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Craig Bumgarner Derecho - Review

I just wanted to say a few words about this guitar that I received yesterday. While one day is clearly not enough time to have a completely informed decision about any guitar, sometimes you play a guitar and know that it is right. This is one of those times.

For those who are not aware of Craig's work, Craig models his guitars after Castellucia guitars and has made his own improvements to these to make playable modern beauties. If you do a search in this forum for Bumgarner and Castellucia, you can find more specific information on his thoughts. Additionally, Michael has sold one of Craig's guitars here and has made a video of the guitar. Mine sounds pretty close.

This Derecho (pictured first on Craig's blog here: http://craigbumgarner.wordpress.com/) features a cedar top, Cocobolo Rosewood back and sides, Butternut neck, East Indian Rosewood fingerboard, EVO Gold frets and Grover 18:1 tuners. The action is set at a very playable 2.8 mm on the low E string. I asked for fret markers on the fingerboard during the build. It was shipped with Argie 10 gauge strings. The fingerboard is extended, as in the pictures.

I first played Craig's guitars at DiJ this year. I heard Michael Bauer was selling a guitar for Ben Wood that was made by Craig and wanted to give it a whirl. As it worked out, Craig was in the room with one of his Derechos and he put one in my hand. I was sort of in the market for a guitar and was giving a few a whirl on the last day. (We all get a bit of guitar envy at these things, no?) The Derecho immediately struck me as light and very easy to play and I took Craig's contact information. About a month later, I started emailing with Craig and he had recently started a build. The guitar would have likely gone up for sale here, but Craig offered it up to me. It finally arrived yesterday.

With guitars I am more familiar with, such as electrics, I can make a judgement relatively quickly. With these French and Italian steel string styled acoustics (as I am less than four years deep in the style), I'm a little bit more nervous about making a decision to purchase, as I do not always recognize or have the ability to articulate what I feel, as some of what I may perceive to be a flaw may simply be part of the design. I definitely think the true test of any well made instrument is in a live setting.

As luck would have it, a few local players stopped by the wine store where the guitar was delivered to see the new guitar. We had three French/Italian type guitars to sample from to get a sense of mixed and ran through about 5 standard Django tunes at different tempos. The guitars were rotated for each song. The mix was comprised of the Derecho, a Barault, and a Dupont grande bouche (MDC-60). These are three different guitars with different attributes so I will focus on the Derecho, as the other style guitars are greatly detailed throughout this forum.

As far as playability, the Derecho clearly had the easiest playability out of all the guitars. In terms of general projection on single notes, the Derecho was set-up perfectly out of the box. The Derecho was equally balanced and had clarity in all single note lines. It hung well with the deeper Dupont and cut well. For rhythm, the MDC projected the most, but that may be the fact that there are more bass frequencies accentuated as a part of the build style of the guitar. Also, that damned big mouth was pointed right at my face. When I say projection, I do not mean volume, as all three are screamers. Volume seems to be something that luthiers are focusing on these days. We all rated the Derecho equally with the Dupont in general playability. In general, all players were pretty blown away by the build, sound, and playability of the Derecho.

(As a side note,I personally find that the Duponts I have played are extremely well set-up from the get go and they are a standard to which I hold the general quality of these style guitars up against for newer guitars. Django in June gives us all an excellent opportunity to play many guitars and my opinion is that Duponts have been the most consistent in terms of build. In my brief conversation with Craigat DiJ, it was clear to me that he understood these guitars extremely well and I weighed heavily between purchasing a Dupont or commissioning Craig to build a guitar. My general point is that I find Craig's guitars to be as consistently built as the Duponts I've played, although I have a relatively smaller sample size to choose from.)

After about 40 minutes of jam time, I wanted to give it a solo spin at home and run it through a regular practice session. I compared it side by side with my Zwinakis selmer style (which clearly needs setup work). Again, the Derecho is much easier to play. As part of practice routine, I am really concentrating on finger strength in both chords (being able to multiple notes with single fingers and having clarity in all six strings) and in consistency of finger placement on single lines. Grabbing "double stops" with single fingers is much easier on the Derecho than on a Selmer style set at slightly higher action. Chords are clear and crisp. There is a concentration on mids and it will be very interesting to see how this mixes with the upright and the amplified Dupont in a live setting on Thursday. We'll also have an excellent violin player subbing for us this week, so it is a very nice test. For single lines, I found the Derecho to be very balanced and complex.

I do an improv exercise with a teacher related to sustain and overtones, where one must let a note decay and "hear" where the next note is. What the next note truly is depends on where either your experience or your mind leads you to and you should be able to grab the next note without hesitation and play it to decay. With my Selmer style guitar, the note decays much quicker and the overtones are not as complex. With the Derecho, I found that the overtones gave me many more choices to consider for the next note to grab. I also ran it through several solos and waltzes played strictly with a metronome. Perhaps it was my exuberance in having a new guitar, but I felt like I was able to play things roughly 10% faster than I normally would. Again, it was much easier to play, although I was not used to all of the overtones and reverb present in this guitar. It will be interesting to hear when the strings mellow a bit.

The sound of the top is really what blew me away. The guitar was loud and really growled. The French guy in my group called it the "woof woof." The woof woof is there, and it is something that I love about well made and seasoned guitars. It is much lighter than I remembered from DiJ and is a looker.

Without playing it in a performance setting I can offer the following: I am extremely pleased with what I have purchased. I don't think that I expected to ever have an instrument this good in my hands. I've seen many guitars that look great and play just ok. This guitar looks great and plays better than I would have imagined. In terms of price, I find his guitars priced "affordable" for a hand made guitar in this niche.

A note about Craig: Craig is a true craftsman that clearly pays attention to detail and his work is superb. I recall Michael Bauer calling Craig a "coming man" on this forum. I'll say that he is "here." Craig is also a very patient man. I don't believe I made too many demands of Craig or any real changes from his stock model, other than having fingerboard markers. But I am a rabid emailer. Craig answered all of my questions and comments thoughtfully and in a timely fashion. We were in constant communication throughout the build. Craig knew instinctively when to send me a picture to whet my appetite and when to stop, thus letting me view the final product in person.

If you are considering a build or a guitar becomes available here or in other places, I would strongly suggest that you consider Craig Bumgarner. If you are in the NYC area, I am happy to let you try the guitar out.


Thanks,
Jim
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Buco

Comments

  • Sorry. That was more than a few words.
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    I'll second everything that Jim has said. I am always amazed, good as Craig's guitars are each year, at how much better they keep getting as he keeps building. I remember one year at D in J, a "luthier" I didn't know came to me and asked if he could spec out The Beast. I let him, of course, but as I watched, I could see he wasn't being very precise about it. When I questioned him about it, he replied that he just wanted to get a "general idea". The only other luthier who has ever come to me with the same request was Craig, and one-by-one, he has taken one of the old guitars up to his room and spent an afternoon with it. Later, he sends me a details spec sheet, with info on it that I would never have thought to even measure! This past summer, Craig handed my one of his Derechos, and when I played it, I felt instantly at home. I commented on how perfect the neck felt to me. Craig replied that it should, since it was an exact replica of the neck on the Busato that I almost always gig on. It was as perfect a recreation of my Busatos neck as could ever be done, all the way up the neck, and it showed me the attention to detail that Craig brings to his work.

    Craig has had the opportunity to study a number of great Castelluccia's, and his Derachos really nail the tone and vibe, but with a dose of Craig in there as well. And that's a good thing!

    I am a vintage guy, and sadly, my closets are usually overflowing. But there is a short list of contemporary luthiers whose guitars I would really like to have if I ever went "modern", and Craig is on that list.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • EmmettRayEmmettRay Honolulu, Hawaii✭✭✭✭ Koa Iseman, AJL XO-503, Holo Busato
    Posts: 88
    Congrats on the new guitar! Are you bringing it to Hawaii next week? I have a gig on the 2nd, and one on the 7th. I'm also planning a camping trip you're welcome to join... Looking forward to jamming!
  • I think I'm going to leave the guitar at home, Emmet. As much as I'd love to bring a guitar on vacation, we're going to be staying at a few different places and I'm a bit freaked out about flying with guitars. As far as the gigs, I'll definitely hit up one of them. I'll message you on Facebook once I confirm with Deb exactly what the agenda is. She is aware that we're going to see some GJ and I think the compromise is that we're going to see some band she likes that is performing out there on one of those days. I'm looking forward to it.
  • Charlie AyersCharlie Ayers Salt Lake CityProdigy
    Posts: 280
    I too own a cedar-topped Derecho. It's a wonderful guitar in all aspects: workmanship, design, tonewood quality, finish, playability, volume, tone.........

    I agree Craig is a great luthier to work with!

    Charlie
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