Collings OM1A Review

AG 228 December 2011

Posted by Doug Young

Luthier Bill Collings began building guitars in the 1970s, and today, his Austin, Texas-based Collings Guitars is known all over the world for making high-quality instruments. Although the company now has a large and diverse catalog that includes electric guitars, mandolins, and ukuleles, most players think first of the company’s core line of flattop guitars. Collings’s traditional models have well-known body shapes but are not simply replicas of historic designs; they have their own sound and aesthetics. We looked at one of the most basic members of Collings’s lineup, the OM1A, a noncutaway OM made of mahogany and Adirondack spruce. This combination is especially popular with many well-known players—and this model is similar in specs to Collings’s recently introduced Pete Huttlinger Signature model.

Classic Woods and Features

The OM1A provides a classic combination of mahogany back and sides with an Adirondack spruce top. Adirondack was used on the highly prized Martin OMs built before World War II, and it is valued for its definition, projection, and high headroom. Mahogany complements the Adirondack with its combination of dry and warm tone, creating an overall sound that can be punchy when driven hard, or warm and sweet when played quietly.

Our review guitar is basic in its appointments; this is a working musician’s guitar, with a focus on tone and quality construction, rather than frills. The 14-fret mahogany neck is topped with an unstained ebony fingerboard that shows a bit of grain and color variation.

The guitar includes high-quality open-backed Waverly tuners, a bone nut and compensated saddle, and ebony bridge pins with small pearl dots. The headstock is capped with an ebony faceplate and features the Collings logo inlaid in pearl. The clean lines of the headstock are unbroken by any truss-rod cover—the truss-rod adjustment is inside the guitar, accessible through the soundhole. The fingerboard includes three small pearl dot inlays at the fifth, seventh, and ninth frets, and the side of the fingerboard has position markers at those locations as well as the third and 12th frets. A tortoiseshell pickguard, a simple black-and-white rosette, and a thin walnut backstrip complete the appointments.

The guitar came with light-gauge D’Addario strings and a moderately low action of 3/32 inches on the low E at the 12th fret and just slightly lower on the high E.

Lively and Warm Sound

With its relatively compact body size and easy playability, the OM1A reminds me of a small sports car. The neck feels fast, easy to navigate and control, and the guitar has plenty of power. Adirondack tops are often claimed to sound tight and stiff at first, requiring some time to break in, but I found none of that with this brand-new guitar. The instrument is lively, warm, and responsive to even a light touch, with an impressive amount of sustain and evenness over the entire neck. The high notes have plenty of bite when a pick or nails are used to dig in, but can sound warm and round with a lighter flesh-only touch. The bass is tight and never boomy, but it sounds warm and full when played gently and pops and barks when snapped or played hard.

I’ve often admired the tone some well-known players, such as Pete Huttlinger, get with their Collings OMs, both live and on recordings, and this OM1A took me a step closer to that sound, which includes clear note separation, perfect balance between bass and trebles, and a warm midrange. It was especially gratifying to hear the recorded tone of the guitar. It sounded the way a guitar is supposed to sound, without the need for EQ or effects. The OM1A played and sounded great in standard tuning, but it also handled alternate tunings like D A D G A D and even lower ranges equally well. Quiet fingerstyle pieces produced a pleasing combination of warmth and clarity, and at the same time, the guitar produced a loud, punchy tone that didn’t break up even with aggressive strumming.

As a fingerstyle player, I usually prefer a fairly wide nut width. And even though Collings’s specs on the OM1A say the nut is 13/4-inches wide, it felt a bit narrower, although the string spacing is not much different than many guitars with a wider neck.

Top Quality, Warm Sound

With top-notch materials, quality construction, excellent playability, and above all, a warm, clear, and balanced sound, the Collings OM1A is a versatile and professional-quality guitar, suitable for almost any player. In addition, the OM1A is simply fun to play, and would be equally at home on the couch, in front of the fireplace, or on a concert stage.

SPECS: 14-fret 000 body. Solid Adirondack spruce top. Solid mahogany back and sides. Bolt-on mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. Prewar scalloped bracing. 25.5-inch scale. 13/4-inch nut width. 23/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Waverly nickel open-back tuning machines. Gloss nitrocellulose finish. Light-gauge D’Addario EJ16 strings. Made in USA.

PRICE: $4,625 list/$4,160 street.

MAKER: Collings Guitars: (512) 288-7776; collingsguitars.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar December 2011

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