By Teja Gerken
Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Signature-model acoustic guitars, while not as prevalent as signature-model electrics, are starting to show up in the hands of players. Fans of Leo Kottke, Tony Rice, Bob Weir, Al Di Meola, and a handful of other guitar heroes can now purchase the very aces they’ve ogled from afar. Of course, if they think that playing the same guitar will make them sound just like their idols, they’re in for a disappointment. Nevertheless, collaborations between players and luthiers have resulted in some unique design that we can all enjoy. A prime example is the Breedlove Ed Gerhard model.
Fingerstylist Ed Gerhard is known almost as much for being an audiophile as he is for his rich tone and melodic compositions. He collaborated closely with Breedlove’s Steve Henderson to create a guitar with unique character. The instrument’s most distinctive visual features are its figured walnut rosette, beautiful koa binding, and Breedlove-typical asymmetrical head-stock, which is home to a set of gold Grover mini-tuners. Constructed with rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top, the jumbo-size body features a proportionally large lower bout, a narrow waist, and a relatively shallow depth of 3 inches at the neck and 4 1/16 at the heal. The outward appearance, quality of materials, and craftsmanship in the instrument I checked out were flawless.
Like most Breedloves, the Gerhard comes equipped with the JLD Bridge System (reviewed in September 1997; www.jldguitar.com). Mounted under the ebony bridge, the device transfers the string tension and vibrations from the top to the rest of the body through the tailblock, to which it’s connected. The JLD system makes it virtually impossible for the top to warp or belly up over time, and more importantly it allows for lighter top bracing, which allows the top to vibrate more freely. Another interesting aspect of the Breedlove’s construction is its graduated top. With a bass side that’s slightly thinner than the treble side, the guitar is fine-tuned for even response all across its frequency range.
Playing the guitar, I was immediately knocked out by its amazing bass response. Even with a relatively soft fingerstyle attack, the guitar produced such rich lows that I actually checked to make sure it wasn’t tuned below A-440. Its range and depth call to mind a grand piano. While the initial setup was slightly on the stiff side for playing in standard tuning, it offered a great compromise for playing in a variety of alternate tunings without causing the frets to buzz. I first put the instrument into D A D G A D tuning and then into open C, where it truly came to life. With its great sustain and clarity, the guitar never sounded muddy in the low end and always projected its voice loudly. The lightly wider than standard string spacing at the bridge facilitates the tricky fingerpicking maneuvers, and the 1 3⁄4 inch-wide nut and jumbo frets allow for easy left-hand fingering.
I would like this superb instrument even more if it didn’t have a tendency to slip off my leg as I played sitting down, especially when I moved my right hand over the neck in pieces that require two-handed tapping. I attribute the inclination to the short upper bout in the area of the cutaway. (It’s worth noting, though, that not everyone who tried out our review instrument had this problem.) I also found the first string to be rather close to the edge of the fingerboard, and my finger slipped off several times. Although this is really a mater of personal taste, playing position, and left-handed technique, I’d probably opt for a new nut or fret ends filed at less of an angle to discourage slippage.
Breedlove and Gerhard have created a real winner. I would be hard-pressed to name a better-sounding fingerstyle guitar, especially one in this price range. If you’re looking for a powerful guitar that really shines in alternate tunings, check this one out.