Lowden Reviews

O50c – Guitar Aficionado Review

George Lowden, whose shop is located in Downpatrick, Ireland, introduced his O model guitar in 1977, and it quickly established his reputation as a master luthier. This O50c, which features exotic AAAA-grade woods and other high-end appointments, is a custom version of Lowden’s O model, which has remained essentially unchanged in design.

It provides irrefutable evidence that Lowden deserves the praise he receives. It is stunning in form and function, beautiful to behold, a delight to play, and, most of all, capable of producing all manner of unearthly tones.

Lowden touts the O model as particularly well suited to fingerstyle guitarists, and in the early years of its existence the guitar was a favorite among players of Celtic and Celtic-style music, most notably the French artist Pierre Bensusan. (After playing an O model for years, Bensusan asked George Lowden to build him a smaller instrument. The guitar that emerged became the template for the Lowden Pierre Bensusan Signature Model.)

Lowden’s reputation for excellence, and the fact that I am primarily a fingerstyle player, made me eager to check out the O50c cutaway. The guitar, which comes with a rock-solid Hiscox case, is dazzling to look at. The body and sides are made of cocobolo, a dark and lavishly grained wood imported by Lowden from Central America, and the binding is made of rich mahogany. The guitar’s top is constructed of the highest-grade redwood spruce.

The pretty picture is enlivened by a five-piece mahogany neck with rosewood splices, an ebony fretboard with maple fingerboard bindings, a rosewood bridge, and purfling made of rosewood, maple, and mahogany. The ebony headstock is graced with Gotoh gold/black 510 tuners with ebony buttons. The only adornment for adornment’s sake is an abalone rosette. But for all its effusion of color and shade, the O50c’s appearance is simple, like a work of folk art. It’s a handmade guitar built by a luthier and a staff of 11 craftsmen in a workshop in a charming Northern Irish village, and it looks it.

I was surprised to find that the neck width at the nut is only 1 3/4 inches. It felt wider, maybe because the action was very low, but not so low that it causes the strings to buzz. The action was consistently comfortable, even to the uppermost frets made accessible by the cutaway. Augmenting the guitar’s playability on this particular O50 is a bevel—a groove on which the player can rest his right arm—located on the bass side, near the back of the guitar. Any guitarist with back issues will certainly appreciate this feature.

Playing a note on the high E string, I was instantly struck by the guitar’s remarkable sustain. I strummed an E chord and allowed it to ring—and it kept ringing. Paul McCartney, who is as fond of counterpoint as any pop or rock steel-string acoustic guitarist—think “Blackbird” or “Junk”—would love this guitar and its perfectly balanced tone. I played those tunes and was gratified to hear the bass and treble lines and brushed chords with unwonted (for me) clarity. In the late Seventies, the premier piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons issued a catalog which proclaimed that “every note on a Steinway is music.” The same may be said of the O50c.

A final point: after playing a few chords on the O50c, I was surprised at how loud it was, how the bass strings boomed like bronze cannons and the treble strings sliced like knives. This Lowden certainly possesses many qualities that fingerstylists covet, but this is no delicate parlor guitar. It could just as successfully be employed by rock, bluegrass, and jazz rhythm players, as well as soloists who will marvel at its dynamic range and swoon at its sweet sound, uncanny sustain, and marvelous intonation. In short, it would be cherished by anyone who appreciates a great guitar.