A jumbo set to titillate both the eyes and ears… can ringmaster David Mead tame the beast?
Stonebridge guitars hail from the Furch workshops located in the Czech Republic, which, according to the label inside this guitar is in the “heart of Europe”. Just when I think I have a handle on geography, they go and change everything. In any case, Furch have been busy gaining a reputation for very fine instruments now for a number of years. In fact a luthier of my acquaintance has visited the plant and says it’s one of the best equipped that he’s seen. You may have seen a Stonebridge in the hands of many of the Candyrat label players – Antoine Dufour having his own signature model, for instance. So the opportunity to get my hands on this relative newcomer to the line has been very eagerly awaited…
The size of the Stonebridge’s case gave me a clue that this might just be a jumbo body size and, as it turns out, I was right. Back in the days of yore, a jumbo could actually be enormous and ungainly, but the modern take is far more in proportion and manageable – the body depth here is a very trim 115mm at its maximum for instance – and so first impressions were that this is a very fine looking guitar indeed.
The next surprise was the solid maple back and sides, as I was expecting the mahogany or rosewood that grace the majority of Stonebridge instruments I’ve seen recently. It certainly looks very attractive with a pronounced flame to it which is sure to mature nicely as the instrument ages. The dark padouk bindings and soundhole decoration provide a lively contrast to the lighter wood, too.
The top of the Stonebridge is Sitka spruce that has been nicely bookmatched and boasts some fine cross patterning – something that will please a lot of players. Mahogany is the wood of choice for the neck and this again has been finely rendered, with a separate heel and that rarest of things on a contemporary acoustic, a second strap peg located on the cap! The profiling of the neck feels like quite a wide ‘C’ and sits well in the hand. It has to be said that Stonebridge/Furch are one of the only manufacturers in today’s marketplace to provide a 45mm fingerstyle friendly nut width as standard, although there is an option to have either 43mm or even a gargantuan 48mm should you so wish. This is evidence of a company who are in touch with their clientele as they seem intent on meeting as many players’ requirements as possible.
I must say that I like the gothic ‘S’ on the headstock; it’s classy without being overstated. Machine heads are Schaller with ebony buttons and these sit in perfect harmony with the ebony fretboard, bridge and string pins. The pattern in the centre of the headstock is reflected in the fretboard’s single marker at the 12th fret; Stonebridge refer to this as an “eye” made from padouk and mother of pearl.
The nut and string saddle are both made from Tusq and both look neatly cut and soundly located. A quick peek through the soundhole and some probing fingers find nothing untoward and the label on the inside of the neck joint reveals that this instrument’s birthday was the 21st of August 2012. Only a youngster, then!
I’ve said in past reviews that I always try to anticipate what a guitar’s voice will be like before I pick it up and here, with a combination of spruce and maple, I had to think a little more than usual. Maple, to me, means brightness, although I know at least one luthier who would beg to disagree, saying that this is too much of a generalisation. A guitar is, after all, a sum of all its parts, not just the choice of wood for the back and sides. Personally I would have thought perhaps you’d need a cedar top to tame the maple, but I might be wrong. In any case, here goes…
Initially, there is definitely a brightness to the 24-SF, but not of the headlight glare variety, it has to be said. From a player’s position there seems to be a lack of bass even when drop tuned to D, but when I had the guitar played to me from across the room I have to admit that there’s enough bass to give a balance to the enthusiastic amount of treble. I’m still not sure about the overall frequency response, though; after playing the guitar for a while my ears adjusted to it, but picking up another instrument immediately afterwards confirmed that the Stonebridge’s voice might be a little on the thin side. There’s an anomaly with the top E string, too, in that it appears to have been set up very low and this gives the occasional unattractive metallic clang against the frets. It’s not a serious problem and could probably be set right in just a few moments in the right set of hands.
Despite my misgivings about the tonal response of the Stonebridge – and remember that this will doubtlessly change over time – this is a very nice instrument to play. I appreciate the wider nut width and the comfortable neck for fingerstyle and the overall build quality really is second to none. I would be interested in trying a similar model with mahogany back and sides to see if it tamed the treble a little, but if you’re after a light, bright and superbly built guitar, this is one you would do well to check out.
Pros: A well made and beautifully designed instrument that is easy to play
Cons: Not convinced that the tonal range is fully represented
Overall: Feels great in the hands with a voice all its own – a serious guitar from a maker with a burgeoning reputation
Retail Price: £2049
Body Size: Jumbo
Made In: Czech Republic
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Flame maple
Nut Width: 45mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Strings Fitted: Elixir 12-53
Left Handers: Yes
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox case