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This article was originally published in issue #50
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As far as Lowdens go, the O-23 is a relatively affordable guitar – relative to other acoustics of this level on the market of course, since the O-23 is still a very expensive proposition for any guitar player.
Incredible build quality
Beautiful, handsome and understated looks
Unbelievable tone and response
Superb playability and set-up
Included deluxe hardcase
A good price for this level of guitar
It's still a lot of money for most players
George Lowden's guitars are some of the most highly regarded in the world. Tom Quayle tries really hard not to get out his credit card....
George Lowden has, for many years now, produced some of the best acoustic guitars in the business. His ‘Original’ series were the first guitars produced under his own design from 1976 onwards, featuring a large distinctive body shape and an equally large and distinctive tone.
The O-23 is a variation on the first O-22 model, featuring a stunning walnut back and sides with a beautiful red cedar top, 5-piece mahogany and maple neck matched with a pitch black ebony fretboard. The O-22 was constructed with more traditional materials - a mahogany back and sides, so the O-23 variant is much more striking from a visual perspective, thanks to its significantly more figured walnut build. In typical Lowden fashion, the guitar includes some stunningly executed, yet subtle, appointments such as flamed maple binding, rosewood headfacings and a rosewood and maple rosette and purfling. Each of these elements adds to the classic good looks and feel of earthy sophistication that exudes from Lowden guitars – the O-23 being a particularly handsome example.
Nothing is over the top here, you’ll find no abalone inlays or mother of pearl accoutrements. Even the gold coloured Gotoh SG381 tuners are finished with dark ebony buttons to ensure that nothing gets too ‘bling’ or distracts from the core design.
Lowden build quality is truly off the charts here, giving a real sense of expert workmanship and knowledge. It’s a bit of a cliché, but you can really feel that someone has poured hours of work into this guitar and loves the process and craft of it all. Everything is just so precisely put together, without ever feeling cold or clinical, and to be able to reap the benefits of this work as a musician is a real treat to behold. The five-piece neck is unusual for acoustic guitars, more common in the electric guitar and bass world, but it adds huge levels of strength and rigidity to the neck, making it far less prone to warping or the effects of climate changes.
Whilst the O-23 is undoubtedly a big guitar, especially at its back end, it never feels like a handful or unwieldy. The satin finish used on the body and neck feels remarkably smooth under the hands, protecting your investment without ever sacrificing the playability of the guitar. The factory set-up is also superb, with a low to medium action that makes playing fast or slow a breeze, thanks to the neck profile that will feel extremely comfortable and familiar, even to electric players.
As with all Lowdens however, the real treat begins when you start to experience the tone on offer. A simple strum of the open strings reveals a level of richness from the O-23 that many other guitars can only dream of. The sound has bags of authority or subtlety depending on how you play with an incredible frequency range and sustain that just makes you feel great about every note you play. If the guitar was hard to play you could be pulled away from this tonal experience, but the O-23 is such a pleasure in the hands that you can just enjoy the incredible sound it produces, helping to bring forth your best musicality and playing. A lot of superfluous terms get floated around when describing guitar tone, but it’s safe to say that this guitar just sounds exactly the way you want a larger body acoustic to sound in an ideal world. Warm and satisfyingly rich with detailed highs and crisp attack, it just embodies everything you think of when imagining great acoustic guitar tone.
As far as Lowdens go, the O-23 is a relatively affordable guitar – relative to other acoustics of this level on the market of course, since the O-23 is still a very expensive proposition for any guitar player. It has to be considered worth every penny though, since the workmanship, tone and playability are simply as good as it gets, representing countless hours of experience in getting the very best tone and quality out of the humble guitar. Of course, you get a lovely deluxe hardcase to store your prized possession and can custom order all manner of options such as pickups, cutaways, fanned frets and different neck profiles. If you have the cash, the Lowden O-23 is as good as it gets and we are all very jealous indeed! For the rest of us, George Lowden once again gives us something to aspire to.