Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guitar Pron 12: Babicz Jumbo Acoustic

During a recent trip around New York and Connecticut I stopped in Troy, NY to visit Cathedral Music, where I came across this intriguing thing, the likes of which I had never seen before:

Jeff Babicz is a former employee of Steinberger sound during the Newburgh years. From what I hear, he may even have helped build one of my Steinberger basses. He seems to have made it his mission to bring some fresh ideas to acoustic guitar design, while retaining the best traditional elements.

The Babicz Identity series acoustics look a little odd -- the most striking thing is the "fanned" strings. But it isn't just for looks -- it's a functional design element. Basically, the strings are not anchored to the top of the guitar at the body in the usual sense. There's no major single point of strain where the entire pull of the strings is yanking sideways on the middle of the delicate top. Instead, they pass over the bridge and a kind of anchor, where they then fan out to anchors attached around the perimeter of the top. These apparently transfer the strain to the curved body which, being an arch instead of a flat piece, is better-equipped to handle it.

The net upshot is that when you tap on the top, next to the bridge, it sounds like a bass drum. The top resonates much more freely, and so the guitar produces very rich and resonant bass. But there's more to it than that -- apparently the floating bridge is not even glued to the top, but bolted to slots cut in the top, such that the bridge can be loosened and moved to change the intonation as the guitar ages.

There's one more really intriguing innovation: the neck itself is not actually attached to the soundboard. It's attached to some kind of special internal block with a mechanism that actually will raise and lower the neck with respect to the soundboard, as a whole. This has nothing to do with the truss rod, which is to set the neck relief -- it sets the position of the whole neck with respect to the bridge. All you do is stick an allen wrench in this little hole and give it a turn or two. The guitar actually came with an allen wrench fastened to the back of the headstock. However, the adhesive holding the little plastic holders to the back of the headstock had gotten a little old, and it was coming off, so I removed it and cleaned the adhesive off with a little vegetable oil. It came off just fine, and the allen wrench is now in the case.

The movement of the neck is so accurate and clean that you can do this and change the action on the fly, and it doesn't even put the guitar out of tune. That sounds hard to believe, but it's true!

This jumbo, smaller than a dreadnought and a little better suited to finger-picking, has a spruce top and rosewood back and sides. The top is not one piece, though, and it is made in Indonesia. You can also get a hand-made guitar built by Jeff Babicz himself. I'm setting aside a little money in the hopes that one day I'll be able to order my hand-built dream guitar from Jeff.

This guitar has no electronics. There's a black model with built-in electronics, called the Spider, that looks very nice. There is also a hollow-body electric version. I'm keeping an eye out for one of those! I've never owned a jazz box, and it looks like just the slightly offbeat but great-sounding instrument that I would really enjoy playing. Jeff has apparently prototyped a 12-string version acoustic-electric model that is flat like some of the Godin models. That sounds amazing. I don't think these are in production, though.

My mic technique is not the greatest, and my finger-picking technique is not the greatest; my nails had not grown out properly yet, and I was just getting used to playing using my nails instead of fingertips. But with that caveat, that the flaws are mine and not the guitar's, you can hear me play this guitar in this video. (The guitar track is doubled, but it will give you an idea of what it sounds like).

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