The mighty Avian parlour gets a pickup and a bevel – Stephen Bennett checks out the latest Michael Bashkin designed Dove.
Avian guitars have been causing something of a stir of late, thanks not least to the Folk-Night-at-The-Jetsons’ vibe of the big, blousy Skylark; a Marmite-to-the-max model that’s even more endearingly mad-looking in the fan-fretted version.
This 12 fret to the neck, Dove parlour (the latest addition to the range) is a far more conservative option that proves the Michael Bashkin/Harry Fleishman-led operation is equally capable of delivering remarkable, affordable quality at the understated as well as the radical end of the design spectrum.
The two US innovators insist on the most exacting standards from their Chinese, “on the bench” manufacturers and Bashkin’s a regular visitor to the factory on quality control missions from his Colorado base. Factory-based fears are quickly dispelled on first encountering an Avian, however, as the potential buyer can’t help but wonder…”how the hell do this manage all this for the money?”
Indeed. The obvious answer is, “don’t ask”. Just buy one before they go up.
Any speculation on the qualities (or lack thereof) of specific instruments should, up to a point, take into account their place in the market. What’s the comparison? What’s the competition in terms of bang for this particular buck? One argument might be that often in the around-a-grand, electro-acoustic world, the customer’s getting a four hundred quid guitar with six hundred quid’s-worth of electrics.
This feel like a thousand quid guitar and, as such, the more than adequate B-Band gubbins on the inside constitutes a significant bonus, to say the least.
The Dove boasts all solid woods; Sitka spruce top, Indian Rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck and in the one elegant nod towards acoustic bling, features a Kevin Ryan-style bevel that makes it as comfortable to hold as to behold. The “interrupted” rosewood rosette is a typical Bashkin touch, complimented by the neat downward slice where the fingerboard joins the soundhole. There’s also a sense of calculated “modern luthiery meets tradition” in the classically old-school pyramid, ebony bridge topped off with its bone-saddle (the nut, too, is bone). One clear concession to price-control is the Gotoh-style tuners; Avian’s own brand but not so far off the originals as to warrant a quibble. Then there’s that dual source B-Band A 2.2 pickup system – more of which, anon.
The Dove looks like a bit of a smoothie; dapper but restrained, clean-limbed, small but (yes) perfectly formed. There’s clearly been a lot of attention directed towards detail and quality of finish here. But how does it feel?
The bevel is a lovely touch. Even on a guitar of this size, the comfort of simply holding on to the thing is increased considerably. This is the perfect guitar for sitting on the couch, absently noodling with while your partner, who’ll never understand anyway, is trying to watch the X-Factor. Something nice to hug after the blazing row, perhaps, and fortunately, the neck greets the player with the reassuring handshake of an old friend – so naturally familiar you won’t even think about it.
And the sound? Not huge in the bass, but then not many parlour instruments are – even at three times the price. Nevertheless, it kicks out a surprisingly quick and loud response even to the most polite encouragement, with or without a pick. There’s a distinct, perky brightness from the off but it only takes a bit of gentle persuasion to coax out a pleasing warmth and “fatness” in the trebles. It keeps its focus when tuned down to DADGAD, too – another bonus as many small-bodied, short-scale guitars start to get a bit fuzzy round the edges with the strings that loose. Fingerstyle, in true parlour-appropriate fashion, seems like the Dove’s natural fit and while this would make a fine singer-songwriter’s stage all-rounder, the overall brightness would lend itself perfectly to the propulsive, crystal-clear separation demands of gypsy jazz without the harsher, metallic edge of some bigger, purpose-built Manouche-machines. The Dove offers something a bit more cuddly. But, before slumping back onto that couch, what about those electrics?
The idea, embraced by both builder and dealer, is for each new Avian guitar to be gig-worthy straight out of the box. Hence the amplification system is both simple to get your head round and offers a wide and versatile tonal range even through the most basic or generic room/amp set-up. Packing more than just the standard, single under-saddle transducer, this hybrid system (the “XOM” or “cross-over mix” with EQ) catches the instrument’s tone far more naturally and cleanly. The simple volume plus blend function (two discrete little wheel controls in the soundhole) offers a surprisingly wide-ranging, sonic twiddle-ability between both under-saddle and soundboard-mounted transducers that will combine to produce something tonally akin to a K&K – plenty of sparkle and air but not too brassy. One advantage of this approach is that the body and rim aren’t as live, thus ironing out any unwanted “body contact” noises going through the PA and allowing more room for percussive playing, should one so wish. Either way, all that suggests the added potential for life as a studio or straight-into-the computer recording guitar.
In all, this is very much a “what’s not to like” little instrument; tremendous value and great fun to play. It comprises some of the best features of the modern with the familiar security of classic tradition so whether you’re seeking that acoustic-jazz, sun-lit, Brazilian sway, floating off into new age fingerstyle reverie or just blues-bound for the Dustbowl, the Dove could be the ideal companion.
Retail Price: £1,149
Body Size: Parlour
Made In: Far East
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Rosewood
Nut Width: 1.75”
Scale Length: 629mm
Onboard Electronics: B-Band A 2.2
Strings Fitted: Elixir .012 – .053
Left Handers: Yes, no extra cost
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard case
Pros: A very capable tonal range that would suit a number of styles
Cons: Not much to report here
Overall: A guitar with unexpected depths – great sounding, stage ready with a lot to say for itself
The North American Guitar