In the oft-puritanical realms of guitardom, any deviation from the norm can raise ire and incite calls of blasphemy. And when it comes to the heresy, otherwise known carbon-fiber guitars, not even decades of acceptance by discerning players can sway some hard-core, flattop dogmatists.
It’s a damn shame too, because there’s a lot of upside to carbon-fiber instruments—from durability, to tuning stability, and smooth playing performance. What’s more, many carbon fiber guitars are just plain good, regardless of what they’re built from. The new RainSong Studio Series OM (officially dubbed the S-OM1000N2) is one of them—a sturdy, balanced, playable, and well-proportioned instrument that’s perfect for any serious guitarist that’s always on the run.
Even if you can’t immediately warm to the outward appearance of a carbon-fiber guitar with its matte, gunmetal-grey guise—there’s no denying the handsome proportions of the Studio OM. The cutaway’s style is a almost a cross between Venetian and Florentine, which tastefully and modestly attests to the design malleability of carbon fiber and RainSong’s own sense of aesthetics. A simple two-pinstripe rosette is further evidence of tasteful restraint. So is the simple headstock, which is an understated union of classic, American, utilitarian motifs (Martin, Stella) and more contemporary influences.
There’s not much else to the Studio OM, at least on the surface. The tuners are smooth and cool-looking chrome Gotohs with a responsive 1:18 gear ratio. The preamp and pickup configuration is an intuitive and easy-to-use Fishman Prefix-T system with undersaddle transducer.
The most interesting aspects of the Studio OM are what you don’t see on the surface. Carbon-fiber guitar makers take advantage of the rigid and resonant nature of carbon fiber in a lot of different ways. RainSong uses its strength-to-weight properties to forgo top bracing—a design measure that allows the top to vibrate more freely without sacrificing structural integrity. And the RainSong does feel rock solid. The finish—or non-finish really—isn’t exactly a tactile joy. It’s unpolished and has a raw, almost fibrous-feel under the fingers that’s tricky to get used to—especially on your forearm, where you’re in contact with the guitar most. But there’s not much you can do—short of dragging the Studio OM behind a Dodge—to ding, scratch, or cut this thing. But even then, it might just emerge ready to rock a hootenanny.
RainSong’s N2 neck, devised with input from John Bolin and guitar-slinger Steve Miller, also lends a lot to the sense of solidity you experience with the Studio OM in hand. Given Miller’s input in particular, it’s no surprise that it’s a hefty-feeling, almost U-shaped slab that would be at home on a mid-century Gibson or Kay—lending a classic feel that’s perfect for digging in to blues bends and gripping big, first-position chords. The N2 neck also comes equipped with a truss rod. And while that might seem counterintuitive on a carbon-fiber guitar, it enables adjustments for neck relief. With a Tusq nut and saddle, the RainSong is adjustable for action and relief preferences in all the ways a wood guitar is, while being a lot more predictable and stable.
There’s no denying that the RainSong’s tone is unique. But it is not, by any means, inorganic, harsh, or unpleasant. The most discernable differences seem to be in the low-mid range, where the RainSong has a liveliness that can color whole chords in a cool way, even if individual notes—particularly the fourth and fifth strings around the first five frets—sound a little less wooden and warm. It’s still a very musical tone, and is particularly effective in fingerstyle contexts where picking dynamics are key, because the notes ring with sustain and clarity.
Notes on the high end of the spectrum are similarly lively, but have a more bell-like complexity that sounds beautiful in muted, octave chord settings and super-articulate in flatpicked arpeggio phrases. And 2-string blues slides are suited to the RainSong’s fine, note separation.
Individual note definition is a strength of the Studio OM and it’s apparent in both quiet-fingerpicking pieces and heavy strumming environments. Note clarity in the latter application, in particular, makes this a great guitar for vocalists and singersongwriters. Though these types of players will also benefit from the Studio OM’s responsiveness to picking dynamics. This guitar really can go from quiet to a roar that sounds much bigger than the average OM, without any considerable loss of detail.
The onboard Fishman Prefix Plus-T system works to the RainSong’s strengths as well. Played through both a Fishman Loudbox Mini and a Radial DI into Yamaha PA, the RainSong proved to be pretty resistant to feedback, which made it easier to take advantage of the guitar’s robust, low and low-mid range. Working through a few tunes that required a heavy and rhythmic strumming approach, the Rain Song retained the clarity of individual notes. Its dynamic nature—even with driving strums that were heavy on sustained, bass tones—rang with colorful overtones rather than blooming into feedback. I rarely used the notch filter to fight bass rumble and really only needed the Brilliance control to add high-end definition in quieter passages, for the Studio OM tends to have plenty of high-mid definition without it.
The merits of the RainSong S-OM1000N2 Studio Series OM are many. This is a guitar that can stand up to anything. And if you’re a performing artist that flies or drives to shows with any frequency, it will alleviate the inevitable stress of handing a guitar over to a team of baggage-handling gorillas or making a mid-summer dash across the Great Plains with your guitar in the trunk. Even if you aren’t a professional road-dog, you can sound great around a campfire, by the lake, on a boat, or in the snow for that matter, without having to worry about much other than wearing out your strings.
If you’re the kind of tone obsessive that claims to hear every nuance and difference between Indian and Brazilian rosewood, you probably won’t have five seconds for the Studio OM. But if you have more of an open mind about what a good-sounding guitar is in the context of a song, it’s easy to get past the less-woody aspects of the low-mid range. At the end of the day, the Studio OM is a guitar that can do a lot of things well, from the recording studio to the ski cabin. At nearly $1500 bucks, it’s not the cheapest guitar you can buy. But given what you’ll save on maintenance alone could pay off the difference over the long haul. And for an acoustic guitar that has so much going for it—even from a purely sonic and playability perspective— that’s math worth doing.
the road is your home and you’re unwilling to compromise on playability or performance flexibility.
you’re an unwavering purist.
Street $1499 - RainSong Guitars - rainsong.com