Not long ago, a former music-school classmate and guitar aficionado told me that he stores all of his instruments, including vintage Gibson and Fender pieces, in his practice space. But he keeps one special steel-string—a Marchione 12-fret OM—next to his bed. That way, he explained, it’ll be easy to grab in case of an unexpected evacuation.
I didn’t appreciate my friend’s fervent devotion to this guitar until I received this Marchione, a 14-fret OMC (orchestra model cutaway), for review. Right out of the box, without any sort of warm-up period whatsoever, I was blown away by the OMC’s vivid, expansive voice. The guitar seems to put more out that you put into it; its power is thrilling to experience.
A Solid Foundation
Marchione guitars are the brainchild of Stephen Marchione, a Texas-based, world-class luthier who offers both steel- and nylon-string acoustics, not to mention archtops, solidbody and semi-hollow electrics, and the occasional violin. Marchione must be some kind of freak of nature, having mastered not one but all of these forms.
The first thing I notice about the OMC is how solidly built it feels. Its neck is much less susceptible to flexing than that on the typical guitar. I learn that this robustness owes to the way Marchione builds his steel-strings. They’re made like traditional Spanish classical guitars, facedown in the solera (wooden mold), with integral support for the back and the top/fingerboard, and further fortified with carbon-fiber reinforcement in the headstock, neck, and heel.
I’m also struck by the complex sheen of the OMC’s finish. Applied faultlessly, it’s a super-thin treatment of nitrocellulose lacquer over a shellac base/pore feeler. You can almost feel the pores and the grains of the Madagascar rosewood back and sides, Swiss spruce top, and Honduran mahogany neck—mahogany that, incidentally, had been aging in a warehouse in Houston since the 1950s before Marchione procured it.
A similar fastidiousness is evident on all other aspects of the OMC, from the shaping and notching of its water buffalo–bone nut to the polishing of its stainless-steel frets to the body’s bracing—which was adhered with hot hide glue, as were the other components. It’s an unmistakably fine guitar.
Aesthetically speaking, the instrument’s design is handsomely restrained. Marchione tends to avoid unnecessary details. He does away with a truss-rod cover and leaves an elegant channel exposed; the guitar’s back extends to the neck heel, taking the place of the traditional heel cap. I’m torn, though, on the Sperzel locking tuners with their matte black finish. On one hand, they call to mind 1980s metal guitars, but on the other, maybe they’re fitting, given how next-level this guitar is.
The OMC is like a hyper orchestra model. It’s got the brilliant, balanced sound you would expect from an OM, but it’s more richly detailed than many contemporary versions. The guitar’s fundamentals are deep and strong and the overtones are shimmering. It sounds almost as if the instrument has a built-in ambient effect.
And it feels quite versatile. Whether I play a simple strumming pattern or a Scott Joplin rag, a Bach etude, or a Bill Evans arrangement, the OMC responds with sonic brilliance. There’s a quickness to its attack and a beautiful bloom to the notes. The dynamic range is uncommonly wide, and so is the timbral range, depending on picking-hand placement.
I’d never seen the need for a cutaway until I tried the OMC. Given the guitar’s uniformity between registers and regions of the neck, chords past the 12th fret sound lush and orchestral. It’s especially pleasing to use voicings combining those high notes with ringing open strings and natural harmonics.
The OMC is outfitted with a special pickup—a collaboration with DiMarzio apparently years in the making. It’s comprised of piezo crystals laminated between layers of maple. This sandwich is glued to the bridge plate, again with hot hide glue. Through an AER Compact 60/3 amp, these electronics sound uncannily lifelike, less like a pickup than a very good condenser microphone. And the system is totally unobtrusive, having no preamp or battery pack.
It’s so easy to focus on how terrific the OMC sounds that it’s easy forget how well it plays. With low but buzz-free action and a sleek C-shaped neck, it handles extremely well. And I’m able to play the instrument for extended stretches without feeling any fret-hand fatigue.
If there’s any bad news about the Marchione OMC, it’s the guitar’s five-figure price tag: it’s far more than most guitarists can afford. Then again, an aspirational guitar like this is clearly intended only for a select few pickers.
At a Glance: Marchione OMC
BODY Orchestra Model size with Florentine cutaway; solid Swiss spruce top; Madagascar rosewood back and sides; African ebony bridge with water-buffalo bone saddle; gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish with shellac base
NECK Honduran mahogany neck; African ebony fretboard; 25.5-inch scale length; 1-3/4-inch nut; stainless steel frets; Sperzel tuners; water buffalo bone nut; gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish with shellac base
EXTRAS D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze strings (.012–.053); custom DiMarzio pickup; Ameritage hardshell case with built-in humidifier.
PRICE $16,500 (as reviewed)
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.