BY GREG OLWELL
Orangewood is probably a new brand name to many. This Los Angeles–based company produces a line of guitars and ukuleles and is one of the recent clutch of guitar companies that sells directly to consumers exclusively through its website. Since you won’t find them in a store, this strategy makes these purchases something of a “try it after you buy it” demo, but free shipping and a 30-day return policy on guitars makes the process more appealing to the buyer while also reducing costs.
For my review, I selected the Sage Mahogany Live, one of the four instrument that is part of Orangewood’s new Mahogany series. The Sage guitar is a grand auditorium with an all-solid mahogany body, a cutaway, an L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup system, and a hardshell case. Orangewood also offers a version without electronics, the Mahogany Sage, for $300 less and an identically priced and appointed non-cutaway grand-concert size model, the Ava.
Handsome and Well-Appointed
Each Orangewood is made in China and setup in Los Angeles by the company’s techs before shipping out to the buyer. My Sage tester arrived setup as well as you could hope for, with a medium-low action and medium-light Ernie Ball strings that made for an inviting and easy-to-play guitar right from the shipping box. The neck has a slender C shape and the fingerboard’s nicely dressed frets were free from any sharp ends or high spots all the way up the neck, which is not always the case with other guitars in this price range. A strap button on the neck heel helps to make this guitar ready for the stage and well-balanced when played standing.
In keeping with their working-class heritage, all-mahogany guitars are often austerely appointed, but the Orangewood has several handsome touches that look great and are usually found only on more costly guitars, including an ebony fingerboard and bridge, herringbone purfling around the top and rosette, a herringbone center strip on the back, a wing-shaped 12th fret inlay, and handsome creme binding looping around the top and back, the edge of the fingerboard, and around the headstock. In case you want the protection or look of a pickguard, you can use the adhesive-backed tortoiseshell pickguard that came with the guitar, but I preferred the look without it, so it remained in the case. The satin finish on the body and neck was delightful to touch, but gathered fingerprints that were not easy to wipe off. If there was one detail that seemed overlooked, it was the headstock logo, which seemed a bit bland compared to the rest of the Sage Mahogany.
Plump, Chewy Tones
One of the tonal benefits of an all-mahogany guitar is it they usually don’t squelch the highs or lows to produce the forceful midrange they’re known for. It’s a sound profile that really suits the frequency range of a guitar and makes mahogany guitars very present in recordings or onstage. When I played the Sage acoustically and dug in hard with a pick, the guitar’s sound compressed nicely, accentuating the guitar’s thick midrange projection, without leaving behind the high-end sparkle and low-end definition. It’s definitely a guitar that could provide a lot of chonk to a group jam, but where I really kept finding the sound pulling me was to fingerstyle, where its plush and warm tones inspired me to dust off some slack-key and American Primitive–style solo fingerpicking pieces in open tunings. It’s the sort of sound that is rich like gravy-soaked meat and potatoes and the Sage Mahogany does a great job of conjuring a plump, chewy sound that feels more expensive than it is.
While we’re on the topic of expensive sounds, the Sage Live comes with an L.R. Baggs Anthem pickup system, which is a pretty deluxe and professional-grade electronics package to find on a guitar that costs under a grand. I tried the Sage at home through a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro combo amp since COVID-19 had eliminated gigging opportunities where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area. At lower volumes, I really loved the sound I got using the Anthem system’s mic, but to cut down on feedback at more typical gig volumes, I dialed back the mic for a leaner, more direct tone from the undersaddle pickup.
If you crave an all-mahogany guitar that delivers plenty of bang for the buck and don’t need a pickup, the standard acoustic Sage Mahogany is probably a good choice for most players’ needs. Adding the pro-level L.R. Baggs Anthem system bumps the price up $300, a cost that could be worth it if you plan on gigging and want to deliver great tone to the audience. Orangewood is able to keep costs down by bypassing retail distribution, and if the Sage Mahogany Live that I tested is any indication, the company makes it possible to get a promising guitar that plays and sounds as good as one costing hundreds more.
Body 15-13/16″-wide Grand Auditorium shape with cutaway; solid African mahogany top, back, and sides; scalloped X-bracing; ivory-colored binding, top and back; and satin natural finish
Neck 25-1/2″ scale African mahogany neck with trussrod, C shape, 1-3/4″ wide at nut, 20-fret ebony fingerboard, Tusq nut, Grover Sta-Tite 97-18 18:1 ratio open-gear tuners, ivory-colored plastic fingerboard and headstock binding, satin natural finish
Electronics L.R. Baggs Anthem system with Element pickup and internal condenser mic; Volume, Mix, Phase, and battery check controls
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Other Ebony bridge with Tusq compensated saddle, Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze Medium Light strings; hardshell case
Made in China
Price $945 (direct)