Exotic wood and fine craftsmanship from the Czech Republic thrill the senses of David Mead…
BSG is a relatively new name in the world of acoustic guitar making. The brainchild of Jan Stovicek, the Czech Republic-based company aims to provide the very best in handcrafted guitars, specialising in exotic finishes, natural materials and, of course, superior tone. They don’t mass-produce their models, specialising instead in individual custom orders, allowing them to offer an individual approach to every instrument. On a recent visit to Poland, no less than Tommy Emmanuel wrote that he played a couple of BSG guitars and found them big, rich and sweet in tone. Our review sample features curly mango which, let’s face it, sounds absolutely delicious!
Gazing through the gallery section of the BSG website, I have to say that they do appear to make some truly beautiful looking instruments. The J36F I have before me now is really quite a stunner, too. I must admit that curly mango is a new one on me; I can’t think that I’ve ever seen it used on a guitar before. It’s a native wood of Hawaii and, like Koa, most often seen in ukuleles. The accepted wisdom of the luthiery cognoscenti is that the sound of curly mango is brighter than its compatriot and produces a crisp finish with few overtones. If you imagine that the rosewoods lead the table for richness and overtones in abundance, then Koa ranks around the middle and mango comes near the other end of the spectrum. I’m expecting a sort of richer sounding maple, but all will be revealed in that respect a little later on.
BSG refer to this body size as “jumbo” but, to these tired old eyes, it looks more like a curvier dreadnought. Jumbos always look a bit pot-bellied to me but here the curves are far more refined and in proportion. I guess the jury is out, but you’ll forgive me if I wield my measuring apparatus once more just to fill in some detail.
The upper bout is 293mm and the lower 405mm with a waist of 245mm, meaning that it’s in the same sort of area as my own beloved Fylde Falstaff in terms of dimensions. And people refer to the Falstaff as a dreadnought; confusing, isn’t it?
All the same, BSG have elected to use Engelmann spruce for the top wood, saying that it’s a slightly mellower sound than Sitka and, I’m guessing, a better companion wood to the mango. Nonetheless it’s a nice looking piece of timber and is a perfect foil for the abalone rosette around the soundhole.
I have to say that the curly mango is a very nice looking wood. It reminds me of spalted maple with hints a koa and mahogany in the grain at the same time. The back of the J36F is a four piece affair, the outer two strips looking very similar in appearance to the side woods with a slightly wilder grain to the centre two. The body is bound with rosewood as the predominate wood with thin maple and ebony strips alongside and looks the right match for the other timbers in use here.
There’s a second strap peg mounted on the upper bout just above the neck joint which is slightly unusual, but it keeps it off the neck heel which is where some makers tend to put them. Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes there is a block of wood on the inside of the guitar to take the strain from the peg!
On to the neck itself and there’s no surprise in that it’s mahogany and looks to me to be a single piece, too, with a volute just below the headstock. The tuners are Gotoh and the bound headstock fascia plays host to the BSG logo subtly rendered in abalone.
The Macassar ebony fingerboard has been neatly bound – another luxurious appointment – and features 20 medium frets and a complete absence of position markers. The bridge is the same type of ebony once again and both nut and string saddle are made from bone. The quality of workmanship here really is top notch and it’s a great looking instrument. I’m fascinated to hear what it sounds like, though…
I had an inkling that this guitar is destined to end up in the hands of a fingerstylist from the outset. The slightly wider nut, the neck’s comfortable C profiling and bound fingerboard all conspire to make left hand fingerwork seemingly effortless. My instincts also told me that alternative tunings would sit very well with this instrument and I certainly wasn’t disappointed in that respect, either!
The combination of the Engelmann spruce and curly mango gives a clear and relatively rich sound and if you want a reference to the general tone then I’m reminded of a cross between sapele and maple. It’s certainly not as dark and airy as rosewood, but has a very good amount of sustain and clarity.
The bass response is, as you might expect form this sort of body size, very good, although personally I would string the guitar with a heavier gauge to really let the bottom-end sing through the mix. Having said that though, what’s there is perfectly serviceable with some nice shiny trebles to match and no discernible muddiness in the mid range.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if BSG become something of a force to be reckoned with over the coming years, if the quality of workmanship here is anything to go by. Certainly an endorsement from Tommy Emmanuel is a particularly powerful thing to have on the company CV.
The J36F is an absolute delight both visually and tonally and it has to be borne in mind that the company work to custom orders and so if curly mango isn’t to your liking then they’ll be only too happy to substitute another wood of your choice. In the current marketplace a totally handcrafted instrument of this quality coming in at just over £2.2k is very reasonable as you might easily expect to pay twice that if you ventured elsewhere. So if you are after an acoustic that combines good looks and superior tone, then BSG are definitely worth seeking out.
Pros: Lovely tones at a competitive price from a builder in the ascendent
Cons: Not sure about the position of the second strap peg…
Overall: Hand-crafted high quality that would suit a fingerstylist on the look out for something slightly off-road!
SOUND QUALITY 4.5 stars
BUILD QUALITY 5 stars
VALUE FOR MONEY 4.5 stars
Model: J36F Curly Mango
Retail Price: £2,264
Body Size: Jumbo
Made In: Czech Republic
Top: Engelmann spruce
Back and Sides: Hawaiian curly mango
Fingerboard: Macassar ebony
Nut Width: 44.5mm
Scale Length: 650mm
Strings Fitted: .012 – .052
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox Liteflight case