Snce the 1800s, the C.F. Martin Co. has consistently built high-quality, handcrafted, solid wood, acoustic guitars. In an age of electrified acoustic guitars, Martin has not slipped a bit in its quality by offering such models as the electronics-by-Fishman OMC-Aura reviewed in this issue.
Product PointsPrice: $3,699
Recommended Venues: Acoustic or plugged in, studio and live gigs
Body Size: 000
Construction: Solid rosewood body, solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany neck
Finish: Nitrocellulose gloss
Neck Scale Length: 25.5 inches
Fingerboard Width: 1.75 inches at nut
Special Features: Onboard Fishman Aura pickup/digital processing system
Contact: Web Site
For the OMC-Aura acoustic/electric. Martin has joined up with Fishman to produce an instrument that was made to be plugged-in or played acoustically. The OMC-Aura is an OOO-sized (auditorium) guitar with 14 frets and has a single, graceful cutaway, for easy access to those upper frets. The solid wood construction includes East Indian rosewood back and sides, a Sitka spruce top and a mahogany neck with ebony fretboard. It has a beautiful nitrocellulose gloss body finish, but the neck is finished in a lighter satin finish, which is less sticky in high humidity.
The OMC is trimmed with tasteful inlay work. The top is adorned with Style 41 inlay with hexagon outline fingerboard and bridge inlays. The headstock is scripted in mother-of-pearl, and the end pins are ebony, finished with abalone pearl dots. I really like the gold Gotoh tuners with the ebony knobs. The choice of woods, inlay material, finish, and construction make for a stunning, first impression.
The 25.4-inch scale length and the forward shifted, hybrid A-frame bracing make for a full sound that is good for fingerstyle or pick playing. The OMC-Aura’s essence is from Martin’s more moderately priced 16 series, which means the neck is a bolt-on and not a glued in, traditional dovetail.
The bridge saddle is made from white Tusq and is compensated. This guitar is well constructed with a neck set that allows for plenty of break angle over the saddle, but the action is moderate. The string angle over the bridge really seems to transfer string energy well.
The electronics package is the much-talked about Fishman Aura system, which includes selectable digital modes of various microphones and an onboard piezo with EQ and tuner. The list price for the OMC-Aura is $3,399, which includes a hardshell case. The higher cost over the normal 16 series OM guitars is the result of the inlays, solid rosewood body and the Aura system.
I first auditioned the OMC-Aura on a recording session at the Sound Kitchen in Nashville. Engineer Ronny Brookshire I miked it with a high quality condenser microphone and a Neve mic preamp. I had a preconceived idea that OMC was designed to be a “live” guitar, but I got an immediate thumbs up from the control room.
The Martin sounded great on mic and convinced me that this can be a great recording session acoustic. The mids have that Martin fingerprint that speaks well in a track, with a beautifully balanced low end. The highs are clear and bell-like without sounding sterile or hyped.
A lot of acoustics are either too loose sounding and boomy, or over overbraced to the point that the sound is constricted. The OMC falls wonderfully between the extremes. It is braced to allow the guitar to breathe, but supported enough internally to stay sonically focused.
As expected from Martin, the electronics the company has chosen are excellent. The Fishman Aura electronics package has some familiar features and some new controls to delve into. The familiar stuff includes volume control, three-band EQ and an onboard tuner.
Of note, the tuner is more precise than others I have used. As you raise a note to pitch, the “flat” LED dims as it approaches being in tune. This allows the player to get a feel for the string being brought into pitch.
The Aura’s unique factor is that besides being a pickup system, it offers a palette of digital image signatures for the guitar. There is a six position “Image Select” knob, an “Aura/Piezo” blend fader, a phase switch, an automatic anti-feedback circuit, and a “Play/Edit” switch for saving your favorite tweaks.
The Image Select knob allows you to switch between six different microphone types and positions. Mics sampled in the palette include Neumann, AKG, Shure, DPA and Soundelux. Besides the sonic signature of the mics, the distance effect is also selectable — set to either “Close” or “Far.”
The blend fader allows you to control the balance between the piezo and Aura system. Furthermore you can switch the phase of the pickup for more tonal choices or for controlling feedback. You can take it even deeper using the tuner display in the Edit mode which allows you to toggle between positive/negative pickup polarity.
The automatic antifeedback circuit is engaged by a “Measure” button that listens to the frequency that is feeding back and eliminates it. I tried it in the studio control room and it worked as advertised. Once you get everything to your liking, you can store your settings to the six different sound images positions. Pretty slick.
So where are we in the quest for authentic acoustic tones from the OMC-Aura? Is it safe to plug in? Well, I have to say, this is the first acoustic that I’ve plugged in and felt like the pickup system was tonally on my side.
Gone are the abrasive, limp piezo tones. It really has a great direct sound. Fishman makes a real point to say that this is not just a typical modeling preamp that is taking a guitar as a sound source and transforming into something it is not.
It is overlaying sonic profiles, based on the guitar itself, that have been modeled. There aren’t any electric guitars, twelve strings, or ethnic instrument sounds.
Downsides? Well, the Aura does have a very closed mic kind of quality that can sound a little like you are being miked up in a tiny resonant room, or like an engineer has blended in a very short delay to fatten the guitar. But the sound does sound like you are being miked! Compare that to a normal piezo, and I would choose the Aura system every time. Besides, the “blend” control allows you to add the piezo back in which helps bring an immediacy and focus back to the sound.
The only other negative is that the mic model “modes” cannot be saved to a different location within in the six positions. So, if there is a model you do not like, you can’t store one you prefer in its place.
So who is the Martin OMC-Aura designed for? Just about anyone who is a pro caliber player will be able to enjoy this guitar. It sounds great acoustically on mic in the studio, and the Aura system also should work well for a direct demo/idea that you could plug right in and not worry about isolation.
For live, the Aura system inspires a certain confidence when you know you are getting a “close-to-real” miked sound just by plugging in.
For me the killer combo was blending back in the piezo a bit and getting that sound of body and realism from the Aura, and focus from the piezo.
If playing studio or live is your livelihood, I highly recommend you check out this Martin/Fishman collaboration.