With a list of regular users that includes Johnny Smith, Joe Diorio, Martin Taylor, Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Ron Escheté, Frank Vignola, Andy Summers, Earl Klugh, and Kenny Burrell, Benedetto guitars have attained near-legendary status in jazz box circles.
Benedetto guitars are made in Fender’s Corona, California, factory by a small group of luthiers trained by renowned builder Robert Benedetto. These builders work exclusively on the Guild/Benedetto archtops, which include the Johnny Smith Award and Stuart signature models. Each guitar is built by hand using top-shelf materials, and each is inspected by Benedetto before being shipped.
The list of Benedettos is a diverse offering featuring six models ranging from the top-of-the-line acoustic La Venezia (list price $26,250) down to our featured axe, the Bravo. But make no mistake, the Bravo is every bit a Benedetto, and has many high-end features you typically find on more expensive instruments, including a gorgeous laminated flame-maple back and matching sides, a select clear arched laminated spruce top, three-piece flame maple neck with a dark ebony fretboard and adjustable ebony bridge. The downfall of many an archtop is a poorly fitted bridge, which results in a poor transfer of string vibrations. This is certainly not the case with the Bravo; its bridge is meticulously fitted to the top contour, ensuring superior energy transfer.
Hardware on the Bravo is gold-plated and includes a proprietary tailpiece, mini Schaller tuners with ebony buttons, thumbwheel-adjustable bridge, high-adjustment screws, and output jack.
In terms of looks, there is an elegant simplicity in the Bravo’s curves and lines. It makes for an upscale look, and the absence of fret marker inlays or headstock adornment contributes to the understated motif. The Bravo is simply a well-conceived, hand-crafted design that can only be executed by an experienced archtop builder.
Looks being only half the battle, our other concern was with the Bravo’s playability, and we were very pleased. It is excellent, with a dead-on straight neck, immaculate fret work, and accurate intonation. These are all huge pluses for a working guitarist. The 16″ lower bout and 42″ length make for a balanced, well-proportioned visual, while providing a very comfortable, lightweight guitar that balances well whether it’s played sitting or standing. The 13/4″ width at the nut and strong U shape of the neck give it a substantial feel, but not too thick or disproportionate. The guitar should work very well for fingerstyle jazz players. The 12″-radius fretboard and level, polished frets allow for a low, buzz-free action and smooth feel up and down the neck.
The 21/2″-deep body contributes to a slightly brighter overall tone compared to a Gibson ES-175 or Gretsch Synchromatic 400. But, plugged into a new Ampeg Super Rocket 2×12″ tube combo, we found nicely balanced tone, with full, round low-end, articulate mids, and snappy highs. Adjusting the pickup slightly closer to the strings resulted in a warmer, punchier midrange response with just a hint of a smooth overdrive. The well-tapered volume and tone controls let us roll off highs smoothly and soften the attack, for a darker jazz tone, without losing clarity or punch. The laminated spruce top and shallower body depth make for less feedback than a traditional solid top, full-body jazz box. The thin nitrocellulose finish allows the guitar’s top to breath and resonate, and it feels great while giving the guitar an aged/vintage vibe.
We ran the Bravo through the de rigeur Polytone Mini Brute and discovered an even more articulate jazz tone with that unmistakable jazz pop to the midrange, and complex overtones. The marriage of materials, design and electronics in the Bravo produces a superior balance of tone. No matter what we plugged it into or how we set the controls, it always sounded good.
The Benedetto Bravo is a flawlessly crafted archtop with a very live and responsive top, effortless playability, and an unmistakable high-end vibe. The wise would do well to take a close look; this guitar could justifiably be priced higher than it is!
16″ body with three-ply binding, laminated maple back and sides, laminated spruce top, parallel spruce bracing, adjustable ebony bridge, three-piece bound flame-maple neck, ebony fret board, body-mounted volume and tone controls with ebony knobs, Benedetto A-6 humbucking pickup, bleached bone nut, Schaller tuners with ebony buttons, gold-plated hardware, nitrocellulose gloss finish.
Price: $4999 (list)
Contact: Benedetto Guitars, Inc.
10 Mall Terrace, Suite A
Savannah, GA 31406
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.