Collings OM guitar specifications.
Ok so you have taken a look at all the high end mid sized flat top acoustic guitars currently on the market and you have decided that a Collings OM is the way to go. After all, in many players opinion, Bill Collings is currently building the best American voiced and inspired guitars of all time. Of course other brands such as Santa Cruz and Bourgeois guitars need a mention too, but in our experience these other builders just don’t quite hit the same spot for consistency and an authentic American style of instrument. And as the OM is such a versatile and comfortable design it will appeal to all types of players from hard hitting flat pickers to classical orientated finger style players. So your mind is made up and you already get what a Collings guitar is all about and will offer you, so this leaves a whole selection of options and specifications to wade through. If you read on you will find that we have tried to answere many of the most common questions regarding the popular and best loved selections of tone woods and specifications that any custom build Collings OM can benefit from. As this is such a massive topic, and is also to a degree down to ones own opinion, I would stress that this is designed as a guide to the accepted impact that various different custom design features and specifications may have on any build. Its such a massive topic that we can not attempt to cover every aspect encompassing all options available, however we will do our best to cover the basics.
Back and sides options
So where do we start ? Lets start looking at the key difference between the OM1 and the OM2H models. The two most popular OM options would be based on a fairly standard OM1 or OM2H choice as many players find that only a very small alteration from these standard models will result in a perfect guitar for them. The Standard OM1 takes a very understated approach to cosmetics and offers very little in the way of extra touches. It features a Mahogany back and sides and will come, unless otherwise specified, with a Sitka Spruce top. This is a superb blend of woods and for many players you need look no further when searching for the right one for you. This combination of tone woods has a clear and balanced tone with plenty of mahogany single note warmth. Some of the words used to describe this combination would be Clear, Well defined, Well Balanced, and possibly bright. However I would stress not bright in a brash un measured way, rather a clear and articulate way. Both the OM1 and the OM2H feature the same neck profile, however the OM2H will have a volute and the OM1 does not. The OM2H also has a distinctive traditional Herringbone inlay around the top which is a nod to other classic designs from years ago. Of course the real main difference between the two models is the choice of back and sides as the OM2H features premium quality Indian Rosewood. Tonally an OM2H would be described as offering more in the way of over tones and perhaps having a slight more robust low end. It does not offer the exact same single note definition that an OM1 can produce, however it is very musical and rich with plenty of sustain.
Choosing between the basic models can very hard as they are both equally lovely. On some days you may prefer one over the other, but this may change the following day. The OM2H is slightly more popular, but this may be as much to do with the attractive Roswood being used as the tone differences. In general fingerstyle players tend to find them selves drawn towards Mahogany rather than Rosewood, but this is not always the case and its an individual choice. If you are looking at a Collings level of guitars it is likely you will already know what you favorite back and sides wood option is, but if not you will find both to be delightful and offer slightly different benefits to each other.
So once you have established if you re looking at an OM1 or an OM2H you can then consider other back and sides options such as Body depth and Tonewood upgrades. Collings offer a Deep body option that some players really enjoy. Essentially this deep body option takes you a step closer to a dread body size and can work really well for those players who are especially keen on a well formed low and and a little more projection and body. We have found that flat pickers or players wanting a guitar that can do everything a dreadnought can do but still wanting some of the benefits of an OM have found the Deep body option to be a great choice. You may lose a marginal amount of clarity and note definition, but you will notice a little more of everything else and the guitar will provide more headroom and volume. The physical difference is only marginal and at first glance it can be hard to determine which is which as the depth of body is only increased a small amount. This is still however a great option for any player wanting a bit more of a dreadnought style performance from a mid body size guitar and this goes for any choice of back and sides.
Its important to appreciate that other back and sides options exist and that both the OM1 or the OM2H can be built from any of the following woods. I have tried to list some of the most popular choices with a brief description of what they have to offer the player, and have also included Mahogany and Rosewood again so that all the main options are in one place.
Maple – Visually regarded as very attractive. Fairly bright and provides great clarity and precision. Some players find that Maple can lack a little warmth and yet others enjoy the bright and clear tone. Maple can be a great choice for recording and works well for those of us who use a pick a fair bit. Many Collings Maple back and sides guitar will be custom ordered to have a sunburst finish as this coaxes the best out of the woods attractive look. Maple can look a little pale depending on the design of the rest of the guitar, so a sunburst finish helps with this.
East Indian Rosewood – ( This is the standard spec Rosewood used ) – Gorgeous looking attractive wood that has a full and rich texture to its tone. Much loved by players of all style of guitar around the world. A Rosewood Collings offers a little extra clarity and definition when compared to many other builders so should be regarded as providing a clear and even Rosewood tone compared to other builders. Offering plenty of depth and a very satisfying low end, Rosewood will also produce a clear and full high end. Maybe the mid range is not as balanced and as even as a Mahogany option, however in many players mind the other benefits of Rosewood more than make up for this. Along with Mahogany rosewood is by far the most popular Tone wood for use in the back and sides.
Madagascar Rosewood – Collings often have a selection of rather special and more individual Rosewood available for custom builds. One of the most popular alternative Rosewoods would be Madagascar as it is generally regarded as being very similar to Brazilian Rosewood. In fact many guitar builders feel that Madagascar can offer an ultimate Rosewood experience. Expect a rich and figured very attractive grain and plenty of full and enchanting rosewood tone. Its wrong to think that Madagascar Rosewood is necessarily better than East Indian Rosewood, however it is likely to be a little more individual looking and will have a certain extra quality to it. Don’t get to hung up on what sort of Rosewood to chose as the East Indian Rosewood that Collings uses is top draw and will perform superbly for you. Its just nice to know that other rosewood options exist and if you are looking for an ultimate level of specifications you may wish to chose Madagascar or some of the other more individual Rosewood options that may be available.
Mahogany – A great all round tone wood and along with Rosewood is by far the most popular choice. Especially enjoyed by finger style players it will work well for any style of playing. Produces a clear and warm tone that offers slightly better note to note definition than Rosewood but maybe has a little less of a full and rich tone. Seriously though we I have to say again that Between Rosewood and Mahogany one is not better than the other. Where one may have a slight advantage the other will cover a slightly different aspect of a tone and performance better. They are both wonderful choices and as good as each other, its just that they offer a different characteristic to each other.
Koa – highly attractive and a fairly rare option on a Collings. Offers a wonderfully intricate and well balanced tone that is to a degree hard to describe. Koa just sounds like koa and takes you away from the more standard Mahogany and Rosewood options. The best way to describe Koa is, other than is being visually stunning, it delivers a more textured tone and has its own unique voice. This voice is delightfully resonate and responsive and can work well for some players. As its hard to describe koa on a Collings I would say that any player considering a Koa version really does need to know that they like the tone of Koa. Don’t order a custom order koa option unless you have some experience with a Koa Back and sides guitar.
If you are not exactly sure of which back and sides option to chose just remember that Mahogany and East Indian Rosewood will account for the vast majority of all Collinsg guitars built. If you like plenty of clarity and enjoy a clear warmth you should maybe edge towards a Mahogany back and sides. If you like a full and rich tone and enjoy a satisfying low end then maybe its a Rosewood option you should edge towards.
Ok so now we get on to choice of which tone wood to select for the top. Regardless of the choice of back and sides you can chose from the following tops.
Sitka Spruce – Essentially Sitka Spruce should be regarded as being the jack of all trades Spruce top. It can do everything well and a really good Sitka Spruce top can be quite exceptional. As Collings only use premium Sitka tops any OM featuring Sitka will provide plenty of everything that you would want. It is clear and warm and has a wonderful blend of harmonic content compared to the fundamental note. Often looked down upon when compared to other Spruce tops, a Sitka top is a great all rounder and is an exceptional choice for any Collings.
European Spruce / German Spruce – European spruce is also referred to as German Spruce. It is a species of Spruce that is generally regarded as offering a slightly elevated sparkle and harmonic content. Some players find that European spruce produces a little more high end magic compared to other tops. It is especially popular with fingerstyle players and not really as common on guitars that flat pickers are likely to enjoy. An exceptional choice for fingerstyle but maybe not as great an all rounder as Sitka.
Adirondack Spruce – ( Red Spruce ) – Regarded as the best top wood by some players and builders Adirondack has a distinctive attack and projection. It also has a longer breaking in time and can take many years to blossom into the finished article. Think very clear with plenty of power and projection. You tend to notice the attack and initial note rather than the swell of following overtones with Adirondack. However it does offer a wonderful option to any player who enjoys using a pick or any player that like a clear and precise attack. Is this the ultimate tone wood for any top ? perhaps, after all many players do think so and those that do usually find themselves enjoying the attack, power and definition on offer.
Mahogany Top – Other than of course looking completely different to a Spruce top, a mahogany top has a distinctive tone, especially when combined with an all mahogany construction. You will only typically find a Mahogany top being used when the rest of the guitar is also made out of Mahogany. Mahogany offers plenty of warmth and clarity and has a slightly woody vibe to the sound. It is not as dynamic and does not have the power or projection of Spruce, however it makes for a delightful finger style guitar and works especially well with an OM instrument.
bracing – Just a quick note on bracing options. As standard most Collings models use Sitka Spruce for the bracing. However you can specify Adirondack bracing for a small up charge. As Adirondack is lighter and stiffer than Sitka is can be regarded as potentially providing a slight advantage and allowing the top tone wood to work a little harder. This is not a massive thing to get too hung up on as the difference is likely to be very minimal. However we have fond that Sitka tops with Adirondack bracing do tend to be especially lovely, and as the up charge for this spec is very modest its worth some serious consideration when placing a custom order.
Nut sizes, profile and scale
All Collinsg OM will have a Vintage Modified neck as standard. If placing a custom order it is possible to request different dimensions for the neck, however this is a fairly detailed procedure and can be a bit complicated to get right. So our advice would be that unless you really don’t enjoy or want the standard profile Modified V neck, just stick with the excellent neck profile that Collings provide as standard. You can chose from 3 standard nut sizes. 1-11/16, 1-3/5 and the in between 1-23/32. These days we find that players tend to opt for the 1-3/4 nut size when placing a custom order, but the standard 1-11/16 size is also still very popular. It just depends on what you are used to and how much room you like to enjoy on the fret board. The 1-23/32 option tends to get over looked but is actually a terrific options for players who play a bit of everything. We really enjoy this in between size as it provides a little more room in a comparable way for those players who are used to 1-11/16.
Short scale option – Colllings offer a short scale option on almost every guitar they make. A standard Collings OM will have a traditional OM scale length neck, and this is generally regarded by most players as being the most versatile and best all round performing option. However, some players will enjoy a shorter scale as this helps with some aspects of the guitars performance. For example it is generally thought that due to the slight reduction in tension on a short scale the tone may be marginally warmer. It can also be easier to accomplish hard to reach chord shapes as the distance between frets reduced, and this is especially the case when a player has smaller hands. The reduction of tension makes the strings more mobile generally. This can help with some styles of playing where string bending is used and where the player uses techniques that introduce extra movement into the string. However the reduction in tension does result in less attack and projection and it can also make alternative tuning a little more challenging.
Finish options and inlays etc
As standard most Collings guitars feature a very classic look and design that has been influenced by Golden Era guitars form years ago. Think understated and original perfect finishing and you have some idea of the finish you can expect. When placing a custom build order you can chose from a very extensive list of custom options. This covers anything from inlays to binding and various detailed finish options. The list is so extensive that we can not possibly hope to cover everything here. We would suggest that any players considering custom builds should contact us so we can help with advice and thoughts as to what would suit any particular build and what the relevant costs may be.
A few final thoughts.
A Collings OM can be as standard or as custom as you like. Chose from an extensive list of individual and exotic tone woods. We have only touched on a few of the basic popular options here, so we would encourage any player considering a custom build to contact us for further information. Virtually all aspects of a Collings design can be altered to suit, including neck profile and finish. Collings guitars are complete custom one off instruments and are not only wonderful sounding musical instruments, but total works of art demonstrating exceptional craftsmanship. We work closely with many players and the team at Collings on lots of Custom builds every year and have extensive experience with the whole process.