Great Acoustics: 2020 Collings OM3 Alaskan

From the May/June 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Greg Olwell

Guitars are often playable art objects used to tell stories. And sometimes when an instrument is built using unique materials, it comes with a backstory built deep into its woodgrain. Take the new Collings OM3 Alaskan seen here. It’s one of six guitars made for the shop’s premier dealers using a combination of unusually colored Sitka spruce, curly mahogany, and special appointments. (The other models include dreadnought, 000 12-fret, 14-fret 0, and 12- and 14-fret 00 versions.) 

The top is made from reclaimed old-growth Sitka that spent much of the 20th century as part of a floating structure that served as a camp for loggers and fishers. During the decades the logs floated in the cold, nutrient-rich waters of southeast Alaska, the spruce took on a dark bluish-gray color that highlights its bearclaw figuring. When the camps were disassembled and sold off for homes and lumber, a supplier contacted Collings’ master luthier, Bruce Van Wart, about these unique logs. Knowing a good story when he hears it, he wanted to check them out.

While the visual effect is powerful, Van Wart says the real benefit of this wood is that it has seasoned for a very long time. “Working with reclaimed wood can have the advantage of it being seasoned so much longer, which tends to make for ideal tonal characteristics for acoustic instruments,” he says. “It’s similar to other reclaimed spruce I’ve used in the past—they are lighter and a little stiffer than some Sitka, which means voicing them a little differently.”

Clearly, plain wood wasn’t going to cut it for the back and sides, so Van Wart chose elegant curly mahogany. While it provides a striking contrast to the top, it also has the physical and tonal characteristics Van Wart looks for when selecting tonewoods. This unique set needed something beyond the abalone rosette and full binding of the company’s Style 3, so Collings commissioned a set of masterfully engraved fretboard inlays inspired by those on vintage banjos. The result is a guitar that has stories to tell before its first strum.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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