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.
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
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 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.
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
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
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
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,