Guitar Review

Builder: Dave Bertoncini, Bertoncini Guitars, Olympia, Washington (Complete contact info below)

Top: European Spruce

Back & Sides: Maccassar Ebony

Features: Heart of abalone inlays, flamed koa binding, ebony bridge & fingerboard, B-Band UST (undersaddle
transducer) pickup, B-Band AST (acoustic soundboard transducer) and A2 pre-amp.

Guitar: Courtesy of Chip Chalmers

Photos: Courtesy of Steven L. Sears, All Rights Reserved.


Sometimes, hearing & playing a guitar elicits a physical response. Hearing a lousy guitar can make you feel sick, while a great one can make your heart beat faster. Dave Bertoncini's "Aspen" guitar, custom-built for TV director Chip Chalmers, makes my heart beat faster.

Chip's "Aspen" has a Euro Spruce top & the most beautiful Maccassar Ebony back & sides that I have ever seen. Tastefully bound with flamed Koa, this guitar exemplifies what can happen when a knowledgeable guitarist communicates with a great builder in what is the essence of a handmade, custom-built instrument.

"How did you come to hook up with Dave?" I asked. It is always a unique story hearing how a guitarist meets or learns of a builder or comes to play one of the builders' guitars.

It seems Chip was at a house concert showcasing Jack Williams & Ronny Cox . They were playing Bertoncini guitars. Chip had previously heard of Dave Bertoncini from guitarist Guthrie Thomas, but had never heard or seen any of Dave's guitars. Hearing the two Bertoncini guitars at the house concert, Chip resolved to commission Dave to custom-build a guitar for him. That guitar is now known as the " Chip Chalmers' Aspen".

The process of commissioning the "Aspen" began not with the usual topics of wood selection, but with inquiries into Chip's playing styles, years of playing & degree of formal musical training. This sort of interaction is at the heart of having a handmade guitar custom-made for you. It is always a real treat to play a handmade guitar to see how the builders' creation performs; to have a handmade guitar custom-made by a great builder to fit your hands & your style(s) of playing is a genuine dream come true!

As always, playing is the final proof of how good an instrument is. A physically beautiful, stunning instrument is worthless if it is not also sonically beautiful & stunning. Believe me when I say that I have played some physically beautiful handmade instruments that, IMHO, sounded terrible!

To say that Dave created a physically & sonically beautiful instrument for Chip would be the height of understatement. Not overdone in any regard, "Aspen" revels in elegant simplicity. Sonically, my first impression was that this just might be the most perfectly balanced guitar that I have ever heard. Each string & each note was clear & clearly separated from each accompanying note. Bass response perfectly complemented the mids & trebles.

Projection was nice with volume perfectly proportionate with the overall design of the guitar & the fingerstyle purpose for which it was built. Bluegrass flatpickin' guitars need volume to be heard; bluegrass players always talk about "low end boom" or "cannons". Fingerstyle guitars, designed primarily as solo instruments, rely on more of a pure, balanced "quality of sound approach" as opposed to most flatpickin' guitars that rely on the "quantity of sound approach".

Dave incorporated a few things near & dear to Chip's heart to create this personal & personalized guitar. For instance, Dave's wife, Glora, incorporated a photo Chip had taken a few years earlier of the cabin his father built in Colorado as part of the guitar's label. The artistic label is another one of those details that imparts the sense of "intimacy of spirit" that comes from working closely with a dedicated & insightful handbuilder. Delicately inlaid into the top is a sequence of three falling Aspen leaves.

I can't end this review without mentioning, complimenting & paying tribute to Dave's attention to detail. His headstock design ensures that the tuners perfectly line up with the nut. Fit & finish were nothing less than spectacular.

Building small quantities of guitars affords the opportunity for greatness because the builder spends the necessary time to make each component fit together to form a superior whole. Therefore, time spent building each guitar will more likely ensure a great guitar than will the repetitive building a greater number of guitars to a "formula". A truly great builder will look at each brace, feel it, shave little bits off until the braces combine with the body & strings to produce the desired tonal range.

Dave doesn't build many guitars, probably 6-8 per year. Chip's "Aspen" is #14. If the 14th guitar that Dave has built in 2 years is this great, Dave should prove to be one of the finest builders of this generation.

Contact info:

Bertoncini Stringed Instruments
Attn: Dave Bertoncini
3700 14th Avenue S.E.  # 53
Olympia, Washington 98501
Tel. 360-491-5051

URL: http://www.Bertoncini.com

E-mail: dgbertoncini@earthlink.net

Photos: Courtesy of Steven L. Sears. All Rights Reserved