By Adam Perlmutter
When I first played Breedlove’s new Journey Concert, I was reminded of the depth of sound that a set of Dalbergia nigra—or Brazilian rosewood—back and sides lends to a steel-string acoustic guitar.
The bass notes have an unmistakable oomph, as if the guitar is outfitted with a subwoofer, and overall, it’s lush, ringing sound makes putting it down a challenging proposition.
A Rare & Coveted Tonewood
Brazilian rosewood was the tonewood of choice for the backs and sides of guitars by Martin and other makers from the 1800s through the 1960s, when supplies grew thin due to overharvesting. In 1969, Martin discontinued the use of Brazilian rosewood in favor of Indian rosewood, and since then the company has used Brazilian only for it’s occasional limited-edition series, as have other guitar makers.
In 1992, Brazilian rosewood was added to the CITES treaty (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) banning its exportation. Now the wood can be used only if it was harvested before 1992 or from trees that have fallen naturally. That’s why production-model Brazilian rosewood guitars are rare these days, and a luthier-made Brazilian can easily set you back in the high five– or even six-figure range.
Several years ago, Breedlove scored the world’s largest legal collection of Brazilian rosewood, which had been drying for half a century in a village outside of Madrid, Spain. The company pulled 50 sets from its reserves for the limited-edition Journey. Our review model boasts some particularly attractive portions of the tonewood, with a rich, dark coloring and a bit of spider-web figuring: the perfect complement, visually as well as sonically, for its salvaged– Sitka spruce top. (Breedlove also offers a cutaway version with a salvaged-redwood top, the Journey FS Concert.)
Lively & Luscious
Whether fingerpicked or flatpicked, the Journey Concert is one lively-sounding instrument. It’s got a confident projection and an impressive tonal balance, with the treble notes as big and rounded as the bass notes. The guitar is intonated perfectly, and it has no dead spots on the neck, nor any unwanted transients.
The Journey Concert responds equally well to any approach I throw at it. It’s a terrific guitar for fingerpicking, whether in standard tuning or an alternate tuning like DADGAD or open C. The smallest pick-hand nuances feel amplified, and the notes in arpeggiated chords ring together vibrantly.
When strummed with a pick, the guitar has a terrific punch and presence. It’s just as satisfying to play six-note cowboy chords as it is to play two-note voicings in the Freddie Green style. And thanks to the guitar’s slim C-shaped neck and low action, it feels easy to play brisk single-note lines up and down the neck—and to make them sing.
Thanks to the Journey Concert’s onboard electronics—LR Baggs Anthem TRU-MIC, combining a miniature microphone with a pizeo pickup—the guitar sounds warm and detailed when plugged into a Fender Acoustasonic amp. The controls for the Anthem are tucked neatly inside the soundhole and allow for a blend between the mic and the pickup. I got the most pleasing results with just a hint of the pickup, which adds a bit of punch to the sound.
A Breed Apart
At a glance, the Journey Concert, with its non-cutaway body and herringbone purfling, looks fairly traditional. But, like all Breedlove guitars, it’s got constructional details that set it apart from other steel-strings.
The bridge does away with the customary pins in favor of slots like those on an archtop’s tailpiece. This not only makes it easier to change strings; it’s said to assist in transferring energy from the strings’ vibrations to the soundboard.
Instead of a being a consistent thickness, the Journey Concert’s top is graduated, a little ampler on the treble side than the bass. Breedlove engineers voice each top based on the way its wood behaves, and the graduation is intended to deliver more present and balanced trebles.
In place of the traditional dovetail neck joint, which so often eventually requires a neck re-set, the guitar has a bolt-on joint that makes it possible to adjust the neck angle without this surgical procedure, and to adjust the action.
Brazilian rosewood guitars of any constructional style are getting harder and more expensive to come by. With a street price of four grand—squarely in the range of a typical high-end guitar built from more common tonewoods—Breedlove’s Journey Concert is practically a steal, though out of the range of many players. The guitar is highly recommended for anyone wanting to get in the door with a guitar made from this precious tonewood—while it’s still available on a new instrument.
14-fret Concert size
Solid Sitka-spruce top
Solid Brazilian-rosewood back and sides
Natural high-gloss finish
Gold Gotoh 381 tuners
with black buttons
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LR Baggs Anthem
D’Addario EXP16 strings (12–54)
Deluxe hardshell case
$ 5,332 list/$3,999 street
Made in the USA