David Mead meets a dreadnought with an unbelievable price tag…
The Sigma brand originated back in the day when US manufacturers were under threat from cheaper guitars manufactured in Japan flooding the market – many of which bore an uncanny resemblance to American made instruments. A lot of companies – like C.F. Martin & Co. – fought back by adopting a sort of “if you can’t beat them…” initiative and setting up their own production outlets in the Far East under the scrutiny of the parent company on the other side of the Pacific. As such, Sigma acoustics grew in stature to become legendary among their followers and even today vintage models can change hands for silly money. Time has passed and Sigma as a company has changed hands a few times, but the current German-based operation is still committed to upholding their reputation for quality on a budget. The DME in front of me is an electro-acoustic that retails at under £200 – and that, my friends, is a good trick if you can pull it off…
These days, the only real connection between Martin and Sigma is that the US giant licenses the logo that proudly states that the company was established in 1970. This means, of course, that it’s their 45th anniversary this year and I hear that some very special models are being produced in celebration. But for now, we have the DME dreadnought and if I can get over the shock of the £199 retail price, I’ll tell you all about it.
It would be very wrong of me to set out on this review with the idea that I’m going to try to find out where Sigma have cut corners in order to produce an instrument for this kind of money. So I’m going to proceed as normal and just see what turns up.
The DME has a top fashioned from Sitka spruce with a matt finish, mock tortoiseshell scratch plate and a light brown inlaid wood rosette. From what I can see of the inside of the guitar, everything looks very neat and tidy indeed – something that fits in perfectly with the consistent high quality that I’m seeing from Chinese built acoustics today. It looks as if both the top and back of the instrument have been fitted flush to the sides without binding or purfling of any sort. It looks plain, but not unattractive at all.
Speaking of the back, it’s laminated mahogany hereabouts, which you might suspect at this price, but you really would have to look very hard before you noticed it. As such the grain is typically mid to dark brown in hue with the occasional flourish in its patterning.
Moving on to the neck, this is mahogany too, with a separate heel and a scarf joint just below the Sigma-stamped die cast tuners. In terms of profile, the neck is a D which feels fairly wide and slim in the hands. In fact, the spec here tells me that the nut width is 42.9mm which is a tiny bit skinnier than standard, but it’s not in the least obvious when playing.
Sigma’s Martin-esque logo sits at the top of the guitar’s headstock and it’s amazing to pause momentarily to think that the company has been in business in some shape or form for 45 years.
Back to the plot and the DME’s nut is bone and looks expertly cut. In fact the action is about as good as you’re going to find, being on the low to medium spectrum.
The fretboard is Indian rosewood with 20 well polished frets with no sharp edges in evidence after a casual finger glide down each side of the neck. On reaching the bridge, there’s a compensated bone saddle and the standard issue six-string pins.
From what I’ve seen so far, everything in terms of quality of workmanship is absolutely fine. The next thing to assess is what the DME sounds like.
I haven’t sampled Sigma’s own pickup and preamp combo before and so this one is totally new to me. I suspected at first that it might be made by one of the usual suspects and merely rebadged, but I can see a sticker on the underside of the preamp through the soundhole that says “Made In China” and so I suspect that Sigma might be rolling their own these days.
First things first, however; there’s still a way to go before I plug the DME in. So what is the picture here in terms of sound quality? Always difficult to describe, but I’ll take a shot at it. If you fix in your head an idealised version of the sound of a dreadnought you’d probably agree that it comes down to loud, proud with loads of mid and bottom end, right? After all, dreadnoughts were generally built for power in the days when it was just you and a microphone pointed vaguely at your guitar’s soundhole. You had to project and that takes a lot of body. In the case of the DME there is certainly a lot of volume on tap and when attacked with a pick it produces some truly full sounding chords. If I was to launch any criticism at all it would be that the low end needs bolstering slightly and, at present anyway, the trebles are a mite on the harsh side, but that could well settle down after the guitar has seen a little action. This doesn’t mean that it sounds disappointing – far from it, in fact. This is a useful guitar with a lot of positive tonal attributes and we haven’t even considered the electric side of things yet.
The Sigma preamp has controls for treble, middle and bass plus a tuner and the jack plug access is on the lower side, underneath the guitar’s end pin. My only gripe with this positioning, as opposed to the usual “hollow strap pin” format is that it can sometimes make it awkward to sit the instrument on a guitar stand. Only a minor point!
Naturally any misgivings I had previously about a slight lack of bass and mids is countered by the preamp controls. Plugged in, the DME sounds punchy and bright and it certainly didn’t take me very long to find a sound I would be willing to walk out on stage and work with.
Contrary to what we’re sometimes led to believe, you’re not going to get the sound of a £7k acoustic from an instrument that costs only a tiny fraction of the price. But even after spending quite a lot of time with Sigma’s DME I’m still having trouble coming to terms with the amount of guitar they’ve managed to produce for under £200. A fully functional electro dread with some really quite surprisingly good attributes in this price range is a real rarity. This end of the market has until now been sorely neglected but if this guitar is anything to go by, we’ll shortly be witnessing a revolution!
Need To Know:
Retail Price: £199
Body Size: Dreadnought
Made In: China
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Indian rosewood
Tuners: Sigma chrome die cast
Nut Width: 42.9mm
Scale Length: 645mm
Onboard Electronics: Sigma preamp
Strings Fitted: .012 – .053
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag/Case Included: No
Acoustic test results
Pros: An almost unbelievable bang to buck ratio!
Cons: At this price point it would be churlish to whinge overmuch
Overall: Sigma has set the bar very high for what can be produced in the budget acoustic range