The dreadnought body size guitar is near ubiquitous. It's the size of body you most often see, and especially this is true in North America. Jumbo sized acoustic guitars are forever popular as well, but this in no way means a dreadnought or jumbo sized acoustic guitar is right for you. The orchestra model guitar may very well be the exact guitar you've always dreamed of. Every shopper for high end guitars should play as many as possible before committing to a purchase. You'll be spending countless hours with your guitar if you are serious about it all.
Because the dreadnought and the jumbo guitar have a much larger air filled cavity - they produce an overly responsive bass tonality. Smaller guitars such as orchestra model guitars can produce a more even response less dominated by bass response.You hear terms like woofiness thrown around to describe some dreadnoughts and jumbos. What a person is saying is the bass response was too much for their tastes.
Why purchase an orchestra model guitar?
Even if you are a very large person long of limbs, an orchestra model guitar is easier to play, as you can get your arms and fingers around it to use them more easily. But a player wants volume from their acoustic guitar. Volume is why dreadnoughts and jumbos exist to begin with. While there are many many factors involved in how loud a specific acoustic guitar can be, one of the biggest factors is the tonewoods used in its construction.
This particular webpage will be discussing five of the very best models of orchestra model acoustic steel string guitars. The best of tonewoods will be used here. Specifically we will discuss mahogany body orchestra model acoustic guitars. Orchestra model bodies are known to provide an even responsiveness across the spectrum. Mahogany is known for the same, even in the bigger woofier guitars.
An orchestra model guitar is a guitar which transcends some barriers regarding the player's age. They are small enough to be instruments one plays during the teenage years, but never out-grows. These are all very professional level instruments. So if you've a teenage child or loved one who is very serious about music, then any one of these guitars could become their lifetime musical partner and muse.
The real reason to buy an orchestra model guitar is versatility. The longer scale of the orchestra model when compared to a 000 lends the orchestra model greater volume and projection. And the body dimensions make the guitar suitable for flatpicking, finger style play, and any manner of strumming.
The Martin OM-18 Authentic 1933 guitar
1. Martin OM-18s, the original orchestra model guitars
C.F. Martin & Company, of course, invented the orchestra model guitar. It was created by special request. The 000 size body was already in existence, but was of a much shorter scale, with only 12 frets clear of the body. Well, the longer scale instrument was requested for use with steel strings, and here we are.
The guitar was loud. It could cut through and be heard among instruments such as fiddles and mandolins. It became hugely popular.
The Martin OM-18 Authentic 1933 guitar is an exact reproduction of the OM-18s built in 1933. Martin studies their old classic guitars more thoroughly than you could ever believe. They bust out microscopes and all manner of other high tech equipment to ensure their 2013 guitar labeled with words like authentic and dates like 1933, are what they claim to be.
The Martin OM-18 Authentic 1933 guitar features an Adirondack spruce top. This is a holy grail tonewood. Adirondack spruce is also known as red spruce. It's a rare tonewood used for the best of the best tops, or soundboards on acoustic guitars. Supposedly the Adirondack spruce top provides more volume and greater clarity than any other species of spruce can. A wide and straight grain pattern is always thought best, and red spruce delivers it more often as a species of tree.
These days Martin guitar models with words like authentic in the nomenclature are analogous to what Martin used to refer to as Golden Era. They'll have Adirondack soundboards either way. And likely, as is the case here, Adirondack spruce bracing too. Before I get to the bullet points for this Martin masterpiece guitar, I should plainly state this is a five thousand dollar guitar.
The appointments, however, are not too terribly different from the much less expensive standard variety Martin OM-18, which has Sitka spruce instead of Adirondack spruce. And with a standard variety OM-18, one can get Fishman electronics, and a Venetian cutaway. But here are the specifications for the 1933 Authentic version:
- 3 lbs. 11 oz.
- 000-14 Fret Body Size
- Chris Hillman 1933 Shaded Gloss Top Finish
- Vintage Gloss Body Finish
- 14th Fret Neck/Body Joint
- VTS Solid Adirondack Spruce Top
- Genuine Mahogany Back and Sides
- VTS Adirondack Spruce 5/16" Scalloped "X" Top Bracing
- Old Style 18 Rosette
- Solid Madagascar Rosette Back Purfling
- Black Boltaron Binding
- Genuine Mahogany Neck
- Dovetail Neck Joint with Hide Glue
- Solid Black Ebony Fretboard
- Old Style 18 Fingerboard Inlays
- Authentic 1933 Barrel & Heel Neck Shape
- .850" Neck Profile at Nut
- 1.050" Neck Profile at 12th Fret
- Solid Madagascar Rosewood Headplate
- 1 3/4" Nut Width
- 16" Radius
- 25.4" Scale Length
- 20 Frets
- Bone Nut and Saddle
- Belly Style Bridge
- Waverly 8060 Nickel Tuners with Butterbean Buttons
The Santa Cruz OM/PW with and without sunburst finish
2. The Santa Cruz OM/PW guitars (orchestra model pre-war)
If you assumed the Santa Cruz OM/PW is the Santa Cruz take on the pre-war Martin OM-18, you assumed right. But Santa Cruz guitars don't really sound like Martin guitars. They have a distinct character to them.
It can be hugely challenging to come up with descriptive words to distinguish the sound of one guitar from another. Suffice it to say the Santa Cruz is very Santa Cruz-y. And it is plainly impossible to make a better guitar than the people at the Santa Cruz Guitar Company make.
Again, this is a five thousand dollar guitar. These guitars are built towards a singular purpose, to out do what Martin does. They aim to beat Martin at Martin's game. The following paragraph is what Santa Cruz has to say about its OM/PW
"The Pre-War Orchestra Model honors its pre-WWII predecessors with an advanced X and scalloped top bracing. This time-tested design ensures large bass response and overall volume. Acoustic Guitar Magazine has placed it as one of the most important instruments of the last 20 years. The OM/PW is presented with understated appointments to emphasize master grade materials, tone and workmanship. It is perfect for the aficionado that loves the advantages of a professional boutique instrument without the cost of rare wood and ornamentation. The OM’s versatility and ergonomics lend great appeal for traditional picking styles and impressive rhythm work. Expect the predominant bass and throaty presence of the surviving pre-war antiques."
The guitar can be had with a natural finish, or a sunburst finish. And a Santa Cruz OM/PW is not neccessarily a mahogany body guitar. You can have one with various flavors of rosewood for the body, should you so desire. A rosewood OM/PW would cost much more than the mahogany body.
If you've decided to purchase a mahogany body orchestra model guitar, you owe it to yourself to try both the Martin models and the Santa Cruz. The Cruz is priced to compete, but may have a tonality you find suits you best. The Santa Cruz OM/PW can also be had with a Sitka spruce top for considerably less money than one with the Adirondack spruce top.
Guild Orpheum Orchestra Model
3. The Guild Orpheum orchestra model guitar - it's hard to find, but fantastic
Guild guitars may be the least appreciated American guitars out there. Part of the problem is, if it is a problem, that some of Guild's more affordable models are made in Asian factories. But not this guitar. The Orpheum Guild guitars are Ren Ferguson masterworks.
You can read in guitar forums elsewhere on the internet how Guild's Orpheum orchestra model guitars are the best of the best from Guild. They do incorporate all the finest materials. Again, these are available in natural finish or sunburst. These fine American orchestra models are all competing against each other. They are all constructed in a manner of their designer's choosing, and have different characters.
The Guild Orpheum orchestra models are not without some legitimate complaints. Complaints such as there not being enough of them available for sale. Complaints such as someone not being to find one at all in their state. These are the complaints I've discovered about these very best of Guild orchestra model guitars.
I'm pricing these best of Guild Orpheum orchestra model guitar at between thirty five hundred dollars, and forty five hundred dollars. But I'm simply not finding many examples of these instruments for sale. Anywhere. So if you see one, you might grab it merely for the supply of the guitar not matching its demand in discriminating circles of guitarist.
It won't be absolutely spectacular as the Guild Orpheum guitars are. It just won't be a bad guitar, and it only costs around seven hundred bucks. For budget shoppers, the Guild GAD F-130, built in Asia somewhere, is an all solid wood value buy you can play while you save your dollars and search out the Orpheum.
Ren Ferguson discusses his Guild Orpheum orchestra model guitar
Larrivee OM-05 Mahogany Select Series Orchestra Model
4. Larrivee OM-05 Mahogany Select Series
Larrivee guitars are out of Canada. They sure make fine guitars at much more affordable prices than their competition. But this offering by Larrivee isn't competing against the Martin Authentic or the others. This is a Sitka spruce top guitar with Sitka bracing. Sitka is an underappreciated variety of spruce merely because it is a more common variety of spruce.
Oh there are certainly instances where an Adirondack soundboard is superior to maybe even the finest grades of Sitka. Things such as this are not mere conjecture or visual aesthetic, there is science behind it. But truth is truth, and the truth is most people you know and maybe you yourself - would never be able to tell any difference between a fine Sitka spruce soundboard and an Adirondack one. Hey, some people have much better ears than others.
Jean Larrivee has been building guitars by hand since the 1960s. He's damn good at it, and the Larrivee OM-05 Mahogany Select Series is his top of the line mahogany orchestra model guitar. For a little bit less money you can buy the Larrivee OM-05 Standard Series Mahogany guitar. This guitar, the Select Series one, is priced at just under two thousand dollars. Bet you can find a used one for around fifteen hundred. Here are the specifications:
- All solid wood construction
- Single piece mahogany neck
- Canadian Sitka spruce sound board & bracing
- African ebony fretboard & bridge
- Canadian maple multi-strip body binding
- Mahogany back & sides
- Symmetrical parabolic X-bracing
- Hand fit dovetail neck joint
- Abalone rosette Pearl logo w/ sterling silver border
- Chrome tuners (18:1 Ratio)
- Ivoroid fretboard binding
- Larrivee custom beveled pickguard
- Bone nut, compensated Bone Saddle
- Microdot fretboard markers
- Limited lifetime warranty
Larrivee OM-05 review
Collings OM1HA Orchestra Adirondack Spruce/Honduran Mahogany
5. Collings OM1HA Orchestra Adirondack Spruce/Honduran Mahogany
Bill Collings down in central Texas is one of the single most respected luthiers in the nation, if not the entire world. Collings isn't going to be outdone by anyone. Santa Cruz, Bourgeois, Huss and Dalton - doesn't matter. Bill Collings competes with anyone, and he offers pretty much any sort of specification option you could possibly want. In fact, Collings seems to be forever adding more options for how your guitar can be built.
But you do not have to special order a Collings, they are making them all day most days, and you are certain to find something you can fall in love forever with in a Collings guitar. They come less and more expensive. Of course you can get one with Sitka spruce instead of Adirondack. Heck, you name your favorite species of spruce or body tonewood, or fingerboard material, and Bill can build it. The Collings OM I'm listing specifications for in bullet points below is a guitar which is sold at just under five thousand dollars. I've seen them used for twenty five hundred bucks. You simply can not go wrong when you spend that kind of money with any of the North American makes of great steel string orchestra model guitars.
- Select Adirondack spruce
- Mahogany back & sides
- Tortoise-style binding
- Herringbone trim
- Pre-war scalloped bracing
- Black/white wood nitrate strip rosette
- Tortoise-style pickguard
- High gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish
- Mahogany neck
- Ebony fingerboard and bridge
- Ebony peghead overlay
- Inlaid Collings Logo
- Inlaid dot fingerboard markers
- Fully adjustable truss rod
- Bone nut and drop-in saddle
- Ebony bridge pins and end pin
- Nickel Waverly tuners
- 3lbs 3oz
- Collings deluxe hardshell case included