The Evolution of the OM

 

Since its inception in the later part of the 1920s, the Orchestra Model has gone on to contribute to some of the most vital and fundamental changes in the design of steel-stringed acoustic guitars, alongside itself becoming an iconic and instantly recognisable instrument with many twists and turns in its own captivating journey.

In this feature we take a look at the history and impact of this much loved design, as well as the evolution of the instrument over the years; from the original versatile bandleader through to the nuanced, finger-style tailored iterations in contemporary luthierie. 

It all began with a letter, sent in 1929 by Perry Bechtel to C.F. Martin, detailing a special order for a steel-string sporting a longer neck affixed to their largest body size at the time, the 000. Upon accepting this order, foreman John Deichman designed the guitar we now know as the OM, the first to ever sport a 14-Fret neck join, long scale and the distinctive attributes that come hand in hand with these crucial specs.

The guitar was dubbed the ‘Orchestra Model’ to appeal to band leaders and rhythm players for a role previously dominated by the Banjo, with the extra volume and focus granted by the scale length and neck join making for a guitar that really shone in the centre of such a mix. 

This new design was so successful, by the mid 1930s Martin released ‘Orchestra Model’ versions of a number of body sizes, including the newly released ‘Dreadnought’, pertaining to the altered specification. The 14th fret join eventually became standard in the steel-stringed world, and it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the Orchestra Model became the specific, tried and tested Acoustic Guitar that has appeared on countless albums and live recordings since! 

Here’s a look at some of the wonderful examples of this storied silhouette, and the distinct character each luthier has brought to the OMs story;

Collings OM-1A Traditional Acoustic Guitar, Honduran Mahogany & Torrefied Adirondack Spruce - £6,250

Collings Traditional Series guitars offer a vintage-inspired take on the distinctive sound Collings guitars are known for, with the tonewoods and braces being adjusted for weight and thickness to give exceptional projection, warm trebles, and strong mids.

The extra-thin nitro finish allows for the natural sound of the tonewoods to shine. This OM-1A Traditional, with its torrefied Adirondack top, is exceptional and one of our favorite guitars in the shop.

  • Top:Torrefied Adirondack Spruce
  • Back & Sides: Honduran Mahogany
  • Bracing: Pre-War Scalloped X-Brace
  • Rosette: Custom Wood Rosette (Traditional Series)
  • Body Binding: Tortoise Colour with Custom Purfling
  • Neck: Honduran Mahogany with Traditional Purfling
  • Fretboard: Ebony with Gold MOP Short Pattern Dots
  • Head Veneer: Ebony with Collings Logo in Pearl
  • Tuners: Nickel Waverlys
  • Bridge: Ebony Belly
  • Pins: Tortoise Style
  • Saddle: Bone, Cut-Through with 2-5/16" Spacing
  • Nut: Bone
  • Pickguard: Tortoise Colour
  • Nut Width: 1 3/4"
  • Scale Length: 25 1/2"

Maestro Traditional Series OM-MH Acoustic Guitar, Khaya Mahogany & Torrefied Adirondack Spruce - £1,749

This gorgeous OM from Maestro's traditional series is inspired by the iconic instruments of the 1930s and built with a modern spin.

The guitar is made up of Khaya Mahogany for the back and sides paired with a Torrefied Adirondack Spruce top and with it's gorgeous Matte Nitrocellulose finish, captures a classic workhorse aesthetic to match with its versatile and powerful tone. 

The neck shape is Maestros standard carve, which lends modern playability to the vintage voice of their Traditional Series making the guitar exceptionally comfortable across the board and truly effortless to coax out the luscious and rich sounds the guitar has to offer. 

  • Body shape: OM / 000
  • Solid Torrefied Adirondack Spruce top
  • Solid Khaya Mahogany and sides
  • Slotted Headstock
  • Quarter Sawn Sitka Spruce bracing
  • Reversed Kerfing
  • Khaya Mahogany neck with Carbon Fiber Rods
  • Ebony fingerboard
  • Ebony bridge with Ebony pins
  • Grover tuners
  • Maestro Premium Polycarbonate hardcase

 

Santa Cruz Custom OM Acoustic Guitar, Quilted Sapele & Ancient Sitka Spruce - £13,950

This show-stopping OM Custom from Santa Cruz Guitars is an absolute masterclass in detailed craftsmanship, superb feel and distinctive, inspired tonality all culminating in what can only be described as a truly beautiful instrument.  

Earning every letter of the word Custom that befits it's title, this OM sports a breathtaking 3,000 year old Ancient Sitka Spruce top paired with a tightly figured Quilted Sapele back and sides, Ivoroid bound and detailed with charming Cowboy Rope Purfling around the top to set the whole affair off. 

However the guitar is more than just visually mesmerising. The sonic character it imparts is detailed, rich and sure to move both player and listener. Inherently balanced, this OM Custom has a strong and controlled bass response matched by well defined trebles and a distinctly vintage feel to the midrange. The overall blend brings together the best of classic and contemporary tones and works wonders for fingerstyle and flatpicked approaches alike. 

The playability is everything we so consistently adore from Richard Hoover and his team, with an exceedingly comfortable profile and crystal clear separation all the way through to to upper registers of the board making for an effortless and engaging playing experience. 

  • Custom OM Model (OM 5723)
  • Quilted Sapele back/sides
  • Ancient Sitka Spruce top (3,000 years old)
  • Adirondack bracing with hot hide glue
  • Sapele rosette
  • Cowboy rope top purfling
  • Sapele overlay
  • Thin black back strip
  • SCGC logo on fingerboard
  • Custom fade on back/sides with overlay to match
  • Width at Nut 1-3/4"
  • Neck Shape V with Volute
  • Fingerboard Side Dots Black
  • Inlay 2mm dots
  • Width at 14th Fret 2-3/16
  • Binding Ivoroid
  • Scale Length 25.375
  • Tuners/gears Nickel Waverly

 

Goodall Traditional OM Acoustic Guitar, Indian Rosewood & Adirondack Spruce - £6,595

Built with a tried-and-true combination of East Indian Rosewood and Adirondack Spruce, when playing this Goodall Traditional OM, it's easy to see why James Goodall is such a highly-respected luthier.

This OM is extremely powerful in the bass and midrange, with an emphasis on a broad warmth without lacking trebles. It features a custom, partially scalloped bracing pattern which produces a bit more 'boominess' in the bass and midrange, and the peghead and bridge have been redesigned for a more conservative visual appeal, with open gear Waverly tuning machines contributing to its charm.

It is attractively decorated with a herringbone marquetry rosette and top purfling, and a chevron marquetry backstrip. According to Goodall, the Traditional OM has been designed especially with the flatpicker and the bluegrass player in mind.

  • Top: Adirondack Spruce
  • Back and Sides: East Indian Rosewood
  • Rosette: Herringbone
  • Body Binding: White Maple
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Fretboard: Ebony
  • Head Veneer: Ebony
  • Fretboard binding: Ebony
  • Tuners: Nickel Waverly with Ebony Buttons
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Pins: Ebony
  • Saddle: Bone (compensated)
  • Nut: Bone
  • Nut Width: 1 3/4"
  • Scale Length: 25 1/2"

McNally OM Acoustic Guitar, Hawaiian Koa & Master Grade Sitka Spruce - £5,350

This OM has a sense of balance to it that goes far beyond the tone of the guitar, with a delicate harmony to the visuals and a charming contingency to the Walnut Accents throughout that brings the whole instrument together in a distinctive and defined manner. 

Sonically the guitar presents a deeply versatile tone, with a well rounded bass response and the sweet, even trebles Koa is renowned for. The dynamic range of the guitar makes for an immersive playing experience, with a sensitive and lively response at either end and plenty of headroom should you dig in. 

The playability of the instrument is superb, with the traditional OM Scale providing a snappy and strong fundamental to each note with a clear and defined voice all the way up to the dusty end of the fretboard.

Specifications
• Mastergrade Sitka Spruce 

• Hawaiian Koa Back and Sides 

• Baked European red spruce bracing 

• Walnut binding, bevel and back centre strip 

• Walnut Rosette 

• Ebony Fretboard & bridge 

• Mahogany neck with volute 

• Ebony headstock back and front overlay 

• Mitred Walnut trim 

• Nickel Gotoh tuners with Ebony buttons 

• Celtic Knot logo in Mother of pearl 

• Ebony bridge Pins 

• Bone nut and saddle 

• 1 3/4′′ (45mm) nut width 

• 25.4′′ scale length 

• Gloss finish with Satin rear of neck. 

• Bolt on neck joint with two way truss rod 

• Hiscox Pro II case with certificate 

• Limited lifetime warranty to the first owner. 


 

Turnstone TG Acoustic Guitar, Flamed Koa & Alpine Spruce - £9,350

This sensational instrument from Turnstone Guitars embodies the current standpoint on this iconic form, bending the lines of Orchestra and Grand Concert model with a powerful tone that still retains those key qualities that proved so favourable in earlier iterations. 

The guitar is built in mind of the contemporary finger style player, with comfort adjustments such as the micro-bevel and Scoop Cutaway allowing for both ease in playing and longevity while doing so. 

Another key aspect of this refined build is the multi-scale string run, helping to draw the most out of each string and fine-tune the intonation of the guitar all the way through it's registers. 

  • Soundboard: Alpine Spruce
  • Back & Sides: Flamed Koa
  • Neck: Honduran Mahogany
  • Headstock Veneer: Ebony & Koa
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Body Binding: Ebony
  • Body Purfling: Padauk
  • Body purling: Black/White
  • Back Strip: Mitred Back Strip Detailing
  • Finish: High Gloss Acrylic
  • Arm Bevel: Wingert Inspired
  • Cutaway: Benjamin Inspired Scoop Cutaway
  • Bridge pins: Ebony
  • Side Dots: Brass Metal
  • Nut, Saddle: Cattle Bone
  • Tuners: Gotoh 510 Gold
  • Scale Length: Multi Scale 660mm-640mm
  • Fret join: 14th
  • Fret Wire: Evo Gold
  • Nut Width: 44.5 mm
  • Width of neck at body join: 57mm
  • Neck thickness: 21mm
  • Case: Vicesnut Hard Case

 

For more information on any of these exceptional OMs, please don't hesitate to get in touch either via email at hello@thenorthamericanguitar.com or by phone on  +44 (0) 207 835 5597. 

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