A Jaw-Dropping Acoustic from Ireland...

For the player that wants to be different, this beautifully crafted Avalon, made in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, is a timely reminder that, while definitely niche, the acoustic baritone is edging towards the mainstream.

"We've only done around half a dozen baritones so far," says Avalon's founder, Steve McIlwrath, "but there does seem to be a trend for different guitars, like the bigger baritone on one side and the smaller Terz on the other.

"The demand for our baritones has actually come from a dealer in Holland who manages to sell them very quickly. He specialises in baritones and really likes the sound of ours."

Reflecting another trend, this Avalon - from the Arc series - proudly displays back and sides made from Irish spalted maple. "That was a complete shock and surprise to us," continues Steve.

"This tree was given to us from a church in County Antrim; they were taking it down because it had been storm damaged. We planned to use it for binding material, we use sycamore, but the log had laid in the ground for a year or so and by the time we got it, it had become spalted and we really thought it would be good for nothing, except firewood.

"When we opened it up and saw the nice patterns, the spalting and the overall figuring, we thought, let's try it. We built a standard dreadnought and were amazed by its tone.

"You don't expect maple to sound like this - it can be bright and brassy but this sounds incredibly rich. We had about enough for 20 sets from that log - it's all gone, I think."

If you've never experienced an acoustic baritone add it to your list of potentially life-changing experiences.

It arrived tuned to A to A, which is probably as low as you'd want to go though if felt happier in B to B with an immensely strong fundamental, piano-like voice that's somehow earthy and clear in equal measure. In moments we were experimenting with open, folksy tunings that evoke haunting Gaelic tunes.

It's not over big in the bass either so fingerpicked you have to work at it a little; with pick and fingers it's like you've lent into the top of grand piano and are plucking the single strings.

The bridge is ‘two-tone’ Brazilian rosewood which matches the unusual figuring of the back and sides wood.

The two bone saddles, with a 56mm string spread, ensure accurate intonation on this long-scale, 705mm (27.75-inch) baritone.

The Irish spalted maple back and sides has a unique appearance: beautifully understated, like an impressionist watercolour painting.

The neck is quarter-sawn maple and the finish is a hand-rubbed satin nitrocellulose.

Like the bridge, the bindings and bevel plate are also Brazilian rosewood.

There’s an abalone inner purfling around the Sitka spruce top’s edge; it’s used for the soundhole decoration too.


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