Collings OM1AV £5364

Guitarists often feel that an instrument’s look is the all-important factor. Pickups and hardware can be upgraded, and almost anything can be set up to play just as you want. That’s when highly figured maple tops on PRSs and Les Pauls enter the picture, or exotic timbers on top-end acoustics. Some cheaper guitars even use flashy cosmetics to tempt the eye and mask inferior materials and construction.

Well, it’s a Collings, so that means top-flight construction, relatively limited numbers and all that the word ’boutique’ implies. But is that enough to turn a simple mahogany (albeit Honduran)-bodied, folk-sized guitar into something worth a King’s ransom? No; it’s two other things actually.
First is the guitar’s top. It’s Adirondack, or red spruce, a timber prized by early 20th century aeroplane builders and musical instrument makers alike for its strength and elasticity.
“It could represent the Holy Grail of tone.”
Collings’ UK distributor, Doug Chandler, elaborates: “Adirondack was the tonewood of choice for top instrument makers before the Second World War [Gibson’s Lloyd Loar mandolins and L-5s used it, as did the best Martins]. Over-harvesting saw it almost disappear, but it’s gradually become available again after 50 years of re-investment. It’s still hard to get large enough trees for clear, full-size tops though.”
Adirondack is generally louder than other spruces, with more of the natural overtones that a good acoustic needs for a full, dynamic tone. But it’s also one of the plainest looking, with rarely any ‘bear claw’ figuring or interesting medullary rays that Englemann or Sitka spruce – the latter as used on most Collings and other high-end brands – can exhibit. Sitka is also very available and so a lot cheaper. So what’s the charge for this ‘special’ material? To you, sir, a nifty £815!
The second, and perhaps even more interesting, facet to this particular OM1 is its finish: it’s shellac. Shellac is the classic varnish or French polish, and was only replaced by nitrocellulose as the favourite for instruments and furniture around the 1920s and 1930s.
Made from the secretions of the shellac beetle, or ‘lac bug’, the product is harvested, dried and then dissolved in alcohol to be applied in thin, multiple coats by the most highly skilled of hands.