From the February 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PETE MADSEN
Inspired by his brother’s Lowden guitar, but unable to afford his own, Cory Batson’s lightbulb moment prompted an ambitious response: Build your own guitar. With a guitar-making book in hand, he went on to build and experiment with his guitars to come up with designs that would include a side-mounted sound port, cantilevered fretboard, beveled armrest, and architecturally inspired bracing systems. These custom Batson guitars are as beautiful as they are expensive (in the $9,000 range).
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Batson has been striving to create more affordable versions of his guitars of late. A few years back, Batson introduced the No. 5 model to bring a more affordable Batson to the masses. Now, Batson has gone one step further, taking his designs to the “oldest guitar production facility in Korea,” where the company is producing three models: the Americana, the Troubadour, and the Gypsy.
AG tested the Americana.
The Design Elements
The Americana is visually striking: The ebony fretboard, bridge, and tailpiece make a beautiful, chocolate-hued center line against the vanilla-shaded, solid Sitka spruce top; and the light-colored, solid mahogany back and sides have a honey-hued, koa-like sheen. Then there’s the soundhole: Batson Guitars has been around since 1997, but you can’t help but do a double take when you see a guitar with no front-facing soundhole. The sound port, which is located in the top upper bout, directs the sound toward the player’s face, which can be a bit bracing if you are not used to it. There are several benefits to the sound port: You can hear the dynamics of your playing better and you can mic the guitar without getting much feedback—highly beneficial for both live and recording situations.
Another benefit of the sound port is that you can see directly into the guts of the guitar, where I notice that instead of ladder or X bracing, the Americana has a series of diamond-shaped scalloped braces that undergird the entire top. I also notice a bit of overspray and some rough edges on the sound port, as well some glue marks showing above the purfling.
But these are minor cosmetic quibbles.
The guitar has fairly high action. (The company sets the height at a medium level ideal for flatpicking.) It has accurate intonation up and down the neck and the fretwork is well-executed.
Whether I am standing or sitting, the beveled armrest makes the Americana comfortable to play: As a result, my arm swing for strumming and fingerpicking is relaxed and should make for many hours of playing ease. I wish all acoustic guitars came with that option.
‘With a light touch, I manage a pretty shimmer while strumming some ethereal open chords, like Andy Summers might do in a song like “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.’
Capturing the Essence of Sound
The tonal palette of the Americana is focused on the midrange. It has a nice growl when I tune down to open G (DGDGBD) and try some fingerpicked blues runs. I also pick my way through John Fahey’s “Spanish Two-Step,” and play some bottleneck slide that produces a resonator-type quality: a bit brash and in-your-face. Note: Because I use a thumb pick, I have to alter my pick-hand form a little to keep from tapping the top—I usually direct my right hand attack over the soundhole.
In standard tuning, I play a bit of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and find that the Americana responds nicely to a lighter touch. Fingerpicked notes ring with a pronounced clarity and excellent separation between bass and treble. I also get a nice bass thump while playing Big Bill Broonzy’s monotonic-based classic “Hey Hey.”
With a light touch, I manage a pretty shimmer while strumming some ethereal open chords, like Andy Summers might do on a Police song like “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.”
The Americana’s Batson Clear Voice piezo UST pickup system does an excellent job of capturing the essence of the sound and transferring it to the electric realm. I plug into my Schertler Jam 150 and everything from the acoustic timbre is there. Plus, with a responsive tone wheel (mounted inside the sound port along with the volume), I am able to get a wide sweep from mellow warmth to bright and brash. I would say that the Americana actually opens up a bit when plugged in. This could be a boon for guitarists who play in loud environments and need to boost their volume, but who are wary of feedback issues. I crank up the volume on the Schertler while I stand close to the amp and get nary a peep of feedback.
For those looking for an innovative guitar, but who don’t want to break the bank; or for those who have been seeking a more affordable Batson, here is your guitar.
At a Glance: Batson Americana
Sitka spruce soundboard
Mahogany back and sides
Flamed-maple binding and armrest bevel
Body depth: 4.5 inches
Body length: 20 inches
Lower bout: 15 inches
Upper bout: 11 inches
Ebony fretboard (14-inch fretboard radius) and bridge
25.5-inch scale length
1.75-inch wide bone nut
Bone saddle (string spacing 2.25-inches)
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Batson Clear Voice piezo UST with tone and volume control
$2,300 list; $1,599 street
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.