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Fingerstylists might be the type of guitarist most commonly associated with 000 and OM body styles, but countless players, producers, and engineers in just about every other style also consider the compact, full tones of an OM or 000 to be the ideal acoustic guitar sound. Country blues players love their concise tonality and playability. Rock producers and engineers love their harmonic balance. And folk players love how rich they can sound without dominating a vocal or ensemble blend. That adaptability has made the 000 one of the most enduring guitar designs in history.
Martin introduced the 000 in 1902, and it has followed a fascinating evolutionary path ever since—from 12 frets to 14, from a 1 11/16" nut to a 1 3/4", from mahogany to rosewood versions, and morphing into the now-legendary OM along the way.
Recording King’s new Adirondack-spruce-and-mahogany RO-310 is almost a greatest-hits fusion of popular OM and 000 features: The spruce and mahogany are a tonewood recipe for the classic Martin 000-18, the 1 3/4" nut and 14-fret neck distinguished the first OM (popularly regarded as the Excalibur of fingerstyle guitars), and the Adirondack spruce top is, in the minds of many, the finest top wood ever. Recording King doesn’t squander the opportunity to deliver on the promise of this union of 000 and OM elements. Indeed, the RO-310 is a great guitar. But the fact that you can pick up one for about 500 bucks makes it something of a marvel.
Subdued and balanced, the R0-310 is a positively beautiful acoustic guitar. The lack of a pickguard—a nod to the instrument’s fingerstyle heritage—might be a downside for more aggressive strummers, but it gives the guitar an almost perfect visual symmetry and sense of proportion. The wide grain of the solid Adirondack top only highlights those qualities, taking on a very textured and deep sort of linear zebra-stripe effect under the gloss finish. The solid mahogany back and sides are pretty, too, glowing warmly and with a similar depth and richness.
Adornments are wonderfully spare. There’s a simple pinstripe rosette, and the top binding is an even simpler black-and-white pinstripe abutting a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it (but still luxurious) faux-tortoiseshell strip. It’s about as understated and economical as acoustic guitar design gets, and it’s a virtual case study in the validity of a less-is-more approach.
Though we’re accustomed to seeing trade-offs in fit and finish under the hood of affordable imports, missteps are scarce on this instrument. There are a few errant glue spots around the purfling and spots of excess or irregularly applied finish around the soundhole and where the fretboard meets the body. Elsewhere, however, construction borders on flawless. And functional details like the Grover tuners not only add an air of quality, but improve the stability and playability of the instrument. Perhaps the only problem spot over the long haul may be a lack of wiggle room with break angle at the saddle. The action past the seventh fret is on the medium-high side of the spectrum, and lowering the action by shaving the saddle could affect sustain and tuning stability if you have to perform the operation a few times over the life of the guitar. For players who like action a little higher, though, it’s a nonissue. And players who tend to focus on first-position chords and the fretboard space within the first five frets are unlikely to notice the marginally high action anyway.
The visual balance of the RO-310 is echoed in the sounds that loom within. The first thing you notice when you strum a first-position chord with a flatpick are tones that—as paradoxical as it might seem—sound both compact and expansive. Much of that trompe l’oreille is attributable to the way the RO-310 combines midrange focus and excellent projection. The absence of booming bass and the high headroom of the Adirondack top means you can strum hard and really drive the guitar without experiencing any pronounced harmonic blur or distortion. That makes it an incredibly easy guitar to record and amplify, and you could easily make the R0-310 into a great stage guitar with the addition of simple magnetic pickup like an L.R. Baggs M1 or an affordable bridgeplate system like an iBeam.
Fingerstyle applications highlight the guitar’s balance, as well. The string-to-string balance that is so apparent when you’re strumming or playing a flatpicked arpeggio is doubly overt in fingerstyle situations. The relative volume and detail you hear in the first and second strings give melodies a beautiful, chiming quality that sounds pronounced, defined, and distinct against the tight, focused bass tones. What’s more, the sorts of alternating-thumb bass lines and treble-string melody lines that highlight the RO-310’s string-to-string balance are a breeze on the wider 1 3/4" fretboard. The even volume from the bass and treble strings also does wonders for alternate tunings—highlighting microtonal differences in tunings with multiple doubles, octaves, thirds, or fifths in particular, and giving the guitar a harp- or piano-like quality at times.
If there’s one aspect of the RO-310s sonic signature that will divide players, it might be the almost dry, husky quality that is especially pronounced during fingerstyle work. At least one experienced fingerstylist who played the guitar loved the way that the dryer, more concise tones highlighted the guitars intrinsically articulate nature. Another player more accustomed to the lush shimmer of a Taylor CG found it a little too rustic sounding. It’s not outlandish to venture that those contrasting observations speak volumes about where the RO-310 falls in with your own tone predilections and needs.
Players who can afford an instrument many times the price of the RO-310 may dismiss the Recording King for its lack of rosewood back and sides, its small finish imperfections, and/or the medium-high action past the seventh fret, but it’s hard to imagine a 000 delivering more bang for the buck than this one. (And, for the record, pricier Sitka-spruce-and-rosewood 000s are available from Recording King.)
Construction quality, while not perfect, is much better than average for most guitars in this price range. The subdued design and the genuine vintage aura derived from the classic materials recipe combine to impart a luxurious overall vibe. And the excellent string-to-string balance, impressive projection, and articulate harmonic character can be hard to find in a guitar at any price. Some players will inevitably find the tone of the RO-310 too dry for their tastes—though the Adirondack top will likely warm over the years. Imagining this guitar a decade or so down the line, it’s hard to see how it won’t be a modern, affordable classic. In the meantime, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value in a small- to medium-sized acoustic, whether you’re a fingerstylist on a budget or a studio cat who savors balanced, well-behaved tones.