol, a sustainable alternative to rosewood, as is the bridge. Both the 1.69-inch nut and bridge saddle are Tusq, a synthetic ivory substitute. Other details include handsome faux tortoiseshell binding, brass fretboard inlays, and an attractive matte copper motif seen in the headstock’s Breedlove logo, as well as the tuners and strap buttons.
In terms of fit and finish, almost every detail is outstanding right out of the box. The neck’s satiny texture is smooth and comfortable. The nicely dressed frets and well-rounded nut all feel great to the touch—not a jagged edge to be found. Intonation is spot on, and tuning proved to be remarkably stable in typically unpredictable Northeast weather. Often, I’d take the guitar off its stand, strum a chord, and find it was still in tune from the day before.
My only complaint is that the action above the tenth fret is a little high for my taste. Looking closely, however, I’d say setup is more to blame than construction. If I owned the guitar, I’d take it to a trusted tech, and a good guitar dealer would probably adjust the setup before it hit the display rack.
When it comes to gig-friendly instruments, it’s hard to beat a concert-sized guitar. The body dimensions are comfortable, while still providing enough volume to produce very strong tone. At 19.875 inches long, the Pursuit’s box ranges from 3.58 inches deep at the neck to 4.2 inches at the tail block. With a 15.37-inch lower bout, 11.28-inch upper bout, and a nine-inch waist, the guitar hangs nicely on the strap and perches happily on the knee.
The Pursuit’s African mahogany neck joins the body at the 14th fret, with an unobtrusive cutaway open to around the 16th fret. Its profile is rounded and moderately deep—fitting in what I think of as the comfortable middle—and should accommodate most players.
Unplugged, the Pursuit has a rich, warm sound that projects well, with a strong midrange emphasis and tight but polite low end. Played fingerstyle, the midrange emphasis adds weight to arpeggiated lines and single-note passages. The guitar isn’t as bright or cutting as you might get from other tonewood combinations, and whether that’s a plus or minus is really a matter of individual taste and musical application.
Some players might prefer a punchier bass relative to the midrange, but plenty of guitars deliver that kind of sound. The Pursuit’s midrange focus makes for a nice contrast to more conventional-sounding flattops. I really like how smoothly the tone transitions from low to midrange to treble—especially on arpeggiated chords and stacked triads.
Still, if the Pursuit I tested has one outstanding strength, it’s the way it resonates and sustains with bell-like overtones on single notes. Held notes have an impressively long and steady decay, and after I lift my fingers, the guitar maintains the harmonic vibrations in a way that makes simple passages sing. Even expensive guitars can sound a bit thin on the high E string, but the Pursuit’s mid focus lends fullness to those notes as well.
Changes to finger and pick attack demonstrate the guitar’s range of sonic colors. Strummed, it produces a loud and muscular sound that would hold its own in a fairly large ensemble. It wouldn’t take much to overpower a quiet instrument or singer, so dynamic awareness is essential. A lighter pick seems to open up the sound for strummed chords, while the pad of the thumb produces a percussive “thonk” for jazzier comping.
Simple But Effective Electronics
While not all models in the Pursuit series come with onboard electronics, those in the Exotic S subcategory sport a Fishman Presys piezo pickup and preamp system. The control panel sits in the guitar’s upper shoulder—not the prettiest solution, though it’s more compact than that of most preamps. Instead of being housed in the endpin, the output jack sits in a panel on the lower side of the guitar, which also has a battery compartment—a plus since you can add or remove a strap without unplugging.
The Presys’ control layout is basic but effective: You get a single volume knob and pushbuttons for Contour (a mid-cutting EQ), Phase, and Tuner. The preamp puts out plenty of level. Some players might prefer a more elaborate onboard EQ, but I find the simplicity appealing. Unless you’re plugging into an amp or mixer with inadequate tone controls, an onboard EQ isn’t strictly necessary.
If you need a tonal variation, the Contour button works well. There’s more midrange with the button up (off); activating the control produces a nice scoop that brings out the bass and treble—perfect for open chord strumming. The overall level doesn’t change much between the two settings, so you could easily use Contour to switch from scooped rhythm to thick lead. The Presys also has an onboard tuner, which mutes the output when active. It may not be fancy, but it’s fast, its display is very easy to read, and it’s accurate enough for day-to-day use.
Pursuing New Ideas
Taken on its own, the Breedlove Pursuit Exotic S Concert Edgeburst CE is an attractive and well-made guitar at a reasonable price. If the instrument I tested is anything to go by, a good setup is all you’d need to make for a gigging workhorse equally effective for unplugged or amplified performances. Unplugged, its mid-focused timbre and overtone rich sustain give it a unique voice that encourages melodic playing.
But I think there’s also a bigger picture to consider. If Breedlove’s use of alternative woods is meant to be a statement about sustainable guitar building, I’d argue that delivering that message through a relatively affordable product like this makes the Pursuit Exotic S series more than an exercise in socially responsible messaging. Over time, this may bring these materials into the mainstream while encouraging sustainable growth and harvesting. That’s a noble pursuit indeed.
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BODY Cutaway Concert shape; solid koa top; layered African mahogany and koa back and sides; ovangkol bridge; Tusq saddle with 2-1/8″ spacing; faux tortoiseshell binding; Edgeburst finish
NECK 25.3″ scale African mahogany neck; 20 frets; ovangkol fretboard with 16″ radius; 1-11/16″ Tusq nut; copper closed-gear tuners; stained satin finish
OTHER D’Addario XT Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053); Fishman Presys I electronics
MADE IN China
PRICE $1,399 street
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.