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Avalon Eclipse Super Jumbo J320E Acoustic Guitar Review

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Avalon Eclipse Super Jumbo J320E Acoustic Guitar Review

This review was submitted by Guitar Jar contributor: John Young

I have been an Avalon fan for the last five years or so and am the proud owner of their Jacques Stotzem Signature Model. I was really impressed by the quality of their work and the wonderful friendly customer service. I heard rumours of the new Eclipse guitar they were making and took a gamble by buying mail order.

…a big high five to the Avalon luthiers who have really broken the mould here, applying their skills to produce a radically different guitar…

Avalon J320E - Limited EditionThe Eclipse is a new departure for Avalon and has been inspired by the recent link with Zemaitis Guitars. Tony Zemaitis made acoustics in the early 70s that were so good that he ended up with George Harrison and Eric Clapton jamming them in his front room. A twelve string of his built for Clapton called “Ivan the Terrible” sold recently for $253.000. Zemaitis also made a twelve string called “Sunburst” for Donovan that had a sun ray decoration round the sound hole and I reckon this may have partially inspired the Eclipse.

Features:

This guitar is roughly the same shape as the Gibson J200. The body is made from premier Indian Rosewood that was more expensive due to the extra quality and being larger than normal dimensions. The top is Alaskan Sitka bear-claw spruce and is very stiff with pronounced clawing that looks amazing as the light hits different angles. The bracing struts are also from Alaskan wood.

The neck is a very stable 9 piece construction, not exactly as an original Zemaitis, but Avalon reckons this is an improved design. (Yes – I did say 9 piece!) Neck woods are South American Mahogany, American Walnut, South American Purple Heart and English Sycamore.

The spiked rosette is hand inlaid with Madagascan Ebony and Tasmanian Blackwood, as is the headstock. The headstock shape is closer to the Zemaitis version than to the Avalon design. Unusually for an Avalon, you have access to the truss rod from just above the nut. The chrome Gotoh tuners are a choice design feature to match how the original Zemaitis guitars looked; very few, if any, were ever made with gold hardware.

The fretboard is unbound ebony, with position markers on the side. This guitar has 21 frets, 14 clear of the body. There’s a bone nut and a thick bone saddle that nestles on a very distinctively-shaped ebony bridge. The guitar doesn’t have the split saddle you normally get on top Avalons, but the intonation is spot on.

Ease of use:

With its jumbo dimensions and huge sound, you might think the Eclipse is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of guitars. Certainly, from the amount of bear-claw visible on the top, it is pretty clear that the bear had the fight of its life against this big boy! No fear of being drowned out in a session here- Framus-wielding tenor banjo players and Bodrhan novices will be battered into submission in no time! But it has a sensitive side, nestles nicely on the knee for such a big guitar and the elbow fits in well when you are playing.

The action straight from the factory is perfect for my playing, with no hint of a buzz anywhere. Despite all the woods and layering in the neck, it’s slim enough to be a pleasure to play. Neck width at nut is 44mm which suits my fingers. There is no scratch plate, not even a clear plastic one, so it is obviously aimed more at finger-style than strumming.

Sound Quality:

How does it sound? Well, this was advertised as a loud guitar and loud it certainly is. Compared to a Martin J40 the extra volume produced is considerable. The sustain goes on forever. The Martin J is warmer in tone and has more bass emphasis, but it sounds almost “thuddy” when compared to the rich fullness of the Eclipse. Playing other guitars after playing the Eclipse is a real shock, as none of them have that sustain and fullness, and their notes sound “plonky” and seem to decay way too quickly.

I play quite strongly, with a Kelly speed-pick on the thumb and my bare fingers, and this seems to work very well on this guitar. The sustain and volume available mean you can play lightly and sound loud but still have tons in reserve for crescendos.

Reliability:

This is one well-built guitar, with no flaws and not a trace of glue inside. The quality of the craftsmanship is unbelievably good, with every detail perfectly executed, including the real wood bindings. I cannot see why it won’t last a hundred years, but if it doesn’t, Avalon’s life-time first owner guarantee is also very reassuring.

Overall Rating:

I started playing guitar in the early 60s and own/have owned Gibsons, Martins, an Avalon JS, a Fylde, all in rosewood/spruce combinations, and a McIlroy A25c cedar and walnut. These are/were special, high-quality guitars that I would recommend to anyone, but the Eclipse really has to be heard to be believed and would romp home in a head to head contest with any guitar I have ever played.

Is there a down-side to this guitar? Nothing is obviously wrong, although if I were Avalon I might have made sure the company logo was somewhere on the headstock of such a beauty. I believe that the Eclipse is only a proto-type, though, so that might explain it (there are only about 10 of these made and I have number 3.)

The lack of a scratch plate is down to individual taste and style of play, but as the sun-ray rosette is the main design theme for the Eclipse it would be wrong to compromise this without a compelling reason.

If you factor in the impeccable construction, the highest-quality woods, the strikingly beautiful looks, the awesome sound and the likelihood this will be the only Eclipse most people will ever encounter, this guitar could make you very popular with the queues who are waiting to have a strum on it. (although you might get poison pen letters from other guitar owners who are drooling with envy!)

A big high five to the Avalon luthiers who have really broken the mould here, applying their skills to produce a radically different guitar. This one could never be accused of being a Lowden derivative and is clearly a world-class musical instrument – and it’s all mine!!!

This review was submitted by Guitar Jar contributor: John Young

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1 Comment

  • That’s certainly an amazing guitar! I can imagine it sounds incredible, and is a delight to play! Great review too, enjoyed reading that!
    Thanks,
    Rick

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