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The Babicz Identity Jumbo acoustic guitar ID-JRW-06

Hugh Burns playing the Babicz Identity Jumbo on the SSC stand at Sounds Expo - (c) T Relph-Knight 2005

 

Price - approx. 950 VAT inc.

without L.R. Baggs pu

Pros- Although it has the smooth Babicz aural signature in common with the Acute model this guitar definitely has that big jumbo sound. Playability is excellent and the set up is adjustable in seconds to suite the player. This is a great guitar.

Cons - Like the Acute model some players may find the Babicz design too strange looking.

Verdict - The Babicz range of guitars, although constructed of traditional materials, use structural innovations to successfully solve the problems inherent in conventional flat-top design. All the set-up parameters on these guitars can be easily adjusted. This is a very fine guitar with a big jumbo sound that's very player friendly.

Availability - Please contact - sales@acousticmasters.com

 

Audio demos - DJANGO.MP3 - BACH.MP3 - MIKE.MP3 - BAGGSDI.MP3

   

 

The Babicz Identity series Jumbo Rosewood Guitar ID-JRW-06 - Reviewed

Since this Jumbo has many basic design features in common with the smaller Babicz Acute model this review concentrates on the differences. Please refer to the review of the Acute model for more background. This review also covers the L.R. Baggs iMIX pickup system, which was factory fitted to this guitar.

What's new at Jeff Babicz Guitars ?

Things have moved on quite a bit at Jeff Babicz Guitars in the short time since we reviewed the Acute model. A number of small but significant changes have been made to the entire Identity line of guitars and these are all represented in our review sample Jumbo.

Finish and binding changes

The neck and top are now in a matte finish that improves the look of the top and imparts a very comfortable smooth feel to the neck, although it does give the neck a very light colour which could perhaps do with being toned down with a darker stain. The fingerboard is now bound with a black plastic that improves the feel and adds a more defined look to the neck and fingerboard. The binding helps to solve the perennial sharp fret ends problem, there's none of that on this guitar.

The sides and back remain in the gloss finish as before.

The earlier guitars were bound in simple black plastic that somehow just didn't set off the top too well. This has now been augmented to a black/white/black/white pinstripe that adds the needed definition to the junction of the top and sides. The sound hole rosette has also gained an inner and outer white piping.

A thin, almost invisible, clear plastic pick guard now protects the top from pick scratches.

Tuners

The tuners are still black, but are now branded Grover units, rather than the 'no name' tuners on the earlier issue Acute.

Braces

While the back and side braces remain in Mahogany, the top braces are now Spruce, which will expand and contract in harmony with the Spruce top. The back braces have been slightly arched, which in turn arches the back, improving stiffness and helping projection.

The Saddle

The bridge saddle now features a compensation profile for even greater intonation accuracy.

The Case

The Jumbo arrived in the same high quality TKL hard case as the Acute but with nickel plated clasps and hinges, not gold coloured parts as on the earlier cases. The handle is now a more comfortable cushioned rope style, rather than the previous hard plastic and the case bears a Jeff Babicz Guitars logo in silver print.

The factory installed L.R. Baggs iMIX pickup system

A factory fitted. L.R. Baggs iMIX Onboard pickup system with on-board active volume and EQ is available on all Babicz guitars as an option for an additional $399.

Current thinking in the pickup market seems to be that, since the sound of the acoustic guitar is complex and its components are generated at more than one point on the guitar, it is necessary to use more than a single point pickup to attempt to sense it.

The iMIX combines the outputs from a Baggs iBeam under-bridge pickup with a Baggs Element under-saddle piezo. The Element pickup senses the strings and provides the presence and feedback resistance of piezo while the iBeam reads the sound inside the guitar and adds natural fidelity, albeit with increased feedback sensitivity. The signals from the the two pickups are blended, in this case via the rotary blend control, on a side-mounted, Baggs iMIX Onboard, pre-amp. This pre-amp also features three slider controls for volume, treble and bass, plus a phase reverse switch for a measure of elementary feedback control. A fingertip pressure releases the battery from its compartment for a quick change when required.

Arguably the best pickup sound is with the blend control in the middle of its range and the outputs of the two pickups equally balanced. However for difficult gigs where the on-stage volume is high, the blend may be twisted anti-clockwise to favor the piezo. In more relaxed venues where just a little reinforcement is required, the blend can be swung towards the iBeam. One small problem with the blend control is that there is no clearly visible pointer, so its hard to see at a glance where the blend is set.

The iMIX pickup performs very well and is a clear improvement on the earlier, piezo only, designs. The most natural sound comes from the iBeam alone, although set this way the system is noticeably more feedback prone. Bringing in the piezo adds some spit and sparkle. As we note elsewhere on this web site, the more pickup designers succeed in mimicking the sound of a well miked acoustic, the more their pickup systems tend to suffer from the drawbacks of live miking a guitar.

Sound

Jumbos are all about power and authority and this guitar has these in spades. Compared to the Acute model there is a similar aural signature, the bass is very smooth and even, right up the fret board and is balanced well by a refined treble. However in the Jumbo the bass extends lower with a little more muscle and overall the guitar is louder.

This guitar was fitted with the same D'Addario EXP string set as the Acute we reviewed, but doesn't exhibit the same slight dullness in the wound strings that we found with the Acute. Although this might be due to a bad string set or worn out strings, since both of these guitars had factory-fresh, long-life strings fitted, we don't believe this to be the case. It's probably more to do with some guitars just performing better with different strings.

For our sample recordings we close miked the guitar on the 14th fret with a Rode NT5 capacitor microphone and also took the mono DI (via a very long lead) from the iMIX. We recorded these two signals on separate mono tracks and used some of both on the Django track. For the two part Bach piece we used only the DI sound. We also extracted a couple of short samples of the same parts from the Django track so you can clearly hear the difference between the miked and the DI'd sound. For these recordings the iMix tone controls were set to the flat position in the middle of their range and no EQ was applied during the mix.

Conclusions

Each of these design changes may seem small in themselves but taken together they represent a substantial step forward for the Babicz range. Jeff Babicz Guitars are to be applauded for their improvements to an already good product.

With the addition of the L.R. Baggs iMIX pickup system, which is certainly one of the best sounding pickup systems available, the Jeff Babicz Identity Jumbo is a fine sounding and very adaptable guitar for amplified live use or for recording.

Terry Relph-Knight 24-04-2005

 

 

Structural problems in flat-top guitar design

String tension and the sound board

One of the biggest structural problems in a traditional design, flat-top guitar is due to the over 200 pounds of tension from the steel strings, anchored at the bridge and pulling on the sound board. Without substantial bracing this force would greatly distort the ‘board, resulting in an increasingly high action and would eventually tear the guitar apart. With any acoustic guitar the sound board is required to do two things; it must be light and stiff in the centre, but flexible at the edges, so that it responds quickly to string attack and is easily driven by the string to produce maximum loudness and sustain, but it must also be strong and rigid enough to withstand the string tension and not be easily damaged in normal use.

Starting with the earlier ‘Spanish’ gut or nylon strung guitar design, where string tension is much lower, the first makers to use steel strings simply tried to adapt this fan braced design for the greater volume obtainable with steel. They solved the higher string tension problem by adopting a stronger, stiffer bracing pattern and thicker tops. Unfortunately there is always a compromise between response and strength and a thicker top or heavier bracing tends to make the top less responsive.

Set necks

Two other common problems found with flat tops are due to the ‘set’ or glued-in neck. The playability, or action of the guitar is largely determined by the angle of the neck to the body and to the strings. With a glued neck this angle is set during construction. To make any changes to this angle on many guitars requires steaming open the neck joint, trimming or shimming the joint and re-gluing. Even on some modern guitars with the new bolt-on neck design, re-setting the neck isn't a trivial operation. The other and easier alternative to re-setting the neck, is to alter the saddle height. Unfortunately the range of adjustment at the saddle is often limited and the saddle is a critical part of the guitars tone path. The saddle acts as a lever that translates the changes in tension of the vibrating strings into torque, to twist the bridge and drive the sound board. Since this lever is relatively short, only small changes in saddle height can result in big changes in tone and volume.
The neck joint on a traditional set neck acoustic tends to act as a very stiff hinge. Over time, string tension on the neck, or movement in the body, bends the finger board extension that is glued to the sound board on the upper bout of the guitar. This means that the last few high frets on the guitar tend to ‘ski ramp’ up.

The glued bridge and intonation

Unlike most modern electric guitars, acoustic flat top guitars traditionally have no means of adjusting the vibrating string length for correct intonation. Intonation is set during manufacture, by the position of the glued-on bridge and the position of the saddle slot in the bridge. This is only ever an approximation, since intonation varies from string to string and changes, depending on string gauge and the chosen tuning. String tension, combined with heat, sometimes results in the glue melting and the bridge may start to lift from the sound board.

All of these basic design problems are addressed by the Babicz design