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Old 04-20-2011, 09:12 AM
lclyman lclyman is offline
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Default Review: Laurent Brondel Carpathian spruce / Madagascar rosewood A3

Though I created an earlier thread chronicling the build of my Brondel A3 I decided to do the promised review in a new one. The original build thread can be viewed here for that background:

Iíve waited a little while to write this for a number of reasons, but foremost to allow a certain amount of time to ďget insideĒ this guitar and start to develop my relationship with it...

So without any further ado:

Laurent Brondel Carpathian spruce/ Madagascar rosewood A3 acoustic guitar: A decidedly non - impartial review

The first thing I noticed was the smell of the oil immediate reminder that this is all about handwork...and the attendant imagery (real and imagined) of the shop and environment where it came from...the woods and the wood..the ďrealnessĒ of it...presenting a stark contrast to all things digital and virtual that surround us more and more..

This guitar is certainly not some sort of time saving device or marvel of high tech engineering and efficiency (though it is amazingly well engineered and absolutely acoustically efficient) fact I have already experienced itís almost eerie ability to make time disappear...but Iím getting slightly ahead of myself...which of course one can do when experiencing timelessness..!!

This particular guitar, like all commissions, had itís specific build specs, and though as now that feels way besides the point, here they are... if for no other reason than to give a sense of the physical boundaries I had to impose on retrospect I probably could have just asked Laurent to build me a guitar, and left it at that...

Be that as it may, here are the salient features which I will use as my review markers...

A3/00 body size:
The 14 fret 00 body size, of which Laurentís version is called the A3, is in many ways perfect...(and incidentally in conversation with quite a few luthiers, a favorite build size..)...Laurentís A3 design is large enough to balance comfortably and feel substantial in my hands, but small enough to retain a degree of intimacy...enough power and fullness when you want it and a more hushed equilibrium when thatís where youíre no time do I feel like Iím playing a smaller guitar...belying, or perhaps explaining itís abundant volume, it is remarkably light in weight...the words ďstrong and leanĒ come to mind.

Madagascar rosewood back & sides - Carpathian spruce top

I talked to Laurent about warmth, power, and clarity when we danced around the idea of a tonal aim...Laurent had seen me play and our many extremely enjoyable conversations gave ample clues as to what types of sound and dynamic response I liked and disliked. When we began discussions over wood choices it became quite clear that Laurent would build me a superb guitar with virtually any combination of woods, but he ever so subtly steered me to a certain blending...not by overt suggestion, but by describing the character of certain woods he had in his shop, and with undisguised enthusiasm for a small number of sets of Madagascar rosewood he had recently picked out. The set I eventually chose was quite beautiful... fairly straight grained with a nice bit of subtle flaring towards the edges.

The Carpathian spruce top, specifically chosen by Laurent for itís rigidity and feel, and generally for itís inherent combination of headroom, warmer tonal shadings, and terrific compatibility with Madagascar rosewood, is nicely light colored with a slightly wider grain towards the middle and tighter towards the edges, with a few hints of bear claw and silking providing character and subtle visual appeal.

I would not personally describe the overall look of either the top or back as conventionally spectacular. I have seen plenty of guitars where the look of the woods took oneís breath away..including some of Laurentís...but as I tend to need all the oxygen I can get, spectacle was not what I was interested in. What moves and inspires me is understated elegance and a subtlety of artistry that reveals itself layer by layer, over time...and to my tastes that is sublimely on display with this A3.

For examples... the way the unique headstock and bridge shapes work together.. the beautifully subtle half arrow design used for the sound hole rosette, front and back edge purfling, and back strip...the neckís richly black ebony fingerboard, beautifully clean except for a lovely thin strip of white maple that borders the entire fingerboard, with the graceful curves of the volute seamlessly merging into the expertly carved, luxuriously comfortable, laminated Honduran mahogany neck..

And speaking of the neck, one of my favorite things is Laurent's use of slightly larger/fatter frets...very reminiscent of the feel of classic upper end Gibson arch top guitars Iíve played in the past... a feature I donít recall experiencing on any other acoustic guitars...and one of a number of things that Laurent has incorporated from outside the traditional flat top acoustic guitar world that give his guitars their unique and compelling nature...another being the satisfying manner in which this guitar plays with the looseness of short scale when in fact it is decidedly long scale (25.6Ē)...resulting in the power and projection of the long scale 14 fret neck with the more relaxed response and expressiveness of a shorter scale...a vibe I would characterize as almost electric guitar like if that solid body guitar was strung with heavier strings...

And best of all...accomplishing all this while simultaneously functioning as a frighteningly capable tool for making music...and here I have to comment on tonal character, ..well where should I start...?

In my opinion, and for my style of playing, these are the critical things that I listen for....rarely find in one instrument...and are indeed all present in this A3:

1.) Tonal balance comprised of a present well defined and tight bottom end, a clear midrange that is forward enough to be heard but not overwhelm at the edges, and Rubenesquely rounded trebles...Iím talkiní about fat trebles...on the verge of a classical guitarís high end...I have a particular aversion to thinness or harshness in that area, and this A3 is exhilarating in that regard...and I would venture to say it is one of the hallmarks of Laurentís sound...and in my opinion itís one helluva signature...

2.) Dynamically controllable articulation - here I mean this A3ís ability to respond to my touch...itís capacity for and ease of expressiveness at all parts of the dynamic spectrum anywhere on the instrument..with power and projection when asked for, while making available many subtler but equally powerful colorations when played more softly...

There is also a grayer area that has properties of both dynamic response and tonal character and is very much a function of the wood choices and the luthierís skills working them. Here Iím talking about things like sustain, ambiance, and overtone content. On this subject Iím more ambivalent in that I have no clear preference as Iíve enjoyed playing and hearing guitars that have had a broad sampling of those characteristics. Having said that, this guitar has a tremendous amount of controllable sustain, a very lyrical and harmonious overtone content that does not overwhelm, and a reverberant quality that I just fact I described it to Laurent as akin to the sound of a studio quality small wood room reverb with a very short other words a clear woody ambience that blooms right after the initial attack...

and lastly....

3.) An inherent musicality to the guitar that is almost impossible to describe, but I know it when I see/hear/feel it...and to be honest this is a bit of a bogus quality because musicality is the responsibility and property of the player...the instrument is strictly speaking just the tool...but Iíve played enough guitars over my many years as a musician to know that certain instruments bring out more in me than others...and along those lines Iíve handed a personal favorite of mine to someone who made it sound like garbage, and Iíve picked up magnificent sounding guitars of gifted players that I couldn't do a darn thing with...

With that said, for me this Brondel A3 is an astoundingly musical instrument that has already coaxed out new levels of musical expressiveness and tonal possibilities...inspiring to play...and listen to...and look at...often at the same time....

Iíve noticed that there is a quality to the A3 that encourages me to slow down and listen closely to the music Iím playing.... to bask in the sound....some of that is surely age related, but mostly itís that musicality thing...

I know it when I hear it and I always stop and listen when I do...

A guitar amongst guitars...!!!


Last edited by lclyman; 04-20-2011 at 09:46 AM.
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Old 04-20-2011, 09:20 AM
M Sarad M Sarad is offline
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Congratulations. This is my favorite model of his and Laurent is my new favorite builder. At the Luthiers' Consortium at NAMM a few years back, Laurent had an A 3 of African Mahogany and Carpathian spruce that blew my mind. I couldn't swing the deal and I am still dreaming of the day.

You are blessed with this fine instrument.
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Old 04-20-2011, 09:56 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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That is very beautiful! Congratulations Larry!
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Old 04-20-2011, 10:02 AM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Congratulations, Larry. Laurent's work is first-rate!
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Old 04-20-2011, 11:13 AM
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El Conquistador El Conquistador is offline
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Originally Posted by lclyman View Post
An inherent musicality to the guitar that is almost impossible to describe, but I know it when I see/hear/feel it...and to be honest this is a bit of a bogus quality because musicality is the responsibility and property of the player
I would disagree with your assesment of the musicality of an instrument being the responsibility of the player. Here is why.

I am the proud owner of a Brondel B4. My neighbor invited me over one day to check out is brand new Martin HD28. After playing it a bit, I asked him how he liked it. He admitted that he was disapointed with the tone as this had always been his dream guitar. I finally confessed that I thought it sounded like it was stuffed with socks. So I asked him if he wanted to come to my house to try out my guitars. When I first placed the B4 in his arms, he asked why I was giving him such a small guitar to compare with his Martin Dread. I told him that the tone of a guitar is completely in the hands of the builder and to just try it. At the first strum his eyes grew wide. He then launched into a complete piece. He finally looked up at me in awe and said, "It is just so, I don't know, so musical!"

Congratulations on your beautiful Brondel!

BTW, I concure 100% with all your other comments. : )
Still crazy after all these years.
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Old 04-20-2011, 01:45 PM
JimR JimR is offline
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lclyman, if your new Brondel guitar is anywhere near as eloquent as your description, then it certainly must be a fine guitar.
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Old 04-20-2011, 03:22 PM
Rollie Rollie is offline
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Congrats ...great looking build ,I'm sure that she'll inspire ,and motivate your playing .. Nice work Laurent !!

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Old 04-20-2011, 06:28 PM
vintageparlors vintageparlors is offline
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Thank you for taking the time to provide your review. It was excellent.
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Old 04-20-2011, 06:33 PM
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Larry Pattis Larry Pattis is offline
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Beautiful guitar.

Laurent deserves all the praise, and more...
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Old 04-21-2011, 07:56 AM
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ChuckS ChuckS is offline
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I really like the aesthetics of Laurent's guitars, and I'm sure there is tone and playability to match. Congratulations!

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Old 04-23-2011, 05:36 AM
Laurent Brondel Laurent Brondel is offline
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Larry, that is quite a review and written with such eloquence. I almost blushed reading it!
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Old 04-23-2011, 06:10 AM
lclyman lclyman is offline
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Originally Posted by Laurent Brondel View Post
Larry, that is quite a review and written with such eloquence. I almost blushed reading it! is quite a guitar...

My apparent eloquence was certainly aided by a handy thesaurus and influenced in tone by recent readings of novels by Henry James, Robertson Davies, and Ward Just...

It's a good thing I wasn't in one of my Quentin Tarantino, Elmore Leonard, and James Ellroy phases...

The review might have been quite different in timbre..!!

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Old 04-25-2011, 01:30 PM
dennisczech dennisczech is offline
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Nice one Larry. My Brondel D-3 is winging its way over the pond, so your review has helped me cope with the last minute heebie jeebies. I'd be interested to hear whether the Brondel inspires you to play different music from your Sexauer, and how you experience the two, although I know comparisons can be iniquitous. Cheers, Dennis
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Old 04-26-2011, 07:47 AM
lclyman lclyman is offline
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I'm sure you'll be thrilled with your D-3.

Your 2 questions are very hard to answer as it involves comparing 2 undeniably superior expressly built for me, the other might as well have been...!

Both the Sexauer WRX and the Brondel A3 are utterly inspirational to play, each one providing a completely self sufficient world for music making.

The 2 guitars don't inspire different's more of an encouragement towards different approaches...

And even that is is a bit specious as the deep time spent exploring the expressiveness of either the Sexauer or Brondel guitars ends up somehow coming into play when the other guitar is in my hands...

I guess another way of putting it would be to say that both guitars encourage me to stretch and grow..and the cumulative effect is incredibly satisfying...

If asked to choose between them....I would opt out...!!

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