Like this? Try this... Martin 000-15M Stripped-back, satin-finish all-mahogany folk is a binding-free zone. Comes with an ebony bridge and open-geared tuners RRP: £1216
Dave King KATRINA 1930s-style 12-fret 000 has spade peghead and simple trim. Choice of spruce or cedar top, mahogany or rosewood back/sides RRP: from £1895
Larrivee OM-03 Satin-finish spruce/ mahogany with maple binding, ebony fingerboard and bridge, fingerstyle neck RRP: £1020 Note: all the above are all-solid woods
The small-pattern sunburst really captures a prewar atmosphere
With a body drawn up along Martin lines with a lower bout span of approximately 15.25", a maximum rim depth of 105mm and a 645mm/25.4" scale length, our OM (serial number 001) has a spruce top and mahogany back and sides – all-solid, of course – but you can specify a cedar front at no extra cost, or even a very ’30s mahogany top for a modest £50 upcharge.
The deep brown staining of the back, sides and neck and the nicely aged look of the vintage-burst top contribute to an appropriately austere aesthetic, but look more closely and you’ll spot some discreetly tasteful touches. The body is bound with rosewood, the rosette is a thin tortie circle, and the spade peghead – with a gloss rosewood capping and the ‘Dust Bowl’ scroll logo – carries a set of open-geared Grover Sta-Tite tuners which really suit the period look. As ever, they work efficiently, too. The rosewood bridge pins are inlaid with pearl dots, though Alister wonders whether, in this context, they’re a bit
The Dust Bowl sounds far from dour: it’s a beaut, with ringing highs, warm lows and a bloom in the midrange blingy… he may choose to substitute plain ones in the future.
Though it’s hard to see the grain of the neck under the dark stain, rest assured that it’s one-piece mahogany, secured using Atkin’s usual Collingsstyle bolting system. As on the body, the satin finish is fabulously smooth to the touch, something Alister attributes to recently sourcing a superior brand of nitrocellulose lacquer, and also using new, different abrasives for cutting back in between coats. I’ve yet to play an acoustic neck that feels slicker and faster than this one. Dimensionally it’s mainstream, starting off at 43mm across the nut, with a snugly shallow ‘C’ profile that has the merest hint of V’ing along the crown. Bridge string spacing is an all-purpose 55mm.
The medium-thin fretting along the bound rosewood fingerboard is immaculately fitted and dressed, and the very gentle radius – approximately 20" – is very much a friend of a slinky action. There are no front position markers but the important side dots are all there. The set-up is a fine picker as it stands, but Atkin recognises that some of us favour a wider fingerstyle neck, and if you ask then he’ll swap with no extra charge to one that’s 45mm at the nut, with a broadened 57mm bridge string spacing. Span at the octave correspondingly increases by a couple
Lovely sitka top – but you can choose cedar or mahogany as well of millimetres too. He’ll also fit gratis, if requested, a heel strap button which isn’t part of the standard spec.
Sounds The Dust Bowl’s image might be one of austerity, but its performance is far from dour: in fact it’s a beaut. The sustainful sound is richly projecting with plenty of quick dynamic panache, and the tone marries an OM’s anticipated clarity and precise articulation with sweetly ringing highs, warm, firmly rooted lows and a nicely subtle bloom in the midrange. Drop tunings really sing out. It’s adaptable too: blues, ragtime, lyrically folksy – it takes to them all like a duck to the wet stuff.
Verdict Not only has Alister Atkin produced a stonkingly fine player with a distinctive stripped-back aesthetic and made to his usual very high standards, he has, perhaps unwittingly, come up with an instrument – or series – that’s unique. Sure, any number of luthiers would be happy to make something similar to custom order, but the Dust Bowls are regular (if limited) catalogue models, and no other professional maker, as far as I can glean, is presently doing anything like them at this enticingly affordable price. This is an OM that captures the zeitgeist with gusto.
FINAL SCORE ATKIN DUST BOWL OM ACOUSTIC Build Quality 19 /20 Playability 20/20 Sound 20/20 Value for money 19 /20 Looks 16 /20
84 Guitar & Bass FEBRUARY 2012