Bourgeois Piccolo & D-Custom review

The Pine Tree State of Maine is home to premium acoustic maker Bourgeois. We test the Piccolo Parlor and D-Custom…

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Bourgeois has carved out a reputation as one of the finest acoustic guitar manufacturers. Most of its models, including the two featured here, are rooted in the pre-war Martin tradition and are built with premium tonewoods and materials.

Common features include bolted mahogany necks with diamond volutes and satin finishes, Waverly open gear tuners and bone nuts and saddles. While both are flawless, the finishes are different. The Piccolo is urethane and the D-Custom has Bourgeois’ `Aged Tone’ cyanoacrylic.

Closely related to superglue, this recently-developed finish sets rock-hard, so it’s claimed to sound like very old lacquer. However, it has the durability of a modern catalysed finish, so it will maintain its high gloss and won’t `age’ like traditional materials.

Victorian Piccolo Parlor

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Acoustic travel guitars are generally short on scale and refinements, and designed to fit in overhead lockers on planes. So the Piccolo is no travel guitar, because the scale length is 25 inches, it’s highly refined and the design is so old the only locker it could be intended for is one of Wilbur Wright’s.

The Piccolo is X braced for steel strings and features a redwood top with a Pao rosewood back and sides. The purflings and backstrip are herringbone and the figured koa bindings provide a honeyed contrast. Thick slices of ziricote are used for the peghead and heel cap, with ebony for the fingerboard and pyramid bridge. The Piccolo also has a body wood `butt wedge’.

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In use

This is not a guitar that demands a delicate touch – you can dig in. It plays like a dream with its sublimely soft V neck profile and the compensated bone saddle ensures sweet intonation.

The Piccolo has a tone that brings to mind vintage Westerns and has more in common with gut-string and even classical guitars than big dreadnoughts. Some parlors can sound a tad thin and plinky with steel strings, but this one has very full mids and single notes pack a solid punch.

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Played delicately, the Piccolo has an ethereal, harp-like quality that begs you to mix up open strings and fretted notes for enigmatic chords – especially in open tunings – as harmonics hang on and drift inside the body.

The laws of physics prohibit deep lows, but what bass the Piccolo has is firm and punchy. The treble is rolled off slightly, but the unwound strings combine a nylon-like roundness with a snappy percussive edge.

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You can pull up as hard as you like on the strings, Bert Jansch style, and the Piccolo can go all the way without compressing or going out of tune. A firmer right hand can coax the Piccolo into a rural blues direction. Even with its low action, this is a stunning bottleneck guitar.

It’s not designed for conventional acoustic rhythm duties, but it sounds like a baby archtop when you comp jazz chords and would be perfect for songwriters with quiet voices.

D-Custom Dreadnought

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This guitar is based on one of the most iconic dreadnoughts of all. Bourgeois has taken inspiration from Clarence White’s 1935 Martin D-28. In bluegrass circles, its widened soundhole is considered to be a vital element in White’s tone and Bourgeois has replicated the widened soundhole and fretboard overhang of White’s guitar.

The soundhole is edged in the same ivoroid binding as the body, but rather than obscure all the end grain, Bourgeois has chosen to rout a ledge for the soundhole binding and the spruce is visible beneath.

In other ways, this guitar is based on Martin’s pre-war dreadnoughts, with the same scalloped braces and advanced `X’. The Madagascar rosewood back and sides are spectacular, but the really interesting bits are the soundboard and braces.

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The fact that it’s high-grade Adirondack spruce is more than enough to get excited about, but Bourgeois uses an aging process known as torrefaction, too. The timber is heat treated in a specific way to cook off the oils, sugars and resins that would normally vacate the wood over decades. The resulting honeycomb-like cellular structure resembles old wood, and it’s claimed the tone is more `vintage’ too.

In use

The D-Custom is not for the faint of heart. The action is set high for the strings to ring loud and clear, and you need strong fingers to play high up the neck. It feels really good down the cowboy end, but isn’t designed for easy picking all over the neck.

It’s a full-frequency experience with none of the loose, woofy bass that detracts from some dreadnoughts. You get a crisply defined attack to single notes and robust low-end thump from strummed chords.

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There’s ample treble too, without the pinginess that can blight fresh spruce and rosewood – instead an upper-harmonic halo that’s like a natural chorus. If you think scooped mids are a recent thing, you should try a traditionally voiced dreadnought such as this.

The low end provides the impetus, the treble lends definition and there’s no harmonic clutter in the snare and vocal frequencies. The dynamic range is vast, without the crashy compression that limits some all-solid acoustics.

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I couldn’t find anything to criticise about the build quality or the finish of either guitar. The braces are carved so crisply you could cut yourself, and the workmanship has more in common with precision engineering than joinery.

Both these instruments are specialised, but I found the Piccolo to be the best all-rounder, and it’s one of those guitars that keeps on surprising you. The D-Custom sounds as stunning as it looks, providing you understand what you’re buying.

Key Features
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Bourgeois Piccolo Parlor

Description All-solid acoustic parlor guitar, made in the USA
Price £5,000
• Build Redwood top with Pao rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck with diamond volute, ebony bridge and fingerboard, zircote peghead overlay, 12th-fret neck join, gold plated Waverly open gear tuners, bone bridge pins, nut and saddle, figured koa bindings, half-herringbone purflings, herringbone backstrip
• Hardware Custom tailpiece, 7075 aluminium bar bridge, Schaller open gear tuners
• Left-Handers Yes, special order
• Finish Urethane, gloss body with satin neck
• Scale Length 636mm/25”
• Neck Width 44mm at nut, 54.5mm at 12th fret
• Depth Of Neck 19mm at first fret, 24mm at ninth fret
• String Spacing 38mm at nut, 59mm at bridge
• Weight 1.7kg/3.7lbs
• Contact The North American Guitar
0207 835 5597
Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 10.47.32
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Bourgeois D-Custom Dreadnought
• Description All-solid acoustic parlor guitar, made in the USA
• Price £5,950
• Build Aged tone Adirondack spruce top with Madagascar rosewood back and sides, mahogany neck with diamond volute, ebony bridge, pins and fingerboard, Madagascar rosewood peghead overlay, 14th-fret neck join, nickel Waverly open gear tuners, bone nut and saddle, ivoroid bindings, herringbone purflings, zig-zag backstrip
• Left-Handers Yes, special order
• Finish Aged tone (cyanoacrylic), gloss body with satin neck
• Scale Length 648 mm/25.5”
• Neck Width 43.5mm at nut, 55mm at 12th fret
Depth Of Neck 19mm at first fret, 23mm at 9th fret
• String Spacing 37mm at nut, 56mm at bridge
• Weight 2kg/4.4lbs
• Contact The North American Guitar
0207 835 5597
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