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It would be hard to find a company more committed to building guitars sustainably than Born Guitars. The company donates ten percent of net profits to reforestation projects and plants a tree for every guitar they make. But the guitars that come from Born are not gimmicks geared for eco-conscious consumers. Indeed, the OG Carve reviewed here is an impressive piece of craft in the strictest sense of the word—cleverly adapting reclaimed cedar and sinker redwood, not to mention inspired design sense, to build a guitar that sounds, looks, and feels as luxurious as anything built from traditional tonewoods.
In terms of production and methods, Born inhabits a stretch of turf between a strictly bespoke custom maker and a small batch production company—using a mix of CNC machinery and hand manufacturing techniques. Born offers two base models, the OG single cutaway and MG double cutaway, but these two models can be customized with a multitude of options.
There are 12 available wood types for the body, neck, and fretboard, options for a chambered or solid body, various neck shapes and profiles, headstock shapes, and pickup configurations—everything all the way down to the knob type can be customized to suit a customer's particular tone predilections. Whatever the options, Born doesn’t skimp on the basics—components like Sprague Orange Drop caps, Switchcraft jacks, military-grade pots, and silver-plated PTFE-coated wiring are all standard.
Our review guitar could be a poster child for Born’s sustainability centric philosophy. Born only works with loggers that harvest responsibly, and the company’s close scrutiny of lumber’s origins often means a guitar comes with an intriguing story to tell. In the case of our test model, the body is made from Port Orford Cedar a stable and light softwood from a region in Southwestern Oregon that was ravaged by a fire in the early 2000s. The guitar’s heavily flamed top is made of California redwood from a sinker log that was trapped in Northern California riverbeds in the late 1800s.
The resulting guitar looks stunning. It feels great too. There is a forearm contour on the OG Carve’s top and the neck joint is contoured to allow easy access to the upper frets of the carbon fiber-reinforced 22-fret neck. The neck has a 10”–14” compound radius fretboard and “D” shape profile, which feels both comfortable and substantial, if not especially fast.
I tested the OG Carve through a Fender Super-Sonic combo with several pedals including a ProCo Rat, Hermida Audio Zendrive, and Line 6 M5. The OG Carve’s pickups—handwound by pickup guru Mike Snider in Rochester, NY—use mismatched coils which generates a very PAF-like, low-to-medium output sound that, when paired with low gain pedal settings, delivered very tasty John McLaughlin-style lead tones—civilized, articulate with a hint of edge and explosiveness. The OG Carve excels in these situations, and the articulate mids and low mids give single notes a very vocal quality. You don’t have to use too much imagination to hear the Port Orford Cedar body and redwood top’s warmth working together to generate a balanced, smooth, and contoured output. The icing on the cake is a cool natural compression adds clarity and punch to the warm body tones.
No matter how much gain I stacked on top of the OG Carve’s basic output, the guitar retained its smooth, polished voice. If you’re venturing into metal zones and beyond, the OG might not be hot and gnarly enough. But it’s as willing to rock as a good Les Paul and the basic voice is so well suited to rock and pop textures that you get the feeling you could very specifically tailor a version of the OG Carve to your own stylistic needs by selecting options with the input of the Born crew.
In clean modes, the chambered body produces a three-dimensional airiness—perfect for the haunting chord melodies that are a Bill Frisell signature. You hear a piano-like resonance with overtones that ring out clear and perfectly balanced with bass and treble fundamentals. The OG Carve generates a pretty wide range of clean tones—thanks in part, I’m sure, to the combination of the warm-and-clear tonewood recipe and the well-balanced pickups. Bridge pickup tones could be massaged into mellow, even jazzy tone zones with a adjustment to the tone knob and a little variation in pick attack. The neck pickup, meanwhile, very willingly delivers old-school Wes Montgomery tones when I had the tone knob rolled way back.
Some skeptics will no doubt wonder if Born’s focus on sustainability undermines excellent design and craftsmanship that goes into the guitar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the OG Carve is a shining example of why guitar builders might be best served by making the move away from sacred-cow timbers and into sustainable materials. The OG Carve is a flat-out killer axe by any standard that can stand neck and neck with the best of them. The guitar’s $2,995 base price may put it out of reach for many, but it’s comparable in price, if not a better value, compared to a lot of boutique axes that are much less interesting and unique.