Amazingly, some of the wood in this guitar pre-dates Stonehenge – Acoustic’s very own antique, David Mead, has the story…
If you’re not familiar with bog oak, it’s basically incredibly rare wood from ancient forest land that was devastated at the time when sea levels rose in Britain towards at the end of the Neolithic era. Eventually, as the land was uncovered once again, the retreating sea left peat bogs behind it, concealing submerged trunks which have remained perfectly preserved, having spent many years in an oxygen free environment. In recent years, Cambridgeshire farmers have occasionally discovered the trunks buried in fenland fields and specialists have painstakingly dried the wood out – a process that takes many months – the result being this nation’s only indigenous blackwood, the oak having reacted with the iron salts in the water. In the case of this guitar, the bog oak used in its back and sides has been carbon dated at 5,300 years old…
It’s difficult to comprehend anything being 5,300 years old. True, it predates Stonehenge, Tutankhamun’s reign and virtually everything else I can remember from schoolboy history lessons, but it’s still very hard to imagine. In any case, when Patrick Eggle heard about the wood’s discovery, he decided to use it in a very limited edition of the Faith Mars guitar. They’re only making 12 of these instruments and so when I say “limited” I really mean it! I asked Patrick about the drying-out process: “Bog oak is incredibly hard to season and cure,” he told me. “It loses up to 30% of both its width and length during the drying process. This level of shrinkage is otherwise unheard of and the process takes 11 months in a carefully managed kilning process. It results in a super dense oak, due to the partial collapse of the cell walls during this process.”
In any case, what we have here is a slope-shouldered, 12-frets-to-the-body dreadnought based on the Faith Mars and bears Patrick’s signature on the headstock. I would imagine that if this wood had fallen into the hands of some of the world’s boutique builders then we’d be looking at a price tag of five figures. But Faith sent the wood over to their facility in Indonesia to be formed into this limited edition signature series and I really don’t think that one pound short of £2k is an unreasonable price point for an instrument with this kind of antiquity and curio value!
Down to the facts, though: the bog oak has been married up with an Engelmann spruce top, which looks creamy white at present, but will age gracefully into a mature amber glow over time. As for the back and sides, you really have to hold the guitar up to the light to gain any sense of a grain pattern. It reminds me of African blackwood in terms of hue, although when you actually get to see the grain, the oak is definitely a lot broader. It’s worth noting that the finish on the back and sides is clear lacquer – so that’s actually the true colour of the wood you’re witnessing here. As Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel famously remarked: “How much more black could this be?”
The neck is mahogany with a scarf joint below the headstock and a five-piece heel. It’s been given a lacquer stain to match the blackness of the bog oak, making this guitar look very mysterious from the rear. The headstock is surrounded by six Grover tuning machines with dark wooden buttons in keeping with the overall livery of the guitar and is fronted by a piece of ebony bearing the Faith logo and Patrick Eggle’s signature, as previously noted.
A Bali bone nut – one of the first 45mm nuts from Faith – sits at the top of the fingerboard, which is made from Macassar ebony with only the Faith “F” at the 12th fret breaking its otherwise position marker free surface. There’s an ebony bridge at the other end of the string length complete with compensated a bone saddle. Interestingly, the bog oak signature is short scale as well as being a 12-fret-to-the-body model, making the whole instrument seem very compact.
With this review it was absolutely impossible for me to play my usual guessing games as to how the guitar was going to sound. I’ve played oak back and sided instruments before, but they haven’t been immersed in a bog for thousands of years and so my scale of reference was completely lost! As it turns out, the bog oak signature sounds very interesting indeed…
I had to think long and hard before I could come up with any reference points for the sound I was hearing when I first played this guitar. The timbre is definitely on the rosewood side of the scale – it’s certainly warm, airy and resonant, but it’s not an exact match by any means. It may even lean slightly towards Koa or even Cocobolo at times but whatever it is, it certainly lands at the more exotic end of the tonewood spectrum.
The sustain is excellent – chords seem to linger for ages – and the dynamic range is superb in that you can play really quietly without losing any tone or verging towards being too tinny. There’s a surprising amount of usable volume on hand, too. The basses are rounded and strong without being too domineering, while the trebles remain sweet and full. I don’t know whether I’m being influenced by the overall mystique of the instrument but it seems to benefit from being tuned to DADGAD and treated to the whole Celtic sound experience!
It’s difficult to ignore the mythology wrapped around this instrument and see through to the guitar itself, but I genuinely believe that if it was handed to me as part of a blindfold test I would have still found playing it an interesting and alluring experience. As it was, I found it difficult to put down! The mix of the Engelmann spruce and bog oak is a great match and I can see it maturing further in terms of tone as it gets older and more played in. As an instrument it really is first class – and the story it has to tell is priceless. But I do wish we could come up with something that sounds better than “bog oak”, – Ancient Fenland Oak, perhaps?
Pros: A true original with a sweet voice and a story to tell…
Cons: Not much – apart from ‘Bog’ not being a pretty word…
Overall: A great guitar with a very interesting timbre and a genuine heart of oak!
SOUND QUALITY 4.5 stars
BUILD QUALITY 5 stars
VALUE FOR MONEY 5 stars
Model: Mars 12 fret Signature
Retail Price: £1999
Body Size: Drop-shouldered dreadnought
Made In: Indonesia
Top: Engelmann spruce
Back and Sides: English bog oak
Fingerboard: Macassar ebony
Nut Width: 45mm
Scale Length: 625mm
Onboard Electronics: No
Strings Fitted: D’Addario 12s
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hard case
Barnes and Mullins