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.
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.
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
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.
The tuners are still
black, but are now branded Grover units, rather than the 'no name'
tuners on the earlier issue Acute.
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 bridge saddle now
features a compensation profile for even greater intonation accuracy.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
in flat-top guitar design
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.
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
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