Text Box: For those of you that donít know, John Slobod of Circa Guitars is one of the preeminent vintage Martin re-constructionists in the world.  It was, however, one of his more modern interpretations of the 00-12 that caught my attention at Healdsburg 2011. A changed my mind a few times over the process but ended up with a very traditional OM build.

* Builder: Circa Guitars (John Slobod)
* Model: OM cutaway
* Top: Adirondack Spruce
* Back/Sides: Madagascar rosewood
* Neck: One piece mahogany
* Endgraft: Mitered, ivoroid
* Headplate: Brazilian rosewood with Martin flower pot inlay
* Headstock Bindings: Ivoroid
* Fingerboard: Ebony
* Fingerboard Bindings: Ivoroid
* Fret Markers: Side dots, style 42 fretboard inlays
* Frets to body: 14
* Cutaway: Venetian 
* Bridge: Ebony
* Body Bindings: Ivoroid, style 30 purflings by Howard Klepper
* Rosette: Traditional pearl design
* Tuners: Waverly, nickel
* 1 3/4" Nut
* 2 5/16" Saddle
* 25.4Ē Scale
* Case: Hoffee
Text Box: CIRCA OM-30
Text Box: Initial thoughts . . .

I received the guitar yesterday and played it for about 3 hours last night in a variety of tunings. It's barely 3 weeks old, of course, so things are likely to evolve over the coming months and years. It's a wonderfully expressive instrument, with tremendous sensitivity to touch, particularly in the trebles and mids. I play with a pretty heavy hand, and the guitar responds to even the most aggressive pick attack without flubbing out or distorting. As I would expect, it handles tunings down to open C like a champ. If you want, this guitar can be very loud, which is something I like in just about any guitar. Maybe it's unsophisticated of me, but I like to play loud and I like guitars that have tons of volume at the ready.

The emphasis on this guitar is clearly in the treble and mids, where it has exceptional power, dynamics, and a lovely, melodic voice. True to the vintage Martin aesthetic, the emphasis is on the fundamental. Overtones are present but subdued. They add color and character rather than competing with or overwhelming the fundamental. As with my other guitars, I value the relative emphasis on the fundamental. It works well for what I do. The clarity also demands precision and good technique on my end (although I have neither).

Highs and mids have a crystalline, glassy quality to them, though they're rounded enough on the attack that the tone is not ice-picky. A product of the rosewood, I would expect. The mids emphasis and focus was a little bit of a surprise to me, as I usual experience a slight scooping of the mids with rosewood. The mid-response character is more like a glassy version of mahogany. This character is focused and powerful, and the result seems to be great projection rather than a sound that envelopes the player.

The bass content is more subdued compared to my other guitars, leaving the mids and trebles to shine while the bass notes hover a bit below the surface. Or maybe it's just that the mids, upper mids, and trebles are so explosive.

My 000-12, by way of comparison, has a MUCH different sound, though both are clearly rooted in the vintage Martin sound. The 000-12 has a much greater emphasis on the low end, and the resulting sound is a "big guitar" tone that envelopes the player. The 000-12 (which has a mahogany back) produces a rounder tone that is more even through the attack, where the OM has a faster attack and a more "immediate" tone. My Brondel A-2 sits somewhere between these two instruments. The Brondel has a surprisingly big bass, given that it's footprint is similar to my OM. It's more of a mid-scooped instrument, and the mids and trebles are, like the 000-12, a bit less immediate (the Klepper/Schoenberg and Brondel have become the standard-bearers for me, so I compare to them only because they are what I'm accustomed to). This OM certainly blurs the lines of the conventional wisdom about the differences between mahogany and rosewood.

It's early still, and this guitar has a while to settle in. I anticipate things will change subtly over time, but this guitar is a wonderful addition to my other guitars. It represents something new and different, and I'm excited to spend hours exploring the new tones available. New and different is the goal.

Craftsmanship is flawless. The setup and intonation are flawless. The neck profile is perfect (my Brondel was used as a template). John really nailed the relief with his non-adjustable truss rod. Assuming it never moves, it's right where it needs to be. The frets were Pleked, though John was so close with his own setup that very little material was removed. As a result, there isn't a note on the fretboard that doesn't ring perfectly true. The purflings that Howard supplied look absolutely amazing and create a really cool link between my two "Style 34" guitars. There was no fussing with sanding down the saddle or changing other setup parameters. It was set up to perfection right out of the box.

And for those of you who don't know John Slobod, he's one of the most patient, easy-going people you could hope to meet. My goals for this instrument changed quite a bit over the 3 years since I placed the order, but John was patient the whole way through as I changed from a 00-12 with a modern sound to a 00-12 with a vintage sound to a 000-12 with a vintage sound to an OM with a vintage sound (ha ha). He laughs easily and doesn't get upset. He's generous with his time and an absolute pleasure to work with on every level. A true gentleman and one heck of a luthier. 
Text Box: A little later . . .

All I can say is that John has created a total masterpiece. It is really starting to open up, and sound is really sweet. I couldn't be more impressed by John's work. It's tough when you get a new guitar and it sounds a bit tight, but that's to be expected, particularly with a guitar that has an Adirondack spruce top. John told me to give it some time and to play it a lot - which I did. Wow, what a difference in just 15-20 hours of playing. Wonderful bloom on the notes. Just a touch of compression to knock out really tight strings. Gorgeous, clear tone. Bravo, John!

And to deliver it with absolute dead level frets and perfect setup (nut slot height, action, relief, intonation). I'm in heaven. Not to mention the gorgeous looks and flawless workmanship. What a wonderful commission experience!

I am not the most gifted guitar player, and my recording kung fu is basic. This is the Zoom H4n aimed right at the 12 fret. It sounds mostly true to the sound of the OM. One of these days, I'll learn how to clean up my sloppy mistakes and make decent recordings. In the meantime, here's what I got . . .

This is a recording of one of my favorite Dorian Michael songs, "When Arizona Meets the Ocean." Dorian was kind enough to share the sheet music with me, and it's been one of my favorite songs to learn.


Here's another favorite of mine. Bert Jansch's version of Angie.


And finally John Fahey's "Yellow Princess."