Worland Custom Guitars

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The following on-line reviews originally appeared in the Acoustic Guitar Gear forum and in the 13th Fret forum:

Worland OM has vintage vibe and tone

Dick Sanders

Joined: 05 Apr 2006
Posts: 4
Location: Southern California

PostPosted: 04/05/06, 1:06 pm

I noticed a few folks here have guitars made by Jim Worland, so I thought I’d tell my Worland story. My experience should be of interest to anyone considering a custom instrument for the first time, and it demonstrates what a tremendous difference getting the right guitar can make.

A couple of years ago I realized my Washburn D56SW dread wasn’t happening. It’s a solid spruce and rosewood guitar but it has an overbright tone and a somewhat flat-sounding bass. I didn’t like the tone. I didn’t like the nut width at 1 5/8 inches. And I didn’t like the bulky dread body with its 4 7/8 inch depth.

Well, a couple of trips to Guitar Center convinced me I could do a lot better, provided I were willing to spend $2,000 or 3,000. Why not? I’m worth it, even if my wife runs to the bedroom and cranks the volume on her soap opera every time I play. But in trying a bunch of guitars I found the nut widths too narrow, the necks too thick or wide, the tones too bright or mellow, and a lot of the guitars just looked stupid to me. Hey, why not be picky at these prices? Well, that’s when those little ads in Acoustic Guitar mag got my attention. I thought, hey, if I’m going to pop for the big bucks, why not go custom?

Well, that started an odyssey of research that soon drove my wife crazy because I was excited to tell her everything I learned when she didn’t want to know anything except “Just how much is this thing going to cost anyway?” Not a question you want to answer, so I bought her plenty of vintage costume jewelry on eBay to keep her mind off that.

Well, over the next 6 months or so I must have checked out the web sites of 25 luthiers. Frankly, many of the custom builders were too expensive for me. But a few were reasonably priced, so I checked those out in more detail. Also during this time, I played another 25 or 30 guitars in the shops and discovered that the common 1 5/8 and 1 11/16 nut widths were too narrow for me. But the guitars with wider nuts often had string widths between 2 3/16 and 2 3/8, which made the necks too wide and uncomfortable at the upper frets. I play both flatpicking and fingerpicking styles, but I have medium-sized hands with fingers none too long and a short left pinky. So while I wanted a wider nut to give my fingers enough room, I also wanted a narrower neck at the upper frets to make reaching for those tough chord shapes easier.

About this time I ran across a cheap ‘70s made-in-Japan Epiphone with an extra slim and narrow neck, but with a generous 45mm nut width (hair over 1¾ inches). Interestingly, this guitar had a string width at the saddle of just 2 1/16 inches and a short scale. Even though it was a funky guitar, I bought it immediately because I had never played a more comfortable neck. Just one problem: that 2 1/16 string width was tough to fingerpick. That’s when I realized a compromise between the left and right hands was in order. And soon I determined a 45mm nut width with a 2 5/32nd string width would make both hands happy.

After more online research, I selected Jim Worland to be the builder. Jim has a very informative web site, his prices are affordable, and I could tell by his testimonials (including those here at the 13th Fret) that he builds fine guitars that make his customers very happy. Plus Jim was very accommodating, happy to answer a hundred questions, and he seemed genuinely sincere about making exactly the guitar I wanted.

Okay, somewhere along the way, I discovered that I like a “dark tone,” with slightly more emphasis on the bass and mid tones. Jim suggested Cocobolo back and sides with a Western Red Cedar top. At first, the cedar idea alarmed me because a friend has a cedar-topped steel string that sounds too mellow, almost muffled. But Jim told me such a guitar was not braced properly, and that my guitar would have a clear, warm tone with a deep bass. We also determined that his OM was the best size for me (15 ¼ lower bout, 19 ¾ body length, 4 inch depth), and that I should get a 14 fret neck join with the shorter 24.9 inch scale.

I told Jim about my Epiphone, and he suggested I send it to him so he could copy the neck. What a great idea! I shipped the Epi off to him with the request he make one alteration: a string width of 2 5/32 instead of 2 1/16, which would make fingerpicking easier but also keep the neck from getting too wide at the upper frets. No problem, he said.

Now, deciding what the guitar would look like was immensely enjoyable. So much fun, in fact, that I’d say picking and choosing the appointments and anticipating the end result, including dreaming about the guitar, was worth half the price. I mean, you can’t have as much fun playing golf, and today the golf will cost you more. I chose to have the cocobolo stained a little darker, and the cedar top to be finished in a vintage tobacco sunburst, also on the dark side. I asked for ivoroid body binding, a natural colored cocobolo peghead overlay, backstrip, heel cap and rosette, all flanked with ivoroid. I chose the vintage chrome Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons, an ebony fingerboard with large block mother-of-pearl fret markers, and a vintage ebony pyramid bridge with ivoroid pins. I guess I wanted a vintage look and sound. And Jim knows the vibe: his body shapes, peghead and bridge designs are classic, not fancy or kooky. By the way, you can see my guitar on Jim’s web site; he’s currently featuring it on his home page at www.worlandguitars.com and also in the Gallery section (scroll down a few guitars and look for the dark sunburst).

Okay, in about 8 months my new Worland OM arrived. Wow! What a thrill. I pulled it out of the case and marveled at its beauty. The fit and finish were perfect, it was amazingly shiny, and the overall look was one of understated elegance. And then I played it. I couldn't believe it! The tone was phenomenal. I was amazed at the volume and projection for such a small guitar. The sustain was impressive. Jim exactly captured the dark tone I wanted – clear and warm with a little more emphasis on the bass and mids, but not too mellow. Just beautiful. And the note separation was excellent, too. I don’t know how he did it, but the tone is far better than I ever thought I could get in a new guitar, especially at this price!

The neck is perfect for me: an extra slim C profile with a 45mmm nut width that widens to about 54mm at the 12th fret – very comfortable for the left hand. And with the 2 5/32 string width at the saddle, I can fingerpick just fine. The really cool thing is that it immediately made me a better player. That’s what a custom instrument does for you. And because it was so enjoyable to play and hear, I began to play more often and longer, which has improved my playing more. Even my wife is impressed with the sound of this guitar, although she stills favors her soaps over my singing, Bruce’s “If I Should Fall Behind” to her. She says she might not “wait for me.”

Okay, sorry for babbling on for so long, but here’s the thing you should know – if you’re considering a custom instrument, go for it. It will very definitely make you a better player, and a much happier player, too. I swear, you could play a hundred factory guitars and not find one anywhere near close to what you should have, especially if you do your homework and figure out exactly what you need. And if you’re the least bit concerned about spending a fair chunk of money on a guitar you can’t play in advance, check out Jim Worland. His prices are very reasonable. He’s a great guy to work with. He’ll build anything you desire. And he guarantees your satisfaction or he’ll take your guitar back. You can’t beat that!

One last thing, I took my new Worland OM to a local repair luthier to have the action lowered just a tad. This guy’s a really fine blues fingerpicker who’s won a few trophies at the festivals. When he played it, he said, “This guitar has a great tone; it reminds me of a vintage Gibson from the ‘30s.” Well, there you have it. Just one warning: getting a custom guitar can be addictive. I’m already thinking of ordering another Worland, maybe a slope-shouldered OO or his new jazz guitar. Guess I’d better head to eBay and buy my wife some more jewels!

In any case, I have to say, this experience has been a very good one. And now, I have a fabulous guitar that I can cherish and enjoy for many years, and one that looks really cool, too!

Topic: worland guitars
posted 12-29-2001 06:01 PM

Just would like to add a note to the Worland Guitar review. I ordered a couple of OMs in August and they
just arrived, 14-fret joins in mahogany, one cedar and one spruce. These are both beautiful instruments in
all respects. Understated simplicity, superior craftsmanship, and gorgeous tone seem to about sum up a
Worland guitar, in my judgment. The price is incredible for a handmade acoustic, basically two for the
price of one Collins or Santa Cruz or Lowden. If you're looking for a truly handmade instrument and can
wait a few months, I would definitely check out Worlands. I am completely satisfied with these
instruments, and if I weren't, I know that Jim would make it right.

Topic: Review-Worland OM
Shannon C
posted 12-29-2001 03:33 PM

Okay, here it is: my 2001 Worland OM, a 12-fretter, which I got for Christmas. I know a lot of you have
been waiting for my review. First, the specs. Body and sides are Indian rosewood, the top is Adirondack
spruce, the neck is mahogany with ebony overlaid on the peghead, and the fingerboard is ebony. The
binding is curly maple. The rosette appears to be dyed curly maple strips as well. The body is 15 ¼ inches
at the lower bout, depth is 4 inches, the nut is 1 ¾ inches, and the scale is 25.4 inches.

The top has some streaks; is that what you would call bear-claw? Anyway, Jim told me that almost all
Adirondack has some marks like that, and it doesn’t bother me. I rather think they add some character.

Technical stuff: fit and finish are excellent, the frets are well-done, and it smells great! It does not have a
pickguard, and I might think one day of putting on a clear pickguard a la Larrivee. I added a strap button
to the heel.

Now what you really want to know: it sounds GREAT!!! The volume is amazing, much better than I
expected for an OM. Each note is well-defined and just rings like a bell. The balance is outstanding; the
highs are clear and loud without being pinched, the mid-range is not muddy, the bass is tight without
being over-powering. The set-up is quite good, although a bit stiff at the moment. Jim shipped it with a
shim under the bridge, to allow for some easy adjustment. Although the guitar plays fine as it is, I will
remove the shim when I change strings. I play with a light touch, and this guitar will be primarily for
fingerpicking anyway. The intonation is excellent all the way up the neck, and the guitar capos well.

It would be an understatement to say I am thrilled with this guitar. The workmanship is first-rate, and it
sounds fabulous. It is hard to believe I got this beautiful guitar from a one-man operation for a shade over
$1300. Jim was easy to work with, very pleasant and knowledgeable. Above all, he is honest. If his supply
of some particular wood is not the greatest, he will tell you. If he believes you might be asking for
something that won’t work, he will tell you that, too. My guitar is simple, but he is certainly capable of
adding cosmetic flash if you like. Check out the website at www.worlandguitars.com

I’m glad to accept congratulations and jealous remarks at this time. I’ll also be glad to answer your


Pauline Leland
posted 12-29-2001 03:40 PM

Ooooh, congrats and envy. All that for $1300? That's unbelievable. He must have a fantastic day job to
afford to make guitars at that price. Or a hidden factory staffed by elves.

posted 12-29-2001 03:43 PM

Shannon -- VERY impressive -- I'll take your word on the sound. The curly maple bindings and rosette are
striking -- the whole instrument is simple but elegant.

I'm glad to hear you had a good experience with an individual luthier and that Jim Worland can make a
living producing fine instruments at a great price.

posted 12-29-2001 03:57 PM

Wow, what a guitar..what a price! I like the streaks, it makes the guitar look more natural and less generic
looking. Beautiful!

What's with the pyramid shapes on the bridge? Are they functional in some way or just purely cosmetic?

posted 12-29-2001 04:24 PM

Thank you, Shannon! She's a beauty. If it sounds half as good as it looks, you've really got a winner. How
in the world did you wait so long and patiently to open this present?

Just one question. Jim's Website says that his classical steel-string guitars are braced for medium-gauge
strings. What about this one? What strings are you using? Thanks again and big-time congratulations. Go
back to work now.

posted 12-29-2001 04:39 PM

Southern-Fried: The pyramids are purely cosmetic, as far as I know. This is apparently a "vintage" touch.
And Hesson11, I asked Jim to set this up for mediums. It has Elixirs on it, but I'll change to Martin SP+
mediums soon. As far as my patience, it helped that we had to get Christmas ready for 4 children, AND
that I already have a couple of nice guitars to keep me occupied, AND that my wife would have maimed
me if I had cheated.

Dr. LJ
posted 12-29-2001 05:59 PM

Shannon, Congratulations on taking possession of your beautiful new guitar. Worland is located about an
hour and a half away from me and I have given some consideration to heading on over and checking his
operations out. After seeing your new guitar, I am more sure than ever that I will do so. It is a very pretty
instrument and I hope you will enjoy it for many, many years. Nice going!

Mark Swanson
posted 12-29-2001 06:22 PM

That is a nice lookin' guitar. I'd like to see the binding from the front to see what he did with any purfling.
What did he use to finish it? Nitro lacquer?
Adirondack does have stripes most of the time these days. I think you would have to pay high bucks for a
pure color piece- and the striped stuff sounds just as good. Bearclaw spruce is different. It is a "swirl" in
the grain, and mostly seen in the stiffest Sitka spruce.
Pyramid bridges are nice, aren't they? They started out on vintage Martins. Did you notice how the bridge
pins are angled at the same angle as the saddle? That's so all of the strings have the same break angle. A
nice touch. But it does seem to me that the briudge is set awfully far back into the body. Most 12 fret
guitars have a shorter scale so that the bridge can be placed more in the center of the lower bout.
Forward-shifted bracing can really help a guitar out, and when the bridge is so far back it can be hard to
get the center of the X as far forward as it could be. But, those are just my observations and MHO...no
doubt Jim has it all figured out!

posted 12-29-2001 06:57 PM

Nice guitar, Shannon. I'm happy for you. You done good!

Steve B
posted 12-29-2001 07:14 PM

Congrats Shannon!

It looks wonderful! Have you tried any flatpicking with it? I'd be curious.

Congrats again and best wishes

Steve B
Cranky Yankee
posted 12-29-2001 08:03 PM

Shannon, very nice indeed. I am thrilled for you. May you have many, many years of happy strumming
with her. BTW, what's her name? Would love to hear what she sounds like. Any chance of getting some
mp3's out on the net?

Chak Aw
posted 12-29-2001 09:35 PM

Jealous remarks indeed...I am speechless!

Congrats on the guitar. I really like the somewhat understated look of it if you don't my saying so. I agree
with the Cranky one - any chance of hearing what it sounds like?


posted 12-29-2001 11:59 PM

You GO Bro" very nice " Now I need a Day job so I myself can get one..................
Congrats and Happy~Happy Play'n which I know you can Do.................................
Cause I've Heard Ya......................

Dr. LJ
posted 12-30-2001 06:58 AM

Chak Aw, it is hard for me not to be smitten by anything that beautiful!

posted 12-30-2001 01:51 PM

Shannon, Wow! Like it was worth the wait! I'm very much in favor of simplicity, and you guitar is very
beautiful in its simplicity. Hope we get to hear it and that it sings many songs in your hands!


posted 12-30-2001 06:30 PM

Well, in view of the lifespan of a guitar, I wouldn't exactly consider 8 days as having had it much of a
while, but I stand by my original post. I have no idea how to describe tone in any way other than I
already did. The craftsmanship is excellent, and the playability is excellent as well. I have no regrets, and
I would not be surprised if Jim's guitars are one day mentioned in the same breath with Ryan, Olson, etc.

Can you get all these things from a good "production" guitar? Well, of course you can. And there is some
risk when ordering custom; you don't get to try before you buy. But let me tell you this: I got the guitar I
wanted, with my choice of woods, cosmetics, etc. It was made individually to meet my needs and
desires. No one else has a guitar quite like mine. Plus, the whole process is just a barrel of fun.

So figure out what your risk tolerance and sense of adventure are, and decide what works best for you. It
is all about finding the tools that help you make music the best, not being able to gloat over owning a
custom guitar. Good luck in your search.


posted 01-02-2002 10:07 PM

Beautiful guitar, Shannon!! My favorite little details are the maple binding and the beautiful back strip. I
like your taste! It's true that Adirondack of uniform color is pretty unusual nowadays (and is very costly).
$1300 seems like an incredible deal. I'll bet it sounds amazing.

I've noticed that brand new, virtually unplayed guitars can "open up" considerably right away if you
flatpick them intensely for as little as 10-15 minutes -- really strum the heck out of it. But be careful as
you have no pickguard!

Thanks for the pics. Now I'm dying to hear it!

Mark Swanson
posted 01-02-2002 10:54 PM

Just a quick thing about the guitars' "opening up"...it's funny, but there is so much written about this
process as it happens over a long period of time. I notice the guitars that I build coming to life after one
or two sets of strings have been played out...by the time a couple of weeks have gone by, they sound
quite a bit more "open" than they first did. What I am saying is, during the first few months of a guitars'
life a whole lot of settling in happens and tone can really develop. Then, after that it's the long haul for
the rest of the aging process.

posted 01-03-2002 11:25 AM

A 12-fret without a slotted head-stock?!? Tsk Tsk! {grin}, just kidding, what a beaut. I have his brochure
and his prices really are awesome. I think perhaps an OM 12-fret in Indian Rosewood is in my future, but
with the narrower neck and, ahem, slotted peg-head.

Thanks for the review/info. I've been very intrigued by his products for sometime...-Santos

posted 01-03-2002 11:30 AM

A 12-fret without a slotted head-stock?!? Tsk Tsk! {grin}, just kidding, what a beaut. I have his brochure
and his prices really are awesome. I think perhaps an OM 12-fret in Indian Rosewood is in my future, but
with the narrower neck and, ahem, slotted peg-head.

Shannon C
posted 01-03-2002 12:10 PM


Originally posted by SantosL.Halper:
A 12-fret without a slotted head-stock?!? Tsk Tsk! {grin}, just kidding, what a beaut. I
have his brochure and his prices really are awesome. I think perhaps an OM 12-fret in
Indian Rosewood is in my future, but with the narrower neck and, ahem, slotted

Thanks for the review/info. I've been very intrigued by his products for

Hey, I like the solid headstock . Besides, I wanted the guitar to have something unusual about it.
Besides, slotted headstocks are a pain in the butt to re-string.

Let me know if you get something from Jim. I'd love to hear all about it!


Chuck Sacayan
posted 01-03-2002 01:52 PM


Originally posted by Dr. LJ:
Worland is located about an hour and a half away from me and I have given some
consideration to heading on over and checking his operations out. After seeing your
new guitar, I am more sure than ever that I will do so.

Dr. LJ

If you happen to see one of his little parlor models laying around on your visit, please do a little
fingerpicking for me. And don’t forget to send me the details.

Thanks, Chuck

Worland Guitars - 810 North First Street - Rockford, IL 61107 - 815.961.8854


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