With all the projection and string-to-string balance heard from the legendary first modern acoustic guitar, Martin has resurrected their original Orchestra Model in the OM-28 Authentic 1931 – the most anticipated addition to the Authentic series in many years.
Martin’s historically accurate Vintage Gloss Finish makes its first appearance on this new OM-28 Authentic, and heard for the first time is a refined version of their Vintage Tone System of wood torrefaction, reserved exclusively for the Authentic series of vintage Martin reproductions.
Specs include: Construction of all solid wood, sanded to vintage thickness, with hide glue throughout; Auditorium body size; Madagascar rosewood back and sides; Martin Vintage Tone System torrefied Adirondack spruce top; torrefied Adirondack spruce bracing with 1/4″ tone bars and a 5/16″ X-brace; torrefied maple bridge plate; long-scale, one-piece mahogany neck with low vintage V profile unique to the OM-28 Authentic 1931; ebony neck rod; ebony fingerboard with 1-3/4″ width at nut, 2-1/4″ at 12th fret, Ebony ’30s style belly bridge with 2-5/16″ string spacing; bone nut and saddle; vintage Style 28 appointments with wood fiber inlaid 1931 rosette, fine herringbone top trim, short pattern diamonds and squares abalone fingerboard markers, grained ivoroid body binding; thin, hand-sprayed Vintage Gloss Finish; Waverly open back tuners.
Note: this model may be ordered with traditional bar frets.
Expressive and Impressive
With its distinct bass notes and solid perky trebles, each arm and arm with a firm, forthright midrange, suspended across a lucent undertone of Madagascar rosewood that fattens up the precisely defined fundamentals, and reflects the twinkling harmonic chimes of torrefied Adirondack spruce, it is clear from the first strum that this is an outstanding handcrafted guitar. It needs no allusions to legendary prewar Martins or comparisons to boutique fingerstyle guitars from the indie luthiers. But tis the fate of this OM-28 Authentic 1931 that it receives such scrutiny, given the status of the guitars it is attempting to emulate.
The Martin OM-28 was the first 14-fret flattop 6-string acoustic guitar. Conceived from the ground up for steel strings, it introduced to the world one of the most copied designs in guitar history. Offered along with the mahogany OM-18 and pearl-trimmed rosewood OM-45, the OM-28 was available for sale only in the first four years of the 1930s, before being renamed and altered in significant ways.
Frankly, no one familiar with prewar Martins is going to pick up an OM-28 Authentic 1931 and mistake it for an actual 1930s OM. But many will be delighted in how much like a prewar OM it is.
While it feels, looks, and plays very much like the real McCoy, there are some differences that set it apart, in the way it was made and how it sounds. That being said, when compared to other modern guitars, the Authentic’s voice and personality have a great deal in common with its namesake – more so than any modern OM built thus far.
Down in the Details
As I tried to identify and decipher the intangibles that separated this replica from the genuine article, I was won over by the many qualities reminiscent of a prewar OM-28, in its voice, feel, weight, dynamics and playability, beyond anything Martin has produced to date.
I approved of how it responded at every level of attack, and how it felt in the hands, both in terms of the tactile experience of holding it, and how the strings pull and release, as well as the clarity of the notes and how they pop out, yet stay connected to the resonant undertone glowing behind them.
Even though this OM requires little effort to reach the “sweet spot” of optimum resonance with minimal resistance, this is not a frail instrument. Unlike other lightly-built guitars, I never felt restricted or forced into restraining my playing. In fact, it flourished with a certain amount of extra string tension from the fingertips. It was like it said, “Oh yeah. That’s the stuff!” when I would increase the pull on the strings, so it could convert more potential energy into kinetic energy, and ultimately full, unbridled tone.
That was but one of the subtler prewar Martin traits to be found in this new OM-28 Authentic 1931.
There is that almost spooky effortless projection, so that a listener ten feet away hears it as loud and intimate as if they were sitting next to the guitarist. There is the famous string to string balance. Just when my ear expects the midrange to drop into a trough, it remains buoyed and alert, very much in line with the bass and treble as an arpeggio sweeps across the strings.
Those qualities should be heard from most well-made OMs. But here, they are just so much like the old timers it brought a smile to my face. The low E string and A string work together like twin pistons of equal force during alternating thumb-picking, where most modern OMs have a harmonically dominant A string and an E string that never projects as much as I would like – as much as it does on a vintage Martin. In general, when compared to other incarnations of the OM-28 available today, few have the same kind of vintage vibe going on when the strings sing and the soundboard starts to dance.
Here is the quick, popping bark from the top notes as the wound strings are percussed with a pick or snapped with the fingers. And here is a certain clarifying ring in the highest timbres not unlike an old guitar – crisp and chimey.
Similarly, a sort of dried out, old wooden box sound permeates the voice, quickly reflecting those top notes, with a quivering candescence under the trebles, and a diffuse, warmer presence spreading out under the lower registers – more open and less smoky than typical OMs made from rosewood.
Here too are fundamental notes that leap off the strings and hold steady for a moment before diving quickly down into the swelling undertone, leaving behind a lofty stratosphere of harmonic overtones that extend the general sustain. At times it sounded quite similar to a hammer dulcimer with its immediate, popping report and ethereal sympathetics. And here, indeed, is heard a very good reproduction of the built-in OM compressor, as I call it.
The personality of most acoustic guitars changes with harder playing, as the bass response increases and the instrument becomes throaty and then starts to roar. The old Martin OMs do not respond in this manner. They simply put out the same voice, only louder, as if someone is turning up the volume on a recording.
The notes bark with a little more stridency, when played with vigor, but the balance and string to string separation remains pretty much the same. And I experienced that same response from this new OM-28 Authentic.
Does it sound exactly like a prewar OM-28? Not to my ear. But it comes pretty darn close. If there were five of these new OMs and five prewar OM-28s played in a blind test for a group of guitarists, including vintage Martin owners, I doubt anyone would be able to pick out the new guitars 100% of the time. At any rate, for a guitar trying to replicate as closely as possible the construction of a $70,000 1931 OM-28, while keeping the street price well under $7,000, I am exceedingly happy with the outcome.
|VTS Adirondack Spruce
|Vintage Style 28 Inlay
photos: Maury’s Music
Differences Making a Difference
For all their efforts to build this guitar just like a ‘30s OM, there are two things that are notably different from the original. One has a lot to do with why it does not sound exactly the same as the old timers, and the other helps make sure it sounds as close to the mark as it does.
First, there is the elephant in the room. Rather, the elephant not in the room with this OM-28 Authentic 1931 is the Brazilian rosewood that it was not made with. Now an endangered species, legal supplies of Brazilian are so cost prohibitive that Martin makes most of its Authentics out of Madagascar rosewood.
Almost as rare and just as exotic, Madagascar rosewood is deemed a close replacement for Brazilian in terms of visual beauty. And their tonal palettes often overlap, as examples of the darkest, warmest Madagascar share properties with the brightest, most effervescent Brazilian. But it has its own unique sound, which I find very much to my liking, offering pretty chimes of crystal clarity ringing over solid fundamentals that are chiseled with considerable definition, even if it lacks a bit of the woofy warmth Brazilian rosewood would have placed in the cellar.
Like other Authentic models made with Madagascar rosewood, this guitar sports a back that was rift sawn to look as much like the old quartersawn Brazilian as possible. Of the two prototypes, this is not as aesthetically attractive as the one exhibited at the 2015 NAMM show, which has a back more typical of Authentic series Madagascar. But the sides on the example I played had absolutely straight grain that would require a more expert eye than mine to say if it was not quartersawn, or for that matter, Brazilian rosewood.
Vintage Tone System
The other major departure from older Martins is the use of torrefied spruce, meaning it was treated by extremely high heat and pressure, altering its molecular structure until it takes on properties of very old wood. And it changes the tone of brand new spruce soundboards in ways that make a guitar sound already broken-in right out of the box. To learn more about torrefaction and its use in luthiery, go HERE.
Martin’s new Vintage Tone System (VTS) is a propriety version of torrefaction developed specifically for use in guitarmaking. A more-exclusive version of their VTS treatment is reserved for the Authentic series. And, along with this year’s OM-45 De Luxe Authentic 1930, the new OM-28 is the first model to be released with the new top.
Torrefied spruce tops often take on the physicality of wood 200 or 300 years old. Martin has managed to zero-in their VTS treatment until the Adirondack spruce used on Authentics closely resembles that from Martins made in the first decades of the twentieth century, when viewed under the microscope.
There is indeed an old-timey sound coming out of this guitar. That is due in part to the Authentic series construction techniques, but the torrefaction has at least something to do with it.
A subtle vibrancy permeates the Adirondack ring thing, but is not as pronounced as I hear from typical torrefied spruce. More integrated and sewn throughout the voice, it becomes an organic part of the overall tonal soundscape, as it flickers near the edge of strummed chords, and trickles lightly across picking patterns. It is somehow linked to that dried out old box kind of quick reflection that seems to be rising out of the bones of the guitar.
And no wonder; Martin has applied this same VTS treatment to all of the spruce bracing inside the instrument. So in a way, it is coming from the bones. But they didn’t stop there. This OM’s maple bridge plate received the VTS treatment too.
How much all this torrefaction matters when it comes to physical energy turning into audible sound would be hard to quantify. I can only say it makes a noticeable difference, and in my opinion, very much for the better.
Unfortunately, this particular guitar has an issue with its B string. Something was impinging it, so it could not ring freely or sustain as long as it should, and that inhibited the harmonic overtones quite a bit. It may have been the nut slot, or how the bridge pin was seated. I am confident other examples will have more in the way of harmonics igniting off the G, D, and high E string than are heard in my video sample. But it is an indication of the quality of this VTS top that it gets as much chime out of the high end as it does, even with a trapped B string.
Oh and another thing! The notes that are traditionally most subdued on a new guitar simply aren’t. Even the “dead man’s note” at the 8th fret on the A string sounded as loud and resonant as the rest of the fretboard. It really is like the top has already broken-in.
This does not mean the sound of the guitar will never change as it gets played. The hide glue and joinery are all spanking new, as is the finish. All of that stuff will go through changes as the guitar ages and settles in during years of vibration. But it has one heck of a head start, thanks to the “accelerated aging” of the soundboard, bracing, and bridge plate.
Yes, the fastidious among us will find things about the construction of this Authentic edition that differ from a prewar OM, and they may feel it sounds a little different as well. But that is not necessarily to its determent.
It is a wonderful thing to play such a vintage-like OM-28 without the intonation issues that plague old guitars. This new OM has perfect intonation all the way up the neck, rather than having it in tune for chords around the 9th fret or the 1st fret, but never both.
And this drier, clearer Madagascar tone actually benefits the Authentics in general, as it creates a certain openness under the top voice that helps the sculpted fundamentals stand out all the more with considerable definition. It sounds vintage-like, even if it lacks some of the inky richness heard from other rosewood species.
But when scrutinized as a vintage OM replica, what differences exist are picayune. The list of things Martin got right on the money is considerably longer.
Iconic Classic Reincarnated
The OM-28 Authentic 1931 is based on one specific guitar, the 1931 OM-28 once owned by folk music icon Mike Seeger, now part of the collection owned by Fred Oster of Vintage Instruments, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Martin took Seeger’s guitar, and subjected it to a painstaking inspection that included X-ray and CT scan imaging, to plumb its most intimate details. The bracing pattern on Authentic series OMs is laid out in the most historically accurate positioning possible, and like the original OMs, this guitar has slender, 1/4″ tone bars surrounding a main X-brace that is 5/16″ in width.
The small maple bridge plate is tucked under the X-brace, a feature currently available from Martin only on guitars in the Authentic series. Tucked bridge plates help transfer subtle changes in vibration to and from the X-brace, which disseminates tone-producing energy across the soundboard.
The specific shaping of the scallops and tapers carved into the braces are unique to this guitar and based on Seeger’s prewar OM. The bridge plate is likewise shaped to mimic the original, down to every noticeable detail. And all Authentic series bridges are shaped thinner like vintage Martin bridges, making them more sensitive to string energy and the guitarist’s technique.
A feature likely to please many fans of vintage Martins is the carving of the neck. It is a successful approximation of a prewar OM neck from the earlier production runs – comfortable, practical, and versatile.
They captured details from Seeger’s 1931 OM neck, which has a shallower profile than most 1930s Martins and a V that is not as pronounced or as pointy as that found on other vintage OMs, and which decreases as it extends away from the body, until there was just a touch of it remaining in the first position.
This Authentic neck is subtly different from the original, however, mainly in how it is more perfectly symmetrical from cheek to cheek, and in how flawlessly it decreases in thickness as the fretting hand slides from the body to the headstock. While I might have preferred the slightly off-center, handmade feel of the original, this neck should please a wide range of players.
To go along with the traditional 1-3/4″ neck is the string spacing of 2-5/16″, which should offer a similarly broad appeal, even if that measurement raises a few eyebrows. Prewar OMs are officially spec’d with a wider string spacing of 2-3/8″.
This led to speculation that Seeger’s bridge may have been replaced at some point. So I inquired as to this anomaly and received the following reply by Jeff Allen, General Manager of Martin’s Custom Shop:
“…info from the owner indicates it is all original. We’ve learned from scanning thousands of old documents, that there were many requests by consumers during the ’30s to have their guitars come with different neck dimensions and string spacing. I even found a letter where a customer requested an OM-28 to have modified spacing.”
He went on to say that Seeger’s guitar could be the result of just such a customer request for an OM-28 with that change, or even a dealer request for a batch of them. There is no physical evidence of an aftermarket change in string spacing.
One thing is certain about the neck on Seeger’s guitar, like all original OMs, it houses a support rod made of solid ebony. And so too does this reproduction. Also, both were built without the flat “popsicle brace” that appeared under the upper bout of 14-fret Martins in the mid-1930s. Those two features help the OM-28 Authentic feel and play with as much vintage Martin mojo as it does. But the feature that makes it look most like a prewar OM-28 is the new historically accurate finish.
Vintage Gloss Finish
Recently discovered correspondence from the period proved once and for all that Martin guitars built in Style 28 and below were finished with a level of gloss different from that seen on the fancy pearl-trimmed models at the top of the line. Not only that, the documents go into detail about how the specific finish was achieved.
Approximately 20% less reflective, the new finish provides more of a glow, rather than the mirrored candy apple shine people are used to seeing on modern-day Martins.
But this is not a satin finish, even if it does make the neck silky smooth and oh so fast. There is a certain patina-like luster to it, without the discoloration that can appear on vintage instruments.
In fact, Martin has done away with the yellowing toner previously applied to the body and binding of Authentic series guitars. They have also ceased the use of aging toner on the tops, as the new VTS tops already resemble older spruce.
To learn more about Martin’s Vintage Gloss Finish, read excerpts from my conversation with Tim Teel, Head of Instrument Design, and Wood Sourcing Specialist Michael Dickinson, which may be found HERE.
Hard to Let Go
I wish I could have spent more time with the OM-28 Authentic 1931. I was just getting a feel for where and how it liked to be played, when I had to move on to other new Martins. But I sure liked playing it.
Wishful thinking aside, it really is what people have been waiting for: as close to an exact reproduction of a prewar OM-28 as possible, made in a manner only C.F. Martin & Co. could achieve with all their insider information and know how.
No, I cannot say it sounds exactly like an 84 year old Martin. Yes, it would have been even more authentic with Brazilian rosewood. But that would have removed from the general population of guitarists the opportunity to own such a close reproduction of a prewar OM-28, made very much like they did way back when.
Despite small production numbers, the original OMs remained extremely popular, particularly with masters of blues, ragtime, and modern fingerstyle playing. They are now among the most coveted guitars ever made. Beginning in the late ’60s, various attempts to resurrect the Orchestra Model design have met with varying success, and many wonderful OMs appeared as a result. But none of the modern Martin OMs have been as much like the originals as their new Authentics.
It has been ten years since the folks at Martin launched the Authentic series of exacting reproductions of renowned vintage Martins. So it is fair to say they have taken their sweet time in getting around to the OM-28 reproduction. For some, it may be nearly impossible for this new model to live up to the wishful expectations that have awaited its release. But a few minutes with this OM should convince most anyone that it is an excellent new guitar, no matter how it compares to an old one.
Of all the fine Authentic series models, this one has my personal interest as a future purchase, more than any other. I have played many Madagascar rosewood OMs and none of them are remotely as vintage-like as this OM-28 Authentic.
I currently own two Madagascar rosewood Martins made in the Custom Shop with Adirondack spruce tops. One is a short-scale 000 with Golden Era series construction and 1/4″ OM bracing. The other has the same construction of the Standard series OM-42, with the addition of a deeper body. When it comes to traditional OMs, I own a Laurence Juber model in Brazilian rosewood, and have owned an OM-28VR, a Brazilian rosewood Schoenberg Soloist made by Dana Bourgeois and TJ Thompson, along with a Collings OM and another Bourgeois OM, and I have played vintage OM replicas by Franklin, Merrill, Borges, Dudenbostel, TJ Thompson, Kim Walker, Wayne Henderson and others. Few of those guitars provided the same level of prewar OM feel and playability that I found in this new OM-28 Authentic 1931. Those that came closest had their own facets that were not exactly like a prewar OM-28.
When this one sounded less like an old OM, I still very much liked what I heard. And there were times when it simply felt exactly like playing a prewar OM – even if that therefore comes with some of the limitations of a vintage OM.
Some guitarists may not like that built-in compressor effect when they want to kick out the jams. Instead, they might prefer the roar and rumble of the lions and tigers and burly bear OMs found among Martin’s other series.
This lightly-built Authentic series reproduction has a more open undertone, with less presence and more reflection. It gives off a drier, thinner sound than most Martin OMs, even if the trebles are not as gossamer thin as those heard from a prewar OM. But that barky, reflective wooden box sound that fills the room at the slightest touch, and remains at all levels of attack is exactly what sets this new model apart in a very vintage way. And for me, that provides a significant share of its overall wow factor.
Even if it does not have the exact same voice and tonal coloring of a Brazilian rosewood OM-28 from the 1930s, it offers a pleasing likeness, and one had for a very reasonable price. There is an awful lot to love in this vintage-esque guitar, so light of weight yet so big on value, and so lovely to behold and to be heard.
And that is one man’s word on…
Martin OM-28 Authentic 1931
List price: $8,599. Ask your Martin dealer for the real price.
More photos HERE
Read more about the story of the OM HERE
Martin Authentic Series – reviews of all of them HERE
OM-28 Authentic 1931 Official Spec Sheet
Model: OM-28 Authentic 1931
Construction: Dovetail Neck Joint – Hide Glue Construction
Body Size: 000-14 Fret
Top: VTS Solid Adirondack Spruce
Rosette: Style 28 (Authentic 1921/31)
Top Bracing Pattern: OM-28 Authentic 1931
Top Braces: VTS Adirondack Spruce 5/16″ with 1/4″ Tone Bars Circa 1931
Back Material: Solid Madagascar Rosewood
Back Purfling: Style 28 Zig-Zag (Authentic)
Side Material: Solid Madagascar Rosewood
Endpiece: Grained Ivoroid (Narrow 1931 Shape)
Endpiece Inlay: Madagascar Rosewood w/ Maple Fiber
Binding: Grained Ivoroid
Top Inlay Style: Fine Herringbone
Side Inlay: none
Back Inlay: Madagascar Rosewood w/ Maple Fiber
Neck Material: Genuine Mahogany
Neck Shape: Authentic 1931 Barrel & Heel
Nut Material: Bone
Headstock: Solid/Diamond/1931 Taper
Headplate: Solid Madagascar Rosewood
Heelcap: Grained Ivoroid
Fingerboard Material: Solid Black Ebony
Scale Length: 25.4″
Number of Frets Clear: 14
Number of Frets Total: 20
Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1-3/4″
Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret: 2-1/4″
Fingerboard Position Inlays: Diamond & Squares – Short Pattern Golden Era
Fingerboard Binding: none
Finish Back & Sides: Vintage Gloss
Finish Top: Vintage Gloss
Finish Neck: Vintage Gloss
Bridge Material: Solid Black Ebony
Bridge Style: Authentic Style Belly w/ Long Saddle
Bridge String Spacing: 2-5/16″
Saddle: 16″ Radius/Long Bone
Tuning Machines: Waverly Nickel w/ Butterbean Buttons
Recommended Strings: Martin SP Lifespan Phosphor Bronze Medium Gauge (MSP7200)
Bridge & End Pins: Ivory Colored Poly w/ Black Dots
Pickguard: Delmar Tortoise Color
Case: 533V Harptone
Interior Label: none
Other Options: Available left-handed at no additional charge