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Designed for guitarists, is this a good crossover instrument for them?


As many guitarists are no doubt aware, Breedlove is a well-respected manufacturer of guitars. What some guitarists may not know is that their mandolins are equally well-respected among mandolinists too. Their Crossover line of mandolins is designed to appeal to guitarists looking to add mandolin to their instrument arsenals, and has recently been updated with significant new features compared to the previous models. Available with f-holes or a round soundhole, we'll be focusing on the f-hole equipped Breedlove Crossover model, the OF, in this review.


What You Need To Know

  • Breedlove refers to the Crossover OF's body type as O-shaped; it has a traditional teardrop shaped A-style body. The unit under review is the OF version which has two f-holes; the OO version is offered at the same price for those who prefer a round sound hole. What's the difference? Mandolins with oval sound holes tend to sustain a bit better and sound warmer and sweeter, with a bit less emphasis on the high frequencies than f-hole equipped models. Oval hole mandolins are commonly used in traditional orchestral, folk and Irish music as well as some other styles, while f-hole models are usually brighter and have increased projection and presence that helps them cut through the band better, and are traditionally favored for country and bluegrass players.
  • The body measures 10 1/8" across, and is 14" long, with a depth of 1 7/8". Unlike previous Crossover models (which I haven't had the opportunity to try), the new 2015 models now feature solid maple backs and sides. According to Breedlove, this makes the 2015 Crossovers lighter in weight, with a more resonant body, giving the updated Crossovers a bigger sound, better sustain and better overall tone than the previous versions.
  • As with the previous models, the top is solid Sitka spruce. The Crossover series mandolins use press tops and backs that are not hand carved, but heat pressed around the edges to create the arch. According to Breedlove the process builds up tension and stiffness in the top, which helps create a very big and consistent sound. The top bracing varies depending on which model Crossover you choose. The OF has parallel bracing that follows the angle of the f-holes, while the OO model has X bracing that crosses under the soundhole.  
  • Two different finish options are available. The review unit features Breedlove's natural gloss finish, but the Crossover series is also offered in a gloss violin stain finish. The gloss finish is hand sprayed polyurethane with a polyester top coat.



  • The Crossover OF has a maple neck with a bound rosewood fingerboard. There are 20 frets, which are nicely seated, crowned and polished. The Crossover has a 14" scale length. Black side position markers on the ivory colored neck binding help you keep track of where you're at. The fretboard also has 3mm pearloid dot inlays. The Crossover has a well-cut bone nut that didn't exhibit any "pinging" when tuning - always a good sign!

 

  • At 1 3/16" wide, the bound neck is wider at the nut by 1/16" than what you'll find on most mandolins. This really isn't enough to make it feel un-mandolin-like for those who are accustomed to playing other mandolins, but the little bit of extra width will no doubt be appreciated by guitarists. For those guitarists who haven't tried playing mandolin yet, you're in for a bit of a shock the first time you try; the fretboard is considerably smaller than what you're used to, making chording a matter of trying to cram your fingertips into pretty small spaces compared to guitar.
  • In another break from traditional mandolin design the Crossover OF has a 12" radiused fretboard. As with the slightly wider neck, this aids playing comfort from a guitarist's perspective. For more experienced mandolinists the choice of flat or radiused is a matter of personal preference, but the Crossover's radiused fretboard will feel more familiar than a traditional flat fretboard to most guitarists.
  • The four per side chrome tuners are open gear and have pearloid buttons that give the Crossover a bit of visual pizazz. They hold their tuning well.



  • Another nice cosmetic touch is the Indian rosewood headstock veneer, which has a mother of pearl Breedlove logo inlayed into it.



  • The 2015 Crossover OF is strung with D'Addario EXP 74 strings. Kudos to Breedlove for installing coated strings from the factory - this gives players a better chance at auditioning the instrument fairly, with good sounding strings rather than rusted-out ones, even if it's been displayed on the wall at their local store for a while.
  • The Crossover's bridge is a compensated rosewood unit that is adjustable for height on both sides. As with an archtop guitar, the bridge floats and isn't attached to the instrument and will fall away if you remove all the strings at once. The bridge placement was perfect from the factory, and the intonation was great up and down the neck.



  • The overall construction and build quality are very good. I could find no flaws in the finish, and everything was put together with obvious care and attention to detail. The materials used appear to be of good quality too. The wood used doesn't have any of the fancy flame or figuring of the highest grades of maple and the overall cosmetics are somewhat simple; even a bit plain, but the quality is there. Make no mistake - this is a considerable step up from the bargain basement imports that are made entirely of laminated woods - not only in terms of build quality, but materials and tone too.
  • While the Crossover series instruments are built in China, Breedlove inspects and sets them up in their Bend Oregon facility and the review unit played great right out of the box, with no intonation, neck or action issues. The Crossover OF is voiced very nicely, with a rich, woody tone and plenty of bite. If has good dynamic range too, and can play softly or get very loud. Chops and solos will cut through in a Bluegrass setting just fine. Sustain is very good by affordable mandolin standards - another area that transitioning guitarists will appreciate. The sound is richer and more upscale than I expected at this price.
  • A nice gig bag is included with the Crossover series models. It features an embroidered Breedlove logo, two convenient zippered accessory compartments and a shoulder strap for easy transport. Inside you'll find the owner's manual (which kind of resembles a passport) and a Breedlove sticker are the only included "case candy."


Limitations

  • There's no mandola in the line at the present time. Many guitarists would no doubt find the somewhat larger mandola to be a physically easier instrument to transition to, although there are probably more musical opportunities out there for mandolin players. Still, it would be great if Breedlove offered a mandola with the Crossover approach. I'm sure many mandolinists would also love to add a solid wood, affordable mandola to their instrument collections too, so they would appeal to a wider audience than just guitarists looking for a crossover instrument.
  • Don't be mistaken - if you've never tried playing a mandolin before you're still in for a bit of a shock in terms of just how small that fretboard really is. The wider width and radius of the Crossover do help, but mandolin still requires you to cram your fingers into very small places. In comparison, even a travel guitar's fretboard feels spacious.

 

Conclusions

The Breedlove Crossover OF was designed to appeal to guitarists, but it will no doubt be appreciated by many experienced mandolinists too. Can you get into playing mandolin for less? Sure… but you won't get an instrument that sounds remotely as good as this one does. The switch to all-solid woods - not just a solid top, but the back and sides too - is a significant upgrade for the Crossover series. You shouldn't expect them to measure up to Breedlove's Oregon-built Legacy or Premier series models, but there's a richness and complexity to the Crossover's voice that you simply won't hear from laminated wood mandolins, and while the small size of a mandolin's fretboard may be a shock to some who are completely new to the instrument, the Crossover's playability is excellent with its low action and the 12" radiused 1 3/16" fretboard. The Crossover OF sounds better than you'd expect at this price point, and with all solid wood construction, it's only going to get better as the instrument ages. While it's not the fanciest looking mandolin in its price range, it's not unattractive, and I think Breedlove was smart to put the emphasis on playability and tone. This is a very nice mandolin that will appeal not only to guitarists who wish to expand their skills by learning mandolin, but also by value-conscious mandolinists who are looking for a step up from less expensive laminated beginner's models. But you can't have this one. If Breedlove will sell it to me, I'm buying it!


Resources

Breedlove 2015 Crossover OF Mandolin ($665.00 MSRP, $499.00 "street")

Breedlove's Crossover mandolin product web page




Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.  


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