From the December 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY GREG OLWELL
If you’re looking to start a fight with your guitar-playing buddies, try declaring your love for carbon-fiber instruments. For years, players have popped in mouth guards and started swinging fists when debating the merits of guitars that are considered rugged and useful by some, and cold and sterile by others. With its new Concert Hybrid series, RainSong is hoping to change our perceptions by not only creating its most affordable line of guitars but some of the best-sounding composite models to make it into players’ hands.
To start, we might need to back up on a technicality. The Concert Hybrids aren’t in fact true carbon-fiber guitars. Instead, it’s fairer to call them composite guitars because, while everything on them screams “high-tech materials,” the manmade parts used for the tops and the rest of the body are as different from each other as spruce and rosewood. To create this new line, RainSong took the carbon- and glass-fiber blend used on the backs and sides of its Hybrid series and capped them with the carbon top of the Concert series.
The dark-charcoal colored soundboard sitting on top of a body of the now-familiar carbon-fiber weave pattern gives the 13-inch-wide Parlor and 15.25-inch-wide OM the look of a murdered-out hotrod. Like a black hole, these two guitars seem to absorb every ray of light that hits them. And whether you like the look of a guitar-shaped void or not—and I do—I’ve rarely heard “Wow, that guitar looks cool” more than I did from non-guitar-playing civilians during the numerous trips and gigs these two guitars saw during our testing.
A season of crazy weather near my home in Northern California—and a handful of summer road trips—showed me firsthand how the RainSong OM and Parlor guitars can be virtually immune to the terrible things that changes in climate and weather can do to an instrument. In a short span of time, I went through a heat wave that left my living room a brain-boiling 97 degrees with a relative humidity dropping under 20 percent, followed quickly by wicked-serious rainstorms, trips to the beach, and outdoor gigs. Not only did I never have to think about humidifying these guitars, the RainSongs were so stable and consistent that they just barely needed tuning.
The Empire Strums Black
While wielding a guitar that feels nearly indestructible makes you feel confident about traveling with it or just leaving it out someplace handy where you can always play it, if a guitar’s tone doesn’t inspire you, it ain’t going to get played.
Each guitar is very lightweight and features a 12-fret-to-the-body neck and a graceful cutaway that will hold off any gripes about access to the upper frets. Using a 12-fret design lets RainSong move the bridge away from the soundhole and closer to the widest part of the lower bout, a move that increases power and warmth. That last part is especially important in the composites world. While the tone of these won’t be mistaken for the richness of a well-worn mahogany guitar, they are easily some of the warmest carbon guitars you’ll find.
Both of our test RainSongs worked well for fingerstyle playing. The Parlor’s lively tones were responsive and smooth, and the OM seemed to really enjoy open-tuned blues and slack-key pieces, but they both really sprang to life when played with a flatpick. When I dug in with my trusty, thick Dunlop Jazztone 208 pick, the clear and even sound of both guitars launched into the room during single-note lines and comped chords. In a twist, the Parlor’s quick response gave me a projecting bark that turned out to be surprisingly good for Gypsy jazz–style comping.
The OM’s clarity and punchiness really shined when plugged in, either through our various test amps or onstage with massive PA systems. I loaned the OM to a tester who used it on a series of gigs, both with a six-piece band and solo, outdoors in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He raved about the clear, even tones from the low bass to the treble frequencies when played with the onboard EQ flat. The phase switch and slider controls were also handy, though a brighter and larger tuner display would be more helpful onstage.
If you’ve ever played a carbon-fiber guitar and were left unsatisfied, the RainSong Concert Hybrids definitely give you reason to try them again. With a relatively low cost for a US-made composite instrument and a warm-yet-crystalline sound, the RainSong Concert Hybrid Parlor and OM have a lot to offer any guitarist, not just the pickers who live in extreme climates.
Unidirectional carbon-fiber soundboard on carbon-fiber/glass-fiber hybrid body; composite bridge with Graph Tech Tusq saddle and bridge pins; Venetian cutaway; high-gloss urethane finish on top, satin back and sides
24.875″ scale, 12-fret carbon-fiber neck with truss rod; 1.75″ wide Graph Tech Tusq nut; Gotoh tuners; satin finish
(on CH-OM) L.R. Baggs Stagepro Element
Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.053), hardshell case (CH-OM), gig bag (CH-PA)
CH-PA, $1,299 (MAP);
CH-OM, $1,499 (MAP, as tested
Made in USA
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.