Review: Breedlove Rainforest S Concert Papillon CE

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Review: Breedlove Rainforest S Concert Papillon CE

Words by Peter Hodgson

Amber Technology | RRP: $1,099

Based in Oregon, Breedlove has been making meticulously handcrafted guitars for 30 years now. Besides meeting the obvious goals of constructing quality acoustic guitars that are optimised for both playability and sound, Breedlove also has a passion for nature – a passion which is epitomised in their ECO Collection.

Breedlove’s new Rainforest S series is part of the ECO Collection which uses earth-conscious ‘EcoTonewood’ sustainable laminate technology. The idea is to be more respectful of the natural resources that go into making an acoustic guitar, and it allows Breedlove to use clear-cut-free, individually harvested African mahogany in place of the softwoods usually employed in acoustic guitars. 

Breedlove owner Tom Bedell personally took it upon himself to visit forests the world over to source raw materials from local families, mills, and suppliers, with the aim of preserving and protecting the world’s forest habitats and the communities who strive to peacefully coexist alongside them.

Read more gear reviews here.

The Rainforest S Concert Papillon CE is just one entry in a wide range of acoustic guitars that are all distinctly Breedlove, but which all have their own unique individual charms too. And the first thing you’ll notice is that gorgeous Papillon finish, a deep dark blue offset by reddy-brown and black binding, mirrored on the sound hole rosette but curiously not on the matte-finished headstock. This is a guitar that defies your expectations at every curve: the fingerboard dots are offset on the bass side up to the twelfth fret and then offset to the treble side, drawing the eye to the smooth and comfortable treble-side cutaway that provides unrestricted upper fret access. And the headstock is an asymmetrical, slightly Gumby-shaped design which is unmistakable in silhouette and which also seems to place each tuner right where your hand would naturally grapple for it. 

The same African mahogany (sourced from the Republic of Congo) is used for the laminated back and sides as well as for the solid (not laminate) top and for the neck. The fretboard is ovangkol, stained black, and featuring 20 decent-sized and fell-finished frets. The back of the neck employs a matte finish – suddenly that matte headstock makes more design sense. And you don’t need to stress about CITES regulations should you need to travel internationally with this guitar, in a nice touch, a detailed list of the origin of all natural materials used to build this guitar is transparently available on the Breedlove website.

It provides each wood species’ common name, scientific name and country of origin, and notes that they use no clear-cut wood and either salvage dead trees or individually harvest to minimise the impact on the forest. The company recommends printing out this info and keeping it with your guitar should you encounter any huffy customs officials. 

Should you need to plug in, a Fishman Presys I preamp is included, with simple but powerful controls for contour (altering the overall EQ curve) and phase (for zapping any feedback issues in an instant), as well as an accurate and easy-to-read digital tuner.

All Breedlove guitars use something they call the Breedlove Play Style System, a classification system which is a combination of body shape and tone wood that allows the player to narrow down exactly what they’re looking for in an instrument. The options are H (for heavier play and strong strumming), L (for light players, particularly fingerstyle players who require a lot of clear note separation), and V, for versatile play, which offers the most ‘all-purpose’ sound and feel, balanced between fingerstyle and strumming approaches. This guitar is a V style, so it should be able to handle whatever you throw at it from a playing perspective. 

The first thing I noticed when picking up this guitar was the comfort of the neck. My acoustic style tends to involve a lot of chord shapes around the middle of the neck and lots of fiddly, intricate little embellishments, and on a lot of acoustic guitars that sort of stuff can really put a strain on the back of my fretting hand regardless of posture and how much I’ve warmed up. But it wasn’t an issue with the Rainforest S Concert. I was able to glide around the neck doing my weird thing without feeling impeded by the neck at all.

The action felt great right out of the box, and I could immediately sense the benefits of the V-Style design system: those aforementioned embellishments rang out clearly while playing fingerstyle, but when it was time to reach for a pick for some more aggressive chording down at the cowboy end of the neck, everything still sounded nicely balanced. 

These qualities continue through to the amplified sound, although a system as basic as the Presys I is never going to capture all the complexities of an instrument like this, where different overtones and resonances all combine with the zip of the strings to provide a three-dimensional listening experience. 

Putting the Rainforest S Concert Papillon CE through its paces, it was highly comforting to find that the pursuit of a sustainably sourced and manufactured guitar did not result in compromised sound quality. After all, the beautiful resonance and dimension is what draws us to play the acoustic guitar to begin with. This is a really beautiful-sounding, great-looking, smooth-playing guitar that covers all sorts of musical situations and feels like it’s crafted to last a lifetime. 

Head to Breedlove for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Amber Technology.