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Iris MS-00 Review

Iris Guitar company MS-00 acoustic guitar

A stripped-down small-bodied acoustic that punches well above its price class.

Midrange-focused voice. Smaller body and scale delivers easy playability. Excellent craftsmanship.

If you love big, boomy jumbos and dreads, you might want to look at a different body style.



As much as I love fawning over expensive vintage and boutique gear—which is a lot—when it comes to spending my money, I look for the highest-end tone at the kind of prices my modest gigs can pay for. With vintage gear, I want to find “player-grade” stuff: the amp that has some long-broken-up band’s logo spray-painted on it, totally devaluing it to collectors, or the guitar with a refin that was done by the last owner’s buddy who paints motorcycles. Sometimes, though, new gear is the only path to what you need. And once you enter the world of boutique, handmade instruments player-grade prices aren’t usually an option.

Since introducing their debut model, the OG, in 2018, Burlington, Vermont’s Iris Guitar Company’s mission has been to carve out a space in a Venn diagram where craftsmanship, tone, and value come together. The team consists of builders who create top-notch, bespoke instruments and started Iris to make instruments at the same level of quality, stripped of most aesthetic accoutrements and customization, at prices working musicians can afford.

One of the newest models in Iris’ expanding line is the MS-00. Inspired by the Gibson L-00, it was created in conjunction with vintage Gibson acoustic expert Mark Stutman of Folkway Music. The MS-00 captures the straightforward, unpretentious Great Depression-era aesthetic and sound of the L-00. And while not cheap, it offers the playing experience of a more expensive instrument.

Think: Sepia

In terms of looks, the simple, down-to-earth MS-00 doesn’t announce itself loudly, but rather invites you in and waits to be noticed. Diminutive fret markers along the MS-00’s Indian rosewood fretboard—which are sized to serve their function to the player but which might escape notice from across the room—complement the simple waterslide-decal Iris logo that adorns the headstock, along with vintage-style open-gear tuners. If there’s one bit of pizzazz, it’s the beveled tortoise pickguard, which is hardly an indulgence. Together, these humble details deliver a warm, sepia-toned aesthetic harmony.

Measuring 19 1/2" long, 14 7/8" at its lower bout and 3 5/8" to 4 3/8" deep, the MS-00 is compact. The handsome, tobacco burst Sitka spruce is supported with Adirondack spruce X-bracing. Finished with a thin, satin nitrocellulose, the MS-00 is comfortable to cradle, too. The back and sides, along with the Honduran mahogany neck, are not treated with pore filler prior to finishing, exposing the grain and giving the guitar a refined but rugged feel. (Spruce doesn’t have deep pores, so the top is smooth.) I can’t help myself from getting poetic and thinking about how this also challenges us to find the beauty within. In a market where deeply figured woods are glamorized, the Iris finish helps us appreciate the beauty in the grain itself. And though the subject is a source of argument, I can’t help but think that the lack of pore filler has a sonic effect as well; the MS-00 practically rings like a bell with every strum.

Warm and Punchy

Like the small-bodied vintage Gibson acoustics that inspired it, the MS-00 sings with a plainspoken midrange-focused voice. It’s warm and inviting, and it feels instantly familiar if you’ve spent time in vintage shops playing those Gibson models.

Gliding along the soft-C neck, which is attached via a more economical bolt-on, mortise and tenon joint, is a breeze. Its 24 3/4" scale length puts everything just a little more within reach than most acoustics, and that kept me busy across all 14 frets. (A 12-fret version can also be ordered as an upcharge.) The mid-focused sound of small-bodied acoustics always feels more natural to me than their bass-heavy counterparts, and this guitar is no exception. The easy-to-fret, midrange-focused formula had my initial playing gravitating toward early jazz chords and lines, both of which the MS-00 feels ideally voiced to handle. That’s not to pigeonhole this guitar at all. I could, and did, have a great time simply strumming away in first position and running through all the Travis-picking tunes I could muster.

The MS-00 feels particularly touch-sensitive, so I took delight in exploring its dynamic range. If you lean toward a softer playing style, it’ll reward you with rich warmth and definition. But if you’re a strummer or just dig in hard, you’ll find plenty of volume without compromising tone or over-compressing. When playing lines with a heavy pick, I was treated to plenty of attack and punch, which I found easy to dial up or back to taste. By applying a heavier hand, especially on the wound strings, I found the growly bite that I find an essential part of a vintage Gibson’s sonic fingerprint.

The Verdict

The MS-00, like every Iris model I’ve played, is a well-executed, simple formula. On a coffee scale, it’s the equivalent of a pour-over made with single-origin beans and taken black. At $2,450, it’s no impulse purchase, but for a U.S.-built, luthier-crafted instrument it’s a serious deal. The MS-00 can go strum for strum with guitars that command much higher prices because it’s designed with only the absolute essentials in mind: sound and playability. If you’re a fan of small-bodied vintage Gibsons, or if you’re simply looking for a dynamic, midrange-focused acoustic that’s fun to play for a little less, the MS-00 is worth your time. It’s going to compete with the best of them.

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