Bad experiences with what should be a good instrument!
About four months ago, I noticed some rather disturbing cracks in the top of my trusty Takamine 12-string guitar.
I’ve gigged with this instrument almost exclusively for about 7 or 8 years now, and absolutely loved it. I had modified the electronics (adding an LR Baggs pickup) to suit my taste, and although the frets were starting to wear heavily, I still thoroughly enjoyed playing it.
I had noticed what could only be described as a degradation in tone over a few weeks. And one day after a 4 hour gig, the top cracks caught my eye as I was placing the Tak in its case. Upon returning home, I saw that these were not just checking in the lacquer….the cracks were actually splits in the spruce; several of them were even under the pick guard.
It was time to move on and replace the Tak with a new 12-string axe.
Off to my local Guitar Center store (and yes, I will mention them by name since they have been nothing short of fantastic in terms of customer service through this process) to find my new Twelver.
I played a few, but the selection was slim and mostly low-end. The sales associate informed me that another GC store in the next town had a Breedlove Studio 12. A friend of mine owns a 6-string Breedlove, and I really did enjoy that guitar. So off I went.
Three chords in, I was hooked. Beautiful. Amazing sound and clarity. A little more difficult to fret due to the longer scale length (“Fender”-scale 25.5″ versus the shorter 25″ for the Takamine), but still….gorgeous to look at and play. I played it through a floor model Bose L1 Compact, which is the same rig I gig with, and the sound was incredible. Detailed, pronounced, and very balanced. Price was on the high side, but I asked the sales guy to make me a deal and I’d take her home today. Right NOW.
He came back with a very fair price, and and the guitar came with a very nice semi-rigid gig bag. I headed home with my new tool (or toy, depending on your perspective), giddy as child.
After a day or two, I decided to change the strings to my preferred brand, which is when I noticed a distinct crack in the finish that extended from the bridge to the sound hole, under the strings. It followed the “book match” line, where the two halves of the spruce top come together down the exact center of the top. Honestly, it could have been there from day one and I didn’t see it. But regardless, spending good money on the instrument, I called Guitar Center to ask what could be done, and the great customer service started.
They ordered me a new one on-the-spot, without even seeing the damaged guitar, and allowed me to keep it to gig with for a few days until the new one arrived. That’s a great attitude toward a working musician, and I appreciated it immensely.
A few days later, my replacement instrument came in, so I made the swap. Quick, easy, no problem.
When I arrived home, I plugged her in, and was instantly a little disappointed. Something just wasn’t there. It didn’t have the same sparkle or balance. The tone and output were not as pronounced. I changed the pre-amp battery, with little or no change. Hmmmm. Well, I had gigs to play, and it didn’t sound bad, so I figured over time it would break-in some more and I’d be fine.
But at my first gig, I noticed a lot of feedback – something the previous guitar did not experience. And the high-E string was definitely dropped out volume-wise. Probably half the volume of the other strings. And again, it just didn’t sound as “good”. But I carried on, and figured maybe a few little tweaks would help.
Over the coming months, I worked on minor things with the guitar….I installed a sound hole stopper which killed the feedback without a problem. I made sure the pickup element was properly seated. I filed the base of the bridge saddle to ensure it was completely flat and level, so it made solid contact with the pickup element all the way across the saddle. Nothing seemed to help.
I also noticed that the strings were VERY tight in the nut slots, too – to the point where this affected tuning. They would stick in the slots, even when changing strings I’d have to “pop” some of the strings out of the nut. The slots should be properly sized, but definitely shouldn’t bind on the strings. This was getting a little annoying….
I decided to call Breedlove in Oregon. And while they were very responsive and courteous, in the end, they were not very helpful. All roads seemed to lead to “send it to us or see about a local repair”. Not really the answer I’m looking for when I play this guitar 4 to 6 nights a week. I can’t afford to put it out of commission for repair, especially a brand-new instrument. I can’t blame them completely, but still; I’ve got a ton of buyer’s remorse here.
Then comes the nail in the coffin. Or in the guitar case, as it may be.
Playing a show on a Saturday night, I hear a very high-pitched tone from my PA as I strummed the Breedlove, and something doesn’t “feel” right. Looking down, I see that the high-E strings are both tucked under the last fret on the neck. The fret wire had lifted out of the fretboard by a hair, and the strings got wedged under it. Holy hell….
This continued to occur all night, prompting me to put the Breedlove in a stand and use my cheapo Dean 6-string for the remainder of the evening (the Dean Exotica is a great value guitar by the way!).
Needless to say, I was very, very frustrated.
So I headed back to Guitar Center, and showed them the problem. And in fact, Crystal (whom I have dealt with several times at my local store) noticed the next two frets were also lifting, albeit in the middle of the fretboard instead of at the edges. She admitted that she is a big fan of Breedlove (even due to a little home-state bias being from Oregon herself), but that the Korean-made mid- and low- range instruments may just not be up to the same quality standards as the USA made instruments (which are double and triple the price of the foreign models – or more), despite the fact that quality control and setup is still done in the USA.
And continuing the trend of excellent customer service, Guitar Center agreed to take the instrument back for full credit. I was in no way looking for a refund; I was looking to purchase a replacement of a different brand, and they didn’t bat an eye. That’s a great policy from a big-box store, and I will gladly continue to patronize my local GC.
So on its way now is an Ovation Elite 2058TX 12-String guitar. The flat, all-black finish will certainly suit me style-wise, and having owned an Ovation 12-string in the past (for about 20 years, until the bridge split in half – and it’s still in my home as decoration!), I know what to expect in playability – meaning excellent. Older Ovations like my Celebrity had mediocre electronics, but the new ones are well up-to-snuff for gigging, and the round, composite back shell (which is what Ovation made famous) should be great for the dry desert climate here in Arizona. Add to that the fact that I got the Ovation, a hard-shell case, and a bunch of sets of strings for the same money as the Breedlove, and I’m anticipating I’ll be a happy guy.
Perhaps one day I’ll try another Breedlove. Maybe if I ever feel like spending Taylor- or Martin-money on an acoustic guitar (we’re talking in the $2000 – $3000 range; doubtful I’d ever shell out that kind of cash). But for now, I can’t recommend them. I had multiple problems with two of the same model, and that’s enough to make me stay away from the brand.