Hands-On Review:Breedlove Extraordinary Experience/Passport D20 FS
Travel to build/built to travel
At the outset of his book Guitar (An American Life), author Tim Brookes suggests we are now living in the Golden Age of Guitar Making because more and more “healthy and flourishing” baby boomers like him are going directly to luthiers to have their dream guitar built. To celebrate his 50th birthday, Brookes decided to have a custom guitar built and describes engaging the services of a guitar maker who lives just 15 miles from him in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The author devotes a chapter to each step in the custom-guitar-building process, from the first meeting with the luthier to selecting the wood and choosing the rosette, on through to shaping the wood, scalloping the braces, gluing the top, and applying the finish. He was lucky to have a skilled guitar maker who was able to fit the author into his schedule. The result was a guitar he couldn’t be happier with, because a skilled craftsman made it to his express wishes with his ongoing and direct involvement.
Fortunately, for those guitarists who want a custom-made guitar but don’t have a luthier living nearby, Breedlove Guitars has a program that turns the whole process into a vacation that offers fly fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting, and golf, as well as designing a custom-built guitar. Breedlove calls it the Extraordinary Experience. The guitarist travels to Bend, Oregon, a ski resort area near Mt. Bachelor, to meet with the master builders at Breedlove Guitars. The goal is to build a relationship between guitarist and guitar maker. Over the course of four days, Breedlove employees learn first-hand through face-to-face discussion and activities such as guitar clinics, how the guitarist plays, and his or her instrument preferences. This relationship influences every choice beginning with the guest selecting the body style and the high-grade tonewoods for the top, back, and sides. Most of the tonewood comes from Oregon’s coast and includes myrtlewood, an increasingly popular material among guitar makers. After four days at Breedlove, the guitarist has his or her dream guitar: a customized Breedlove instrument that bears the stamp of the owner’s personal input. Details about the Extraordinary Experience are available on Breedlove's website.
One for the road
At the other end of the Breedlove guitar spectrum is their newest travel guitar, the Passport D20 FS — their first travel dreadnought. Like Breedlove’s Atlas line of guitars, the Passport D20 is built in South Korea with the finished product shipped to Oregon for inspection and setup by the experts at Breedlove. FS stands for full-scale, as in a 25-1/2" scale on a 7/8-size dreadnought-style body. The result is a slightly smaller, lighter guitar, that plays and sounds like a full-size instrument at a price that makes it as easy to own as it is to carry. The D20 FS is perfect for hiking and backpacking without giving up tone or having to change playing style for a smaller scale neck. The smaller size, weight, and price also make the D20 an ideal guitar for young beginners. The D20 FS has a solid Sitka spruce top, and mahogany-laminate back and sides. The scalloped X-bracing provides stability while allowing the top to vibrate more freely for enhanced volume and improved bass response. The African mahogany neck is solidly glued to the body in a dovetail neck joint. Because of the way the truss rod moves, it allows more flexibility in making adjustments to keep the neck straight. The saddle has a compensated B-string for accurate intonation and better tuning. The D20 FS has no-nonsense looks with a smooth nonglossy satin finish and a black/white/black rosette complementing the black body and neck binding.
Sound and playability
Despite its slightly reduced size, the Passport D20 FS maintains a fairly balanced sound, due in large part to the Sitka spruce, which makes this a good strumming guitar. It does not have the boomy bass so common to many dreadnoughts, yet still has a respectably sinewy bottom end, good for bass note accents. The treble is uncluttered and quite lively, which helps the D20 hold its own in the mix with other acoustic guitars. The nonglossy satin finish neck is fast-playing and comfortable. The standard dreadnought nut width of 1-11/16" leaves plenty of room on the fretboard for busy fingerpicking styles like ragtime blues. The full-scale neck makes it easier to bend notes than the smaller-scale neck on many travel guitars.
I took my sample D20 FS out for a spin on my bicycle. This travel guitar fits snugly into its specially designed Breedlove logo gig bag. However, I should point out that the fit is not excessively tight, so there is no added tension on the neck. Slipping the bag over my shoulders like a backpack, I could immediately feel the difference compared to my standard-size dreadnought and gig bag. There was plenty of room in the front pouch for a wrench, tire pump, spare inner tube, and some lyric sheets. While out and about with the D20, I knew it would be simple to change strings because they are fed through the backside of the bridge so no pins are needed. I spent the entire day bicycling from one city park to the next, pulling out the D20 at a park bench or picnic table accompanied by the musique concrète provided by children at the nearby playground or an open-air jam session with the birds. I then cycled over to the community center to play at a senior citizen sing-along with another guitarist and bassist. At the end of the day, my back muscles thanked me for having the lighter, smaller load of the Passport D20 FS.
Features & Specs
- 7/8-size dreadnought body, non-cutaway
- Full 25-1/2" scale
- Solid Sitka spruce top
- Traditional advanced scalloped X-bracing
- Mahogany-laminate back & sides
- African mahogany neck with dovetail neck joint
- Rosewood bridge & fretboard
- Nut width 1-11/16"
- 20 frets
- Double action truss rod, adjustable at soundhole
- Black bound body and neck
- BWB (black-white-black) rosette
- Satin finish
- Pinless bridge
- Compensated B-string saddle
- Depth: 4-1/2" at tail block, 3-9/16" at heel
- Lower bout width: 15-1/4"
- Overall length: 41-5/8"
- Weight: 4-1/2 lbs. (6-3/5 lbs. with gig bag)
- D’Addario EXP16 Phosphor Bronze Light Gauge strings
- Built in South Korea, and inspected and set up in Bend, OR USA
- Breedlove logo gig bag included