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Avante AV-2 baritone acoustic guitar - picture © T. Relph-Knight 2003

 

 

Avante AV-2 Baritone Acoustic Guitar

Price - $349.99 (approx. £252) plus freight and import duty

Available from - www.musicyo.com

Pros - Unusual tone colour, looks unusual, plays very well - nice wide fingerboard, sounds great

Cons - Bit weird, not a standard guitar, suitable strings are hard to find and are expensive

Verdict - The only off-the-peg baritone acoustic available (Alvarez now also market the Alvarez Yairi YB1 acoustic baritone). It's a joy to play and sounds wonderful. A really excellent instrument.

Specifications


Origin – Korea
Type – Baritone acoustic
Top – North American Spruce
Back/Sides – Mahogany (laminated)
Max Rim Depth – 121mm
Max Body Width – 395mm
Neck – Mahogany
Scale length – 705mm
Tuners – Die cast, individual chrome Gotoh (unbranded)
Nut/Width – Bone 45mm
Fingerboard – 16 inch radius Rosewood, black bound with white plastic side markers only.
Frets – 22 medium
Bridge – Rosewood with bone saddle/ 56mm
Weight – 2.2Kg
Options – AV-2E with ShadowTM Active SH-CA System pickup
Left-handers – No
Finishes – Gloss body, satin neck & fingerboard

 

The Avante AV-2 baritone acoustic guitar reviewed


Although originally driven by the nu-metal quest for low end, electric power, the fashion for baritone guitars is now influencing the acoustic market. While many of the high profile examples are custom made, for example the Linda Manzer used by Pat Metheny on his latest solo work “One quiet night”, the off-the-peg Avante acoustic baritone guitar caters to the less exalted.
Designed by ‘The Luthieres Collaborative’ of Joe Veillette and Michael Tobias, licensed to Alvarez Guitars for Korean manufacture and sold via the Internet, the Avante AV-2 is rather more than a standard guitar with a slightly longer neck.

The most striking aspect of this guitar and something that’s rare in acoustic circles, is the bold overall design. Of the well known makers only Breedlove and Klein come to mind as having any similarities. There are obvious references to Veillette’s own catalogue of custom designs, but its harder to see a Tobias input, particularly since all his work has been on bass guitars. There’s scarcely a parallel or symmetric line anywhere on this guitar, the familiar waisted acoustic guitar outline is still there, but morphed with angular elements and a certain degree of asymmetry that favors the bass side. The steeply sloping cutaway, the soundhole, the bridge and the headstock all have rounded triangular forms. This is not just gimmickry either, the tapered bridge shape provides better coupling to the soundboard for bass and treble, the converging alignment of the Gotoh SG tuners results in an almost straight string pull through the nut and the triangular soundhole follows the line of the upper shoulder and the cutaway. The modern angular shape is perfectly complemented by the restrained, but unusual use of black outlined, faux-tortoiseshell binding around the top and a single band of tortoiseshell around the soundhole. Overall the design works very well and this is an extremely attractive, tastefully executed and thoroughly modern looking instrument.

Despite the guitars unusual outer form, the materials used in construction are utterly conventional – mahogany for the neck, back and sides, rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge and solid North American spruce for the top. Traditionally mahogany, a light pinkish wood, is given a dark stain, which can either look dark and depressing or very rich. On this guitar the stain used gives the high gloss sides and back a beautiful deep red/gold glow. The matt finish on the neck contrasts nicely and provides a seductively smooth surface for the fretting hand.

Internally the guitar is tidy enough. Five ladder braces support the slightly bowed mahogany back. As is common in instrument from the budget end of the market, there are no vertical braces to strengthen the sides, but since the sides are made of laminate rather than solid wood they are likely tough enough without.

Conventional X bracing is used for the top, although the longer scale length and position of the neck mean that the bridge sits further below the crossing point than on a standard guitar. The bridge actually winds up much closer to the middle of the lower bout, which probably explains the wealth of bass response from a body that is slightly smaller than a typical dreadnaught design.

The plastic string pins are just about the only obvious concession to economy on this guitar and after all are easily up-graded to a set of Graphtech Tusq, brass Ez-pegs or even fossilised ivory if you really want to go mad. Unfortunately this is where the one flaw of this guitar becomes apparent. When I attempted to remove the string pins I found the bottom B peg firmly jammed in place. After a great deal of effort I did manage to remove the pin without damaging anything, only to find that the ball end of the low B string was too large to be pulled out through the peg hole. It seems that the factory must have used an acoustic bass string for the low B and strung up the guitar by threading the string down through the sound hole and then up through the pin hole from inside the guitar. The pin must then have been forced into place against the huge girth of this string to complete stringing up the guitar.

Since first writing this review I have exchanged emails with Joe and he says that he has since seen the same problem with a factory fresh guitar and he is going to try to get the manufacturers to do something about correcting it. He also told me that a suitable string set is available from laBella as the BG-L Baritone Guitar set. In the US these can be ordered from www.juststrings.com.

(At the headstock end of things the hole in the standard machine head is barely large enough to accept the string and winding a string of this gauge onto a standard string post produces an extreme bend in the string. I have seen these problems before on the bottom string of an Aria seven string acoustic. It seems that economic pressures plus perhaps the desire to give these guitars a consistent and ‘normal’ look have resulted in the use of inappropriate ‘standard’ parts when what’s really required is an individual bass tuner and pin for the muscular bottom string.)

Since writing the above I have re-strung the guitar with a set of d'Addario strings I ordered as single strings and had no problems with either fitting the strings or tuning.

Note - D'Addario now do a baritone string set - EXP23

As is common practice these days, the headstock is scarf jointed onto the neck, the diagonal joint starting at the back just below the low B tuner. This joint is disguised at the front of the headstock by high gloss black lacquer, with the Avante logo in gold, running between the tuning posts. The neck itself sports a chunky but comfortable D cross section and joins the body at the fourteenth fret with an extremely flat and wide heel. Combined with the sweeping cutaway this provides reasonable access to the upper frets, although the partial top fret, is still a bit of a reach. The glued dovetail neck joint is given extra internal support with a thick diagonal top brace and a support tongue under the fingerboard. At 45mm at the nut the neck is wider than many of the Korean and Japanese made brands and overall string spacing provides plenty of room for unencumbered fingerstyle playing. Upper harmonics and general tone are well preserved by the bone nut and saddle. Twenty two, snugly fitted and polished, medium gauge frets, plus a larger zero fret, adorn the rosewood fingerboard. The board is satin lacquered and bound with black plastic. White dots on the top edge of the binding are the only position markers.
Despite the wide, slightly chunky, neck and heavier strings this is very comfortable and easy guitar to play, partly because of the bound, slinky fretboard, zero fret and well polished frets, and partly because of the lower string tension of the low B tuning.

Sounds

Because it is a baritone design you might expect something different in the way of sound, but at this price you might not expect too much. Well you’d be surprised, this instrument has a fat, resonant and almost piano like tone. Even very common chord shapes are magically transformed, as though being played in some radical altered tuning, rather than simply a fourth lower.The bass end is surprisingly full, given the size of the guitar, but is nicely balanced by a singing top end that’s allowed to develop properly due to use of bone saddle and nut components rather than tone deadening plastic. The two top unwound strings produce a clearly different tone than the bigger wound strings lending full chords a very appealing shimmer.
This isn't a particularly loud guitar, but it sustains very well. In the electro-acoustic version the lack of acoustic volume won't be a problem and if you bought the acoustic version, but needed to compete with other musicians in a band you would probably wind up fitting a pick-up anyway.

It’s spooky, it’s almost as though acoustic guitars where always meant to be built and tuned this way and all those years of higher register designs are just a mistake.

Conclusions

At this price this instrument is amazing. It looks great, plays well and sounds fabulous. Currently this is the only off-the-peg low-end-of-the-market baritone acoustic available, so it’s not really possible to compare it to other similar guitars in its class. It’s even pretty tough to compare it to custom and semi-custom baritone instruments at much higher price points, since there aren’t many of those about either.
Frankly this is a great guitar at any price and one of those instruments that’s almost impossible to put down. Apart from the problems with the low B string already mentioned, you do have the uncertainty of purchasing sight unseen over the internet, so we can only hope that all the Avante instruments are as good as our review sample.

The only other drawback is the difficulty of obtaining acoustic baritone string sets, 0.07/ 0.068 to 0.014 are required, and you’ll have to special order these via a distributor, as single strings from D’Addario or John Pearce (see above comments about laBella and new string sets from D'Addario).You might think that MusicYo would offer suitable strings since they are the vendor of this unusual instrument, but they don’t.
If you are after a source of inspiration, a different acoustic guitar sound, or just a really satisfying guitar at a good price, fire up your computer, log on to MusicYo.com and order one of these baritone beasts right now!!

Copyright Terry Relph-Knight 2003-09-25

 

What's a baritone guitar?

Just as with the 'standard' guitar which has only gradually acquired a recognised 'standard ' tuning and still varies in scale length, there is no fixed definition of what makes a guitar a baritone in terms of pitch or scale length. Baritone guitars are generally thought of as not being bass guitars, although there are a few bass instruments such as the Danelectro six string bass (since re-named as a baritone) and the Fender VI which could be accused of really being baritone guitars. Generally a baritone has six heavy gauge strings and sits somewhere between a bass and a conventional guitar.

Tuned a fourth or fifth below the conventional guitar tuning, in the past the baritone has been used as a bass substitute, but recent experiments in low tunings have lead to it being accepted more as an alternative guitar.

GHS make electric baritone strings designed for a 30 inch scale length to be tuned A D G C E A (low to high). The Fender VI is apparently tuned E A D G B E but an octave lower than standard guitar tuning.

The Avante AV-2 is normally tuned a fourth below guitar at B E A D F# B.

Suitable strings for the AV-2 may be ordered from a laBella distributor - laBella BG-L Acoustic Baritone set (www.juststrings.com) or as D'Addario singles from - www.highlystrung.co.uk

Update 17.05.05

Baritone strings are also now available from D'Addario in their long life EXP series as - six string set EXP23 - gauges .016, .022, .029, .048, .060, .070