David Mead meets a guitar that combines the best of the old and the new…
In a world where vintage tone seems to be the holy grail for most of us, the industry is positively awash with luthiers trying to square the circle and deliver aged timbre from band new instruments. A few minutes surfing various acoustic manufacturers on the web will confirm that there’s similar sorcery afoot in all corners of the globe. The Bourgeois OM I have in front of me now is a case in point. The “AT” in the guitar’s name stands for Aged Tone, Dana Bourgeois having come up with his own special brand of alchemy in order to give a well seasoned voice to a virtual newborn. In fact, I’m told that this guitar left the workbench on March 10 this year and I’m intrigued to know what sort of song it’s going to sing.
To be brief and without donning a white lab coat and coming over all professorial, the process involved in treating the tops on these Aged Tone guitars involves gently “roasting” them to remove moisture. The official name for this procedure is called “torrefaction” and was originally developed in Finland to treat and enhance the woods used in outdoor furniture. Guitar manufacturers have adapted the process using lower temperatures to cook the resins and sugars in the wood, reducing the mass and increasing the stiffness-to-weight ratio. It darkens the hue of the wood significantly and when combined with a specially formulated cyanoacrylic finish and sympathetic bracing inside the body of guitar, the instrument begins to take on the sort of tone for which highly prized – and often forbiddingly expensive – vintage models are renowned. I’ve spoken to a number of luthiers over the years who swear that only time will do the job of ageing authentically and that it cannot be reliably reproduced by artificial means. But I must admit that I’ve heard some surprisingly mature sounds coming from very young instruments recently and so I’m going to sit on the fence with this one and judge each instrument I come into contact with on its own merits.
That’s the science bit over and done with, let’s get down to the meat of the matter and take a good look at this OM. First of all I have to say that no stain has been used on this guitar in order to give it a vintage vibe and so something is definitely happening here. The Adirondack top looks suitably retro but lacks any of the usual signs of road weariness and the bumps, dents and knocks that would normally accompany it. It’s pristine, but in an olde worlde way, if you see what I mean. Personally I like it as an alternative to the sheet white wood we usually see on an instrument that is barely two months old. Dana Bourgeois has a reputation for being incredibly selective when it comes to choosing timber for his instruments and that is in evidence here as the Adirondack looks superb and is offset with a wood inlay rosette and teardrop shaped celluloid pickguard. There’s body binding made from Ziricote surrounding the top and back, a sleek dark line perfectly in keeping with the overall hue of the finish.
Over on the back and sides, Bourgeois has used mahogany, although this model is available with Madagascar rosewood as an alternative if that tickles your fancy. In fact, the Aged Tone series incorporates OMs and various dreadnoughts, too. So when you take into account the fact that a lot of these guitars are built to customer order, you have a considerable opportunity to find exactly the model you’re looking for. In any case the mahogany here suits the guitar’s dark side admirably with a nice glazy grain pattern and a thin black strip down the back’s centre. It’s a single piece of mahogany for the OM’s neck, too, beginning with a Ziricote heel cap and ending with a set of open backed Waverly tuners just above the volute.
There’s an extra touch of exotica in the form of a Madagascar rosewood headstock veneer with the Bourgeois logo inlayed in pearl at the top before we reach the 44mm nut which has been made from fossilised mammoth bone and cut perfectly to accommodate the start of the strings’ journey down the subtly bound ebony fretboard.
Just three position markers break up the blackness here, enhancing even further the OM’s overall decorative reserve. As you’ve gathered, the theme here is “dark”, the only bright line on the entire body being the bone string saddle that sits amidst its ebony bridge. Even the string pins are blackout ebony. Generally speaking, this is a fine looking guitar, but what about the promise of aged tone we heard about earlier?
Dealing with the practicalities first, the OM is quite light in the hands and the neck has the merest hint of a V profile to it. The sort of message I’m receiving here is “vintage” before I even pluck a string! The next thing to briefly consider is what exactly is that golden voice that players spend so much time and money seeking out? I’m sure that it differs from person to person, but as far as Dana Bourgeois is concerned it’s “lightening fast response, elevated volume and tonal complexity”. Well, first impressions are that the general timbre from the OM is very sweet and there is definitely a marked difference between the tone of this guitar and others I’ve come into contact with that have been around the same age. Dare I say that it sounds “mature”? It has certainly lost that shrillness that sometimes accompanies brand new Adirondack, that’s for sure. In terms of volume, then? Yes, here too the OM seems looser and somehow more “played in” than a new instrument. The basses have taken on a dry warmth instead of those from a boisterous puppy-like fresher and the trebles seem to be older than they’re letting on, too! In short, I think the ageing process here is a positive thing, having produced a fine, readily playable instrument with a warm voice that would suit both fingerstylist and strummer alike.
Naturally, when you’re talking about innovative and time consuming processes being brought into the production of a hand crafted instrument, you can expect a price tag to match all the expertise. At a smidge under £5k, the Bourgeois AT OM doesn’t come cheap, but if your ears will allow you to buy into the fact that you would be purchasing an instrument with all the benefits of a brand new, workshop fresh guitar but with a time travelled voice – unblemished and perhaps more crucially guaranteed – then a quick look at vintage acoustic prices on line might just make you think that you’re really getting quite a good deal!
Need To Know:
Model: Aged Tone OM
Retail Price: £4,899
Body Size: OM
Made In: USA
Top: Adirondack spruce
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Nut Width: 44mm
Scale Length: 648mm
Strings Fitted: D’Addario EXP .012 – .052
Left Handers: Special order
Gig Bag/Case Included: Custom deluxe hardshell
Acoustic test results
Pros: Factory fresh and aged to perfection
Cons: It’s always going to come down to price in the end
Overall: A new build with a voice that sounds like it’s been round the block a few times!