No more dangerous headstocks, no more swoopy bridges: Breedloves Korean-made Retros hark back to the golden age of American acoustics. Review by Jerry Uwins
Breedlove introduced its Korean-built Atlas Series three years ago. The Atlas guitars are based on the American-made Performance Series but have more conservative styling, omitting, for instance, the familiar shark-teeth bridge design. The latest Atlas additions are a concise sub-range of Retros, styled on the Oregon company’s Revival Series. Presently comprising just four models – two OMs and two dreadnoughts, all non-cutaway electros – they are fashioned on traditional Martin lines, even dropping Breedlove’s distinctive pointy peghead for a vintage variety. The squiggly ‘B’ logo remains, though, as an instant identifier.
Also offered as the cheaper sitka/mahogany D/SM, this full-bodied, square-shoulder dread features subtly different trim to accompany its solid Engelmann top and solid rosewood back and sides. Ivoroid binding replaces the SM’s tortie, while the position markers are upgraded to slotted diamonds. Save for a larger scratchplate the finish and fittings are otherwise the same, including the second strap button and Grover Sta-Tites. Whiter-hued than the OM’s sitka, the Engelmann top is a quality example, with clean, even grain and clearly visible cross-silking. Both guitars share the same Martin-style ‘belly’ bridge and neck profile, and dimensions are identical too, so the D/ER scores equally highly for playing comfort, whether strumming or picking.
Though quite heavy even as dreadnoughts go, the D/ER’s physical weightiness doesn’t inhibit its performance. The unplugged sound is robust and muscular, with the kind of added richness and smoother-edged follow-through that should be expected from the marriage of Engelmann and rosewood, as opposed to sitka/mahogany’s brighter, crisper inclinations. Overall, the tone is radiantly warm without sounding boomy or ill-defined. The Stage Pro system is the same, so it’s not surprising to find that this central acoustic trait is also present when powered up, to the extent that some reining-back of the bass – compared with equivalent OM settings – may be desirable to avoid low-end/low-string dominance. Happily, though, these are the kind of tonal tweaks the preamp takes in its stride.
These Retros are quite shrewd introductions on Breedlove's part, not because of their subtle vintage vibe - heck, everyone's playing the heritage card these days - but because the choice of non-cut electros is pretty limited regardless of price, and frankly far from all flat-top players consider a cutaway a must-have for plugged-in satisfaction. Apart from helping to fill that particular niche, the OM/SM and D/ER also happen to be rather nice guitars - very well made, affordable, with excellent necks and rewarding sounds including a sympathetic preamp system. That about fills the brief for us.