Guitar Review – Allan Bull Guitars

One of the great privileges I have in writing this blog, aside from writing for you good folks twice a week, is taking receipt of some fantastic gear (albeit temporarily) to play around with for a bit and review – all course with you, dear reader, in mind to inform and delight! Oh OK, and to have fun indulging myself too……

So, my latest privilege this last couple of weeks has been playing around with two guitars from one of Australia’s top luthiers, Tasmanian-based Allan Bull. I own a 2008 Allan Bull guitar, so the opportunity to see what Allan had been up to of late, the progress and development in his design and sound was an absolute must for me!

This past couple of weeks I’ve been getting to grips with a new fan-braced spruce top and a cedar top with asymmetric grid bracing from the Bull Guitars stable, road testing them and having some of my students play them to get their thoughts and reactions and to hear how they sound from an audience perspective. It’s a tough gig, but someone’s got to do it!

First up, let’s take a look at the spruce top. This guitar is probably the closest of the two to the 2008 spruce top model that I own, but it is quite a different beast. Not a massively helpful comment for you, dear reader, I appreciate. What I mean to say is that Allan’s design and guitar building techniques have quite clearly continued to progress in a really positive direction.  And when I say that I don’t mean to say that the 2008 model was a bad guitar (far from it) – it’s just fantastic to see the concept of continuous improvement at play here.

The spruce top  has the full-bodied physical weight of similar Aussie-built guitars – a good sturdy instrument, which is going nowhere when playing. You feel like you can give it a bit of welly without feeling like you’re going to break it. The neck has a similarly sturdy feel, somewhat substantial, and not an overly fast neck and fretboard for my hands, although beautifully finished and a pretty nice feel overall for the left hand.

The timbers selected for the instrument itself, as always with Allan’s guitars, are of fantastic quality and visually striking. The pale, white blonde colouring of this particular spruce is striped through with an intriguing bearclaw pattern (much prized by some guitarists).

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Bull Spruce Top (with protective soundboard shield just for demo purposes)

The spruce top, much like other fan-braced, and particularly the Aussie-built guitars, has a lot of power – to say you don’t really have to milk the guitar is an understatement! So it’s a powerful guitar, with that great thick fan-braced kind of sound, but it also delivers clarity in this too. The tone production is probably a little too direct for my own personal taste – the primary note is very clear and distinct, but the tonal depth, the character delivered by the presence of overtones (which aren’t that apparent from the guitar) is perhaps missing from this instrument (although I understand this may appeal to those with flamenco preferences).

It’s also worth bearing in mind that spruce tops do tend to send a lot more direct, bright and “zingy” when brand, spanking new. This type of timber can often take 12-24 months to really open up and reveal the full depth and warmth of tone. My 2008 spruce top model, for example, took around 18 months to fully open up. I’d really love to hear this instrument when played in and the wood opened up and coming into its own.

The overall finish and attention to detail on this instrument, as with the cedar top too, I am really impressed with – the rosette, the bridge, the headstock, the purfling are all really well done indeed. Really top quality.

The cedar top with asymmetric grid bracing is most definitely my favourite of the two guitars tested and an absolutely fantastic instrument in my humblest of opinions. It shares all the quality build features, attention to detail, physical weight and playability of the spruce top, but has a completely different tonal “feel” and sound. As Allan often does with is cedar tops, with this particular model there is a rather attractive blonde “stripe” running through the middle of the soundboard. There’s no mistaking an Allan Bull soundboard, that’s for sure!

The sustain from this guitar is awesome! You can strum a chord or even a single note, put the guitar down, go away, make a cup of tea, check the mail, come back and the note will still be ringing on! OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture. Great sustain like this makes for really easy legato playing.

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Bull Cedar Top with attractive blonde stripe in the soundboard

It has a lovely warmth to the sound, which one might expect from a cedar top, with really fantastic projection. The depth and character of tone is nicely rich too, with much more obvious presence of overtones delivering that character.  This guitar was a real joy to play and found myself very happily playing this for a good hour or so. Definitely worth a look at if you’re interested in a quality, Aussie-made cedar top.

All in all, both of these instruments are of fantastic quality and neither of these would be a bad buy at all – I’d consider both a pretty good buy in fact. Which one you might choose to go for – the bright and direct spruce, or the warm and more characterful cedar is up to your own personal choice. The cedar top is a full-bodied shiraz in comparison to the spruce’s pinot gris (and just like Alsatian pinot gris, I think this one will age well) – both nice, just different and suiting different tastes for different occasions.

If you’re in Melbourne and you want to check out the Bull Guitars for yourself give Pierre Herrero at Guitars Online a call: http://guitarsonline.com.au

Or head over to Allan’s website to find out more about his design philosophy and his wonderful instruments: http://www.bullguitars.com

No pain, no gain – or not when playing classical guitar

 

At no point ever, ever should there be any pain involved in the playing of classical guitar – not when first learning, not when progressing up through your grades, not when performing at the highest level, not ever.

 

If you experience pain creeping in at any point, either during practice/ playing or immediately following, then this is a sure signal that something aint quite right. The body is a smart thing and the message that pain is giving us is telling us something loud and clear – “you’re not doing this correctly and if you carry on doing this in this way you’re going to bugger me up. Then you’ll be stuffed.” Or something like that anyway.

 

So, it’s a hackneyed old saying, but you really should listen to your body.

 

Unlike marathon runners or kickboxers or any sporting person-type analogies we may care to use from time to time when talking about learning and playing guitar, if we experience pain whilst playing this isn’t “weakness leaving the body” (or some other similar macho or “brave in the face of adversity” type saying), we should not push through it and it’s most definitely not about how much more you can take, pushing, pushing and pushing just a little bit more. This is most definitely where the analogy between the pursuit of sporting excellence and classical guitar mastery ends.

 

Pain, be it muscular, skeletal, tenderness, soreness, sharp or dull, when playing or practicing guitar should never ever be ignored. I can’t stress this enough!

 

All manner of causes

 

The cause of a pain could be all manner of things – poor seated posture, habitual and unconscious muscle tension, “trying” too hard and straining muscles, excess pressure, conscious excess muscle tension, poor left and/ or right hand technique, focus on fingers and hands over and above how the whole body is involved in playing, poor physical condition, even psychosomatic responses to feelings of inadequacy and nervousness and so on.

 

As pain can be the result can be the result of all manner of things, it can also present itself in numerous different ways in different places from one person to the next – we’re all made up slightly differently after all. We may experience pain in that big, fat juicy muscle in our thumbs, our fingers, our hand or wrist – those are common ones where poor posture and excess tension and pressure can combine to cause problems. Then, of course, as guitarists we may also experience pain in the neck, shoulders, jaw, head, upper back, lower back, hips, knees….. the list could probably continue!

 

So, as you probably may guess I can’t help you cure your specific aches and pains and so on in all these places in the space of 500 word blog (I can help you explore each of these areas in greater detail if of interest though?). What I do invite you to take away from this though is:

 

If it hurts, stop playing right away!

 

Believe me – it’s more trouble than it’s worth to continue down the path of pain. Your body is giving you a signal that you need to change something with your posture, technique and/ or approach.

 

Take a really good hard look at how you’re playing and ask yourself what needs to be done to rectify the situation. Well in fact this may be difficult for you to do, as it may not be obvious to you as to the cause. An objective outsider view may be required – it may be easier to talk in greater detail with your teacher about the issue if you have a teacher. If you don’t have a teacher, this may be a good time to get one. If you have a teacher perhaps seek additional advice too – other teachers, other guitarists, or physical therapists such as Alexander Technique teachers or physiotherapists.

 

In other news….

 

In other (if somewhat slightly random) news, a website by the name of Coupon Audit (a new one to me, I’ll admit) has been putting together a series of “Top 100 Blogs” under various topics – gardening, craft, health and so on. The folks there have put together one for guitar and, lo! Classical Guitar n Stuff made it in there, to the lofty heights of number 37! Check out the list here: http://www.couponaudit.com/blog/top-100-guitar-related-blogs-to-follow-in-2013/

 

Ooh and some other news….

 

There will be a very exciting announcement headed this way shortly about some plans for the blog coming up in the near future. Watch this space!