Lowden's 022C is as close as you can get to the astonishing warhorse used by Jon Gomm in his performances in this issue. But take away the multiple mics (not to mention a fair few dents and dings!) and how does it perform as an acoustic guitar in its own right? Rick Graham won our 'I want to review that one!' lottery.
The Lowden O22C is a design that has not only stood the test of time but has become regarded as the classic model that best encapsulates the Lowden 'sound'. The original design was conceived way back in mid-seventies under the model name 'S' and as George Lowden himself states: "I have re-introduced the 22 model, having fond memories of it. When I first designed it in 1976/7 it was sweet and clear deep and resonant, not at all heavy or muddy even though the O is a jumbo size guitar. Great for strumming and picking alike."
Still made in Northern Ireland, the Lowden brand has gone from strength to strength down the years and can currently count some of the world's finest acoustic players and fleet fingered fingerpickers among its impressive artist roster. I couldn't wait to get stuck in!
The first thing you'll notice about the O22C is its somewhat minimalist appearance. Personally, I find it somewhat reassuring and an indicator that it is a guitar that doesn't need to rely on added extras to signpost its quality. In fact it has the aesthetic attributes that you find in classical guitar design and a quick glance at George Lowden's resume confirms that during some time in France, he did indeed devote some of his time to constructing classic guitars.
At the heart of the O22C lies the perfect marriage of two choice classic tonewoods; a cedar soundboard cedar and back and sides made of mahogany. These fine pieces of wood have been beautifully bound using maple. On the soundboard you'll find a perfectly set pinless rosewood bridge with a split saddle design, one bone saddle for the top two treble strings, and another saddle for the lower four strings. According to Lowden, this split saddle design improves intonation and is a design that has been rolled out across the company's entire line of instruments.
The 022C's neck is constructed using five pieces of a combination of mahogany and maple, which have been meticulously joined. The idea here is that the combination of woods endows the guitar with immense strength and stability (looking at Jon Gomm's battered example I'd say we can take that as proven! - Ed) . It's apparently ideal for players who favour alternate tunings.
Gracing the neck is an ebony fretboard that comes without fretmarkers, again a nod to the classical guitar design approach.
Tuners come in the form of Gotoh Gold and Ebony 503 tuners, which make for a nice visual pairing with the headstock and ebony neck and are, mechanically, as good as it gets. The finishing touches to the O22C include the exquisite sycamore, rosewood, walnut and mahogany purfling, which is the repeated on the rosette, minus the walnut. All this is topped-off and a very attractive hand-rubbed satin finish.
Picking up a Lowden O22 and you soon realise that it is a guitar of some considerable size. I am a classical guitar player, so I'm comfortable with this, but players with smaller bodies or who just prefer smaller shapes, might be best advised to look elsewhere in the Lowden range, which does offer plenty of choice. Of course, the plus side to that size is a considerable amount of power - but power that is beautifully well balanced. This is also an instrument that responds exceptionally well to what you put into it. Very responsive, in fact, and also very warm but without the lack of clarity that can sometimes be found with cedar top guitars. I couldn't help detuning to various alternate tunings and the O22C felt very stable and produced a remarkably piano like sound with some chords.
Having finally tried one, I can understand why the O22C is so widely revered as the classic Lowden guitar. The meticulous attention to detail on this instrument is stunning and is a fine example of the quality of workmanship that you can expect from a genuine specialist luthier like George Lowden.
Check out our video to hear just how fine this wonderful guitar sounds. If I had to make a specific recommendation (in fact it would work for a lot of different styles and techniques) I think it would be particularly well suited to those who spend a lot of time playing using alternate tunings - and as we have seen from Jon Gomm's instrument it's capable of a hard life as a professional, working instrument - which is not something you can say of all acoustic guitars, even some very expensive ones. Its powerful sound, impressive sustain and crystal clear note separation make it a simply stunning instrument indeed. For a handbuilt, professional grade, instrument it isn't even very expensive, which is why we've given it the extra half a star for value.