Musical Merchandisers | RRP: Starting from $349
It’s been 140 years since George Washburn began making stringed instruments in Chicago. So, I don’t think Washburn Guitars need any introduction with such a rich history in guitar building. Offering not only folk instruments such as mandolins and banjos, but also some of the most iconic electric guitars of the latter part of the 20th century, Washburn have cut a notch into musical history that will forever be warranted. However, most of us will know them for their acoustic guitars that have been a stalwart of many a musical journey. Washburn have always had their staples, but the select series of instruments that are offered over time are always something special. That is certainly the case with the new Bella Tono series, with four instruments that offer a finer touch, over a range of price points.
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I can confidently say I have sold more Washburn guitars than any other brand over my 20 years in musical instrument retail Why is that? Well, when all was said and done, they sold themselves. And the same can be said for the Bella Tono Series, which has something to offer to most acoustic guitarists, from beginners to advanced. With four models in the series, they’re all sporting a look that strays away form the traditional Dreadnaught and introduces combinations of tone woods that are fit for the size, shape and value.
The two standout models are the Allure and the Elegante which feature high gloss, solid spruce tops and a combination of tone woods to enhance not only the sound, but the look too. Solid spruce tops, Acacia or Pau Ferro back and sides and Ebony fretboards are all selected for tone and visual appeal. Both these models feature abalone inlays around the body, sound hole and within the fretboard for that extra fine touch that draws your eye even before you’ve heard them. The Allure features Washburn’s Comfort Armrest, where the upper edge of the body is angled with a maple inlay to reduce pressure from that sharp edge on your inner right arm. This is a design we first saw in some of the very top end models from Washburn about ten years back and one that was very well received by anyone who got the instrument in their hands. Comfort is key, and Washburn have made that especially so with their larger bodied acoustic instruments. Couple that with a soft cutaway, for even greater ease in reaching the higher frets and this becomes a joy to play. These are two guitars that offer both a beautiful rich tone, but also a look that say’s “pick me up”, so it’s hard not to focus on them.
However, the Bella Tono Vite S9V model is the one that really caught my attention. How do I put it, this is a cool acoustic guitar. The spruce top is finished in a gloss Charcoal Burst colour with a white edge to the wooden binding that makes the body shape appear just a little smaller than it is at first glance. A figured Walnut back and sides always gets my attention. If you don’t like the look of walnut on the curves of an acoustic guitar, you really need to get your priorities in order. Plus, the dark tone that walnut offers lifts the overall sound of this instrument, making it come off like a larger bodies guitar, without all the bulk. That’s down to the Washburn Studio body with that soft cutaway like the one we saw in the Allure model. You get the comfort of playing a smaller bodied guitar, but the woods have been matched to give the tone of a larger instrument. However, unlike larger models, it doesn’t have a booming quality to the sound, but rather projects it’s acoustic resonance with a little extra punch.
While we’re talking about the woods used in Bella Tono Vite S9V, it is hard to go past the Ebony fretboard with a wooden vine leaf inlay running from the 2nd to the 20th frets. Two separate timbers have been used to achieve the look of the vine itself and the leaves for a really classy result. There’s no need for abalone on this instrument, it defines flamboyance and subtlety all at the same time, and leaves the walnut to really step things up.
For those of you looking to perform or record with this guitar, you’ll find and under-bridge pickup combined with the Barcus Berry preamp system. With this, you have control over Low, Mid and High frequencies with the addition of a Presence control for really getting in the front of the mix. A built in tuner is included too, as has come to be expected with instruments like this these days. And that means, there are no excuses for playing out of tune.
In all the four guitars of the Bella Tono series represent great value and cover a wide range of options. Comfort and tone are key, after all, if you don’t like the feel or the sound, you’re never going to get the most out of an instrument, and with that your laying suffers. It would be amiss of me to say that these guitars tick all the boxes, but they’re not trying to either. What they do offer is an enjoyable playing experience, with a look that makes you want to pick them up. And with that, the best thing you can do is to get down to your local guitar shop and try one out for yourself. That way, you can decide which Bella Tono guitar is your favourite. And whilst it’s not a popularity contest, I’m leaning towards the Vite S9V for the spare space in my guitar rack.