Worland OM has vintage vibe and tone
Author: Dick Sanders
Location: Southern California
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!