It goes without saying that C. F. Martin & Company holds itself to a high standard when it comes to making guitars—so when Martin announced a new line featuring modern updates to vintage models in January of this year, it came with a reasonable level of excitement. Just the notion of modifying a classic could make a loyal traditionalist queasy, but if our review model is any indication, the adjustments make for slight yet powerful improvements.
The OM-28 Modern Deluxe is a lightweight orchestra-bodied guitar, with a blend of vintage and modern features that merge to form a unique, cutting-edge composition. Its classic features include the use of protein glue and the application of Martin’s signature Vintage Tone System (VTS) on the Sitka spruce top with scalloped Adirondack braces to recreate the sound of an 80-year-old Martin tone right out of the case. A torrefaction process that allows manufacturers to age wood with a groundbreaking level of precision, VTS was first used on the Authentic Series in 2015. The Modern Deluxe series is the first set of production models to feature VTS-treated tops and braces since.
Also in the classic tradition is the slightly skewed, asymmetrical neck. While playing a 1930 OM-45 De Luxe from Martin’s museum collection, designers at the company discovered the vintage neck had an apex that wasn’t directly centered, so that the slope under the thumb was different than that under the rest of the fingers. Upon investigating a 1931 OM-28, they found the shape was even more dramatic—then applied this to the OM-28 Modern Deluxe. The neck is also rather thin and required designers to modify the thickness of the fingerboard—making it lower in profile than today’s standard—to accommodate it. The asymmetrical neck is featured in combination with the High Performance Taper, which narrows the width of the fretboard faster than on traditional models (1-3/4 inches at the nut, 2-5/32-inch string spacing at the bridge).
Modern adjustments include a new stronger and lighter two-way titanium truss rod (no less than 64 percent lighter than the standard steel), bridge pins made in partnership with Liquidmetal Technologies (created with the unique Liquidmetal alloy that increases volume about 3db), and a composite carbon-fiber bridge plate, made of a layer of Adirondack spruce between two layers of carbon fiber and designed to increase volume without adding weight.
Excellent Volume and Response
Out of the case, the OM-28 makes a luxurious but artistically tasteful impression—the natural top wood and maple binding give it class, while the white, red-dotted Liquidmetal bridge pins, gold frets, and gold Waverly tuners give it character. True to vintage form, there’s a diamond volute at the base of the headstock; more an aesthetic choice, it makes little to no difference in playability. The inlays are abalone, both on the fretboard and headstock logo, which is done in the script style of the Martin 1930s design—an homage to the line’s vintage roots, as well as a design first for the company since the ’30s.
When played, the first thing you notice about the OM-28 is its volume. This guitar would have been ideal for the pre-electronic era—with minimal effort, the sound is booming, to the point where in a naturally resonant space, such as a cathedral or just a large, bare room with high ceilings, someone might wonder if it’s not actually plugged in. Combined with the shallow depth of the orchestra body style, its natural projection is even more impressive.
The sound is incredibly crisp and warm. Part of what contributes to the guitar’s natural volume is its rich midrange and low end, especially noticeable when I play open chords—it’s a steamroller! Despite its classy, trim appearance, the guitar feels like a wild animal with unbridled energy when you’re playing it. Strike the sixth string—especially in dropped-D tuning—and it carries so impressively, even as you continue to pick the other strings. You almost have to mute it manually to get it quiet.
What the high end may lack in power is made up for in crispness and clarity. Simple, fingerpicked intervals high on the neck ring out beautifully, and the harmonics are brilliant. While playing the guitar for the first time, I even came up with a few new song ideas, inspired just by the guitar’s pure tones high on the neck.
A Versatile Performer
OMs have a reputation for being fingerpicking guitars, and this guitar is no exception. Individually picked notes ring out clearly throughout the fretboard, on every string, from the bottom all the way up to around the 15th fret and further. The fretboard is incredibly live in general, so there really aren’t any dead zones, just some ranges that are a bit louder and more resonant than others. It responds twice as warmly to careful precision, and its sensitivity makes it easy to accidentally bring out harmonics.
Because of how easy it is to produce volume and power, the OM-28 proves itself as a versatile guitar. Take a heavy pick to it, and you accentuate its natural brightness. Strum it forcefully, and you get a sound that will carry in an open-air setting. Because the resonating overtones are so big, they tend to compound if it’s slightly out of tune. Heavy strumming can make the low end somewhat overpowering over the higher tones.
Like a fighter plane that’s being engineered to have as little weight as possible, the sleek, asymmetrical neck is another element that contributes to the guitar’s lightweight yet powerful resonance and comfortable playability. Overall, it’s navigable yet still enough to grip, while the High Performance Taper makes it even easier to maneuver quickly as you go up the neck.
In short, Martin sought to create a guitar that’s ultramodern yet traditional and has certainly succeeded. While the OM-28 Modern Deluxe is especially suited to provide rich chordal textures and give vibrancy to fingerpicking compositions, it makes for a great folk, jazz, or blues instrument—and anything in between.
Body: 14-fret orchestra size; Vintage Tone System (VTS) Sitka spruce top; East Indian rosewood back and sides; VTS Adirondack spruce scalloped X-bracing; protein glue; ebony bridge, composite carbon fiber bridgeplate, bone saddle, Liquidmetal bridge pins and 2-1/4″ string spacing at the saddle; faux tortoiseshell pickguard and European flamed maple binding; polished gloss finish
Neck: Genuine mahogany asymmetrical neck; ebony fretboard with abalone diamond and square inlays; mother-of-pearl side dots; 25-2/5″ scale length; 1-3/4″ wide bone nut; 1930s Martin script abalone headstock inlay; Waverly butterbean gold tuners; satin finsh with polished headplate
Other: Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 Light strings (.012–054); ply hardshell case
Made In USA
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Price $3,999 street
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.