The Big Review: B&G Caletta Standard Build, another gold-standard instrument from the Tel Aviv team?
Slotting between Israeli brand B&G’s Private Build and Crossroads models, the Standard Build Coletta has a host of highly requested features.
Image: Adam Gasson
Built by Tel Aviv brand B&G, the Caletta model is the brainchild of luthier and co-founder Kiki Goldshtein. His inspiration came from a 1904 Oscar Schmidt Stella guitar. His goal? To combine the throaty tones that characterise mass-produced small-bodied guitars made in Chicago in the early 20th century with the warmth and richness of his favourite Martin dreadnought.
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Goldshtein spent a few years testing prototypes to determine the necessary body shape and depth, along with the best position, size and weight for the braces. He even devised a new neck joint, combining a Spanish heel with a mortice and tenon, to provide a greater gluing surface area for improved stability. The resulting body shape looks similar to that of the old Stella, only with a lower bout width of 368mm (14.5 inches) and a maximum depth of 112mm (4.4 inches).
All Standard Build Calettas are hand-built in Israel and, although the specs are not customisable, they’re closer to the custom-ordered Private Build models than the Chinese-made Crossroads version. All Standard Build tops are Sitka spruce but you can choose between rosewood and mahogany for the back and sides. There are Vintage Amber and sunburst options for the mahogany model but the rosewood version doesn’t come in sunburst.
Through the soundhole, we count three tall thin back braces, with a flat popsicle brace between each. Copious squeeze-out running along the sides of the braces has the unmistakable crystalline sheen of hide glue.
It’s the same story around the braces under the top. But the carving is extremely neat and there’s an elegantly crafted rosewood cross reinforcing the intersection of the X-braces. We can also see that B&G favours reverse spruce kerfing.
The Caletta’s one-piece mahogany neck feels very much like that of B&G’s Little Sister electric. It reminds us of Gibson’s best early 1950s efforts; smoothly transitioning from a soft V to a comfy roundness nearer the heel but without any significant increase n depth.
The fretboard width and string spacing more closely conform to a regular electric neck than that of a typical pre-war acoustic, so hardcore fingerstylists should take note of the fretboard’s narrowness. But the ’board and the string spacing are about the same as a regular Fender neck. If you can fingerpick on a Tele, you’ll have no difficulties here.
If you’ve never owned a slot-head guitar, you may struggle with the first few string changes. But you’ll get used to it. Besides which, the Caletta ships with Elixir 80/20 bronze strings (12-53), which generally last for months.
The great CITES rosewood relaxation of 2019 means that the wood is back on the menu, and there’s certainly plenty of it on this guitar. Besides the back and sides, Indian rosewood is used for the bridge, fretboard, heel cap and headstock veneer.
The non-bound fretboard has diamond-shaped pearl inlays for position markers, and there are two more on the bridge cheeks. Besides a nicely inlayed B&G headstock logo and a white/black/white soundhole ring, that’s about it for decoration.
However, there is a pleasant surprise just inside the soundhole: a volume control for the undersaddle piezo pickup. The pickup itself is manufactured to B&G specs and there’s a strap holder/jack socket combo at the tail block. Rather than cutting unnecessary holes into the side for the battery housing, B&G made the battery bag easily accessible through the soundhole.
For anyone familiar with pre-war style acoustics with 12th fret neck joints, the Caletta will sound almost exactly as you expect. There’s a wonderfully boxy midrange honk – but not too much – coupled with a very fast and punchy attack. The main differences are a bit more treble sparkle and plenty more bass depth and power.
On occasion you may find an electric guitar, pedal and amp combination that somehow nails a plethora of classic tones. Experiences like that are rarer with acoustics but this Caletta is like a sonic time machine that transports you straight back to the early 20th century. Having said that, it presents none of the playing challenges or tuning difficulties that generally come with century-old ‘catalogue’ guitars.
Dropping to open D tuning for some slide playing demonstrates how well suited the Caletta is to the genre. The lowered pitch also enhances the vintage qualities and appears to resonate better with the body. Returning to standard intervals – but a whole tone lower – we like the effect so much that we might feel inclined to keep one of these guitars permanently drop-tuned.
When we lower the outside strings to C and have a crack at Steve Stills’ Black Queen, the Caletta sounds remarkably like the recording. Although we don’t much care for the model’s shiny gold tuners, they do make skipping between tunings a breeze.
The on-board pickup has a pleasing and impressively natural tone but we’re not convinced it adds much value at this price point. If you’re considering spending this much, you’re probably a serious player with strong preferences for pickup systems and may prefer to fit your own.
Our concerns about the Caletta Standard Build are largely aesthetic. Despite the lacquer being flawlessly applied, the matte surface has a slightly milky look that does nothing to enhance the beauty of such high-quality tonewoods, and largely obscures the spruce’s grain.
We also find the near-orange top tint somewhat unconvincing, with an overall effect that’s more sub-£1,500 factory guitar than vibey and vintage-inspired hand-built instrument. The finish does feel pleasant on the back of the neck but we’re disappointed given B&G’s proven ability to produce some of the best vintage-inspired finishes in the business using both nitro and urethane.
Fortunately, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The intimate playing feel combines with the pre-war tonal qualities to eerily evocative effect. Although equally well suited to strumming and fingerpicking styles, the tonal character of the Caletta may be too niche for those looking for a general-purpose acoustic. That said, we could barely stop playing it. We’ll be very sorry to see this one go.
- PRICE £2,999 (inc hard case)
- DESCRIPTION All solid wood 6-string acoustic guitar. Made in Israel
- BUILD 20-year aged Sitka spruce top with alpine spruce braces, solid rosewood sides and back, Spanish cedar kerfing and head and tail blocks. Set mahogany neck and 12”-radius rosewood fingerboard, pearloid diamond markers, rosewood peghead overlay, 12th-fret neck join, 3-on-a-plate tuners, rosewood bridge, Tusq bridge pins, Tusq nut and compensated saddle, ABS body binding, custom made undersaddle piezo pickup
- SCALE LENGTH 624mm/24.5”
- NECK WIDTH 42.64mm at nut, 53.45mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 21.9mm at first fret, 25.2mm at 9th fret
- STRING SPACING 35.8mm at nut, 57.7mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 1.78kg/3.92lb
- LEFT HANDERS Yes
- FINISH Vintage Amber (as reviewed) matt nitrocellulose
- CONTACT thenorthamericanguitar.com, bngguitars.com