("Acoustic Guitar" 2/2004)

Petersen «Belcanto»

«Gert Petersen, guitar manufacturer from Hennef, builds high-end customised guitars. For the latest model «Belcanto» he revised several details of his original concept. Not only is it an alternative for sheer classical guitar player, but could also appeal to stylistically-open fusionists, who are seeking the optimal nylon string sound.

For the manufacturing of the Belcanto, Gert Peterson was especially tricky since he realised some incredibly interesting details. We will focus particularly on the bottom sounding board and the cover which is angled towards the string tier. The Belcanto is a rather universal instrument. Classic players will feel equally at ease with it as string pluckers of different couleurs. Concert guitarist Roland Dyens, for example, was impressed by this guitar after his concert at the Open String 2003 in Osnabruck and has been a happy owner of a Petersen-Guitar since then. Gert Petersen, a certified guitarist himself, does by no means break loose from the traditions and standards of the classical way of manufacturing guitars. In fact, he seeks the extraordinary, subtle refinements which render an instrument unique.


The most important detail of construction which makes the Belcanto a highly individual instrument, is the angling of the cover. Strictly speaking: the cover has been tilted towards the string tier; hence the guitar corpus tapers towards the neck. The measurements for the corpus width account for 8.2 mm at the neck, and 10.6 mm at the back. Accordingly, the neck (and not only the grip board) have been pulled through to the sound hole, the gap of the strings towards the cover account for about 2.2 cm at the 12th fret. The handling is not affected by this. From this idea Gert Petersen expects a more effective vibration transference from the strings onto the corpus. Thus audible effects would be a particularly quick response, a greater volume and a longer sustain.

The cover of the Belcanto is made from solid alpine spruce. An optically attractive piece of wood with a particularly dense and even grain has been processed here. The sound hole is bordered by a dark ring of wood, which in turn is separated to the outside by herringbone-circles. Back and rib are made of East-Indian rosewood with an intense grain. The cover is bordered by a multi-stripe binding of real wood, whose diagonal motive reoccurs in the bottom joint. The bridge is made of Rio-rosewood; it carries an inlay of wood, which is slightly bent backward. The tilted cover and the tapered corpus are rather obvious, but don’t appear unpleasant. Concerning the grip board, however, one certain effect is obvious. Normally, the underside of the fingerboard and the upper edge of the cover meet together. That is, the neck basically comes to an end and the fingerboard continues up to the sound hole. In the Belcanto, a triangular chip of wood leads from the ebon grip board to the sound hole. Thus, at the 12th fret the surface of the grip board hovers about 16 mm above the cover. The ebon grip board mentioned is noticeably thick and is made of an even back material. The frets are semicircular and of medium height, the binding is executed diligently with 19 frets. The neck is made from cedro, head plate and neck base are attached in a slightly brighter wood and veneered with rosewood. Matching the rest of the design, the mechanics have black wooden wings and run smoothly and reliably. The Belcanto is endowed with a hand-polished surface of shellac, which provides the instrument with a beautiful optical depth.

The entire processing including the sealing of the surface has been executed to a very high standard; even on intense search no faults or shortcomings could be found. Moreover, Gert Petersen realised some of his own ideas in the covering of the back. Besides the usual cross-bracing, three lengthwise ray-like beams, which run from the neck to the end of the back, are glued to it. An improved sound picture and a clearer articulation should result from this.

The Petersen Belcanto feels at once familiar and comfortable. The thin shellac polish also contributes to this. One never gets the impression, the instruments is literally «drowned» in varnish and is stuck in a sound-blocking «corset». The weight of the guitar is pleasantly low; the entire construction is based on lightness without neglecting its stability. The neck profile has a flat D-shape, the flattening was carried out quite clearly, but to no disadvantage.

The position of the strings is aligned rather high. The guitar manufacturer justified this with the use of this test guitar as a demonstration model at guitar master classes, where a strong strike is played.

For my impression, casual playing in this setting was still possible, but it is obviously no problem to customise the position of the strings to one’s own needs and one’s individual stroke.

The first notes and chords you educe from the Belcanto clearly show the phonetic alignment. It is uncommonly tangy to the point. The response is surprisingly fast and intense, the way it responses is almost over-dimensional, the sound literally jumps out of the instrument. The Petersen concept for an improved evolvement of vibration has, too, been realised as planned. When playing, you can feel the reaction of the guitar on your body, whose amazing flexibility follows one’s own playing and reveals an extraordinary sound shade. Indeed, there is no sound shade so subtle that it couldn’t be executed by this guitar. In the hands of an experienced player, with a sophisticated articulation and technique, the Belcanto really is an outstanding musical instrument. Not only is this guitar capable of projecting the emotional and sonic content of any song played, but it also almost emphasises this fact. Played with a good technique, it will inspire the guitarist in all musical situations. The sound is slightly airy and light but still with fundamental force, which ensures that the voice of this instrument will always be heard.

Bass notes sound tight and sonorous; they form a solid basis and will certainly never sound muddy or undifferentiated. The middle range is of a warm timbre, but without stressing the deep centre. This guitar, without any pretension, speaks a very clear language, it has personality, radiance and character. In the upper frequency range it gleams silvery-fine, that is round and precious, without ever sliding into a peak, perky sound. Regarding my personal sound imagination, the Peterson Belcanto really comes my way. The described sound facets are also very homogeneous and can reliably be achieved over the entire tone range. The sustain is especially long and even, even complex harmonic structures experienced a long, clean resonance. The strongest sound is even audible in the highest range; even above the 12th fret it sounds substantial and viable. When playing the Belcanto you may notice how you listen to yourself with a certain enthusiasm and how you detect entirely new nuances under your fingers. This dynamic implementation of this guitar also promotes a highly-dramatic play with a variety of sound colours and articulation details.

One can hardly make any more compliments about a classical guitar, and even after intensive search, I can’t find any faults or sound weaknesses. Quite simply: an excellent instrument.

Thanks to the airy, clear and direct sound, the Petersen is not only right for classics, but of great interest for nylon-pluckers of other divisions. Any sort of South and Latin American music fits this guitar perfectly, even jazzmen's or modernists' precise sound aesthetics would be happy.


The Belcanto guitar as manufactured by Gert Petersen is a highly independent variation on the theme of «classical guitars».

Materials and processing are impeccable, the appearance and feel are appropriate for its price range. The incredibly lively and vivid sound development, combined with the airy, transparent frequency spectrum is certainly the strength of this instrument; those who tend to prefer warm and soft sounds with a more defensive character may not the consider the Belcanto. For modern fusionists, Latin lovers and plectrum soloists this could be their fitting instrument. Guitarists with a dynamic touch and an advanced playing-technique will be amazed at the generous implementation of articulation.»

By Andreas Schulz, "Acoustic Guitar" 2/2004

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