Beard Odyssey A Review

AG 232 April 2012 Cover

by Adam Levy

It's not uncommon for folks to generically refer to wood-body resonator guitars as “dobros.” However, not every such instrument is a dobro. That coinage has its roots in a trade name, currently owned by Gibson. The original Dobro company was founded by four of the Dopyera brothers after they split off from National Guitars in 1929. Distinguishing their instruments from the metal-body Nationals, the brothers built their guitars’ bodies out of wood and turned the spun resonator upside down, using an eight-legged aluminum “spider” to support the bridge over the cone. Another feature separating Dobro instruments from most six-strings was their square necks; these guitars were meant to be played Hawaiian-style—laid flat across the lap, the player using a metal bar to make chord shapes and single notes. Today, with bluegrass and old-time country styles growing in popularity, interest in Dobro-inspired instruments is surging. We recently had a chance to check out the Beard Odyssey A, a solid-wood, US-made resonator guitar with a round neck for regular play. (A square-neck Odyssey E is available for lap-style playing.) With degrees in aviation mechanics and mechanical engineering—and years of experience as a player and guitar repairman—company head Paul Beard began building his own resophonic instrument in 1985. Today his Maryland-based shop produces more than a dozen models, ranging from traditional Dobro-inspired square-necks to unique modern designs.

Eye-Catching Wood and Steel

The Odyssey A is available in a variety of solid tonewood combinations. Our review model had mahogany top, back, and sides, with curly maple binding on the body and neck. The guitar’s top and back feature tasteful bursting—the red-brown mahogany hue gives way to a chestnut shade around the edges, with the handsome woodgrain still clearly visible through the high-gloss finish. The back of the headstock and neck heel are similarly shaded, as are portions of the sides. This contrast is subtle, but effective.

A chromed cover plate in Beard’s own “solar” motif is the eye-catching centerpiece of the Odyssey A’s design. S-shaped cutouts create the visual effect of heat waves emanating from the central bridge. According to Beard, these cutouts aren’t just for looks—they were engineered to enhance the guitar’s high-end tonal clarity as well. Another novel feature of this guitar’s landscape is the oval soundhole, set between the resonator coverplate and end of the fingerboard. The tailpiece is chromed to match the resonator cover. Tuning machines are one aspect of design where guitar builders sometimes cut corners, but Beard doesn’t skimp here. The Odyssey A comes standard with Waverly open-back, oval-knob tuners. Nineteen smallish frets are expertly seated and dressed in the ebony fingerboard (16-inch radius), with no irregularities apparent. The craftsmanship on this instrument is consistently high. I found no flaws in the finish, the hardware was tightly fitted throughout, and the factory setup strikes a comfortable balance between fretting-hand comfort and sonic clarity. You have to look inside the Odyssey A’s soundhole to get a glimpse of one of its key features—an internal baffle that helps focus the guitar’s bass response.

Easy to Wrap Your Hands Around

With its 25-inch scale, 14 frets clear of the body, and 13/4-inch nut width, the Odyssey A’s neck is relatively easy on the hands. Players with average-size digits—such as myself—should have no trouble playing open-position chords, making barres anyplace along the fingerboard, and even reaching a few frets beyond the neck/body joint if they so desire. The string spacing is tight enough for brisk flatpicking, but wide enough to accommodate fingerstyle playing.

The Odyssey A feels comfortable to play while seated—its weight is well balanced between the body and neck. It is slightly forward-heavy, as might be expected of a wooden guitar with a metal assembly in its top. It would be a good idea to use a strap while seated, to keep the guitar from wandering.

Immediacy and Sustain

The Odyssey A is pretty loud—as reso guitars generally are—but not overbearingly so. I took it to a few rehearsals and guitar lessons, and it paired nicely with other unamplified instruments and voices. It’s also notable that the Odyssey A tends to speak quickly. There’s an immediacy to the attack of single notes and chords, followed by plentiful sustain and a tapered decay. This arc may appeal to electric-oriented players who are accustomed to more hang time from their instruments. I found this aspect particularly useful for open-tuned bottleneck work. It’s also nice to have the sustain and full-range frequency response for solo fingerstyle playing. In this context, the Odyssey A can sound nearly pianistic.

And sure enough, the internal baffle delivers plenty of bass oomph. It’s not gratuitous, though. The low end is even and taut, complementing the inherent tonal qualities of the resonator—detailed midrange and high-mid shimmer. This refined bottom will be of particular interest to those who like to play in dropped tunings, such as D A D G A D or open G.

A passive Fishman Nashville Series resophonic pickup (built into the guitar’s saddles) is standard equipment. This makes the Odyssey A easy to amplify and/ or record. Used as is, the amplified tone is functional and adaptable. I plugged the Odyssey A directly into a late-’50s Fender Deluxe amp during a recording session, using a mic on the amp, but no mic on the instrument itself. The tone was a bit midrange-heavy—not surprising from such an application—but it blended organically with the other instruments on the track (voice, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, upright bass, and drums). To expand the Odyssey’s sonic range, Beard recommends the Fishman Aura Jerry Douglas Signature Series preamp pedal, which he included with our review guitar (but it is sold separately). This pedal uses acoustic-imaging technology to deliver a more natural voice than the pickup itself. Recording the Odyssey directly into Garage Band on my Mac, I found that using the Aura helped make the already good pickup sound even more natural.

Roundneck Reso Hybrid

The Beard Odyssey A resonator guitar has enough old-school Dobro-inspired vibe to appeal to traditionalists, along with ample modern design elements to charm forward-thinking players. Its hybrid sound could work effectively in most any acoustic or acoustic-electric setting, as a lead voice or an accompanying instrument. At $3,500, the Odyssey may be out of reach for some, but considering its unique design, versatility, and handmade-in-the-USA build, this instrument is an investment that may offer substantial musical rewards for reso-guitar lifers and newbies alike.

SPECS: Round-neck resonator guitar. Solid mahogany top, back, and sides. Curly maple binding. Ebony fingerboard. 25-inch scale. 1 3/4-inch nut width. 2 5/8-inch string spacing at saddle. Spider-style resonator with hand-spun cone. Internal bass baffle. Two-way adjustable truss rod. Waverly open-back tuners. Urethane finish. Fishman Nashville Series pickup. D’Addario phosphor-bronze strings (.013–.056). Made in USA. Left-handed version available.

PRICE: $3,500 list

MAKER: Beard Guitars: (301) 733-8271

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar April 2012

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