Kiso Klein OMK-1. (Bench Tests)
Ellis, Andy, Guitar Player
One of the premier luthiers in the U.S., Steve Klein is known for his forward-thinking designs and immaculate execution. Klein electrics feature an ergonomic body shape and neck angle, and acoustic Kleins boast a ringing, bell-like bass and physics-defying sustain. To score a Klein flat-top, you have to put your name on a wailing list, or be lucky enough to find one in a boutique guitar shop. Impatient pickers--and those who can't swing the $6,500-$15,000 price tag of a custom Klein--will be intrigued by KisoKlein flat-tops. Handbuilt by a team of craftsmen in Japan's Kiso valley--an area with a 1,000-year tradition of woodworking and a long history of instrument building--these premium guitars are based on Klein's designs, yet are more readily available and much more affordable than his custom instruments. I tested Kiso's finger-style model, the OMK-1 ($3,300 direct, custom Cedar Creek hard-shell case included).
The solid-wood OMK-1 represents a cool mix of radical ideas and conservative building techniques. Its ample, yet gracefully proportioned body has a Sitka spruce top, Indian rosewood back and sides, and koa binding enhanced with wood-strip purfling. As wide as a Martin dreadnought, yet with the shallower depth of a 000 flat-top, the OMK-1's body pumps plenty of air while remaining comfortable to hold. Its high-gloss, UV polyurethane finish is as smooth as glass.
Joining the body at the 14th fret, the mahogany neck has a fast, modern feel, thanks to its low profile and satin finish. The 20 medium frets are evenly trimmed and lovingly crowned and polished--no sharp edges or file marks here. The guitar's is 1 3/4" nut width and 12"-radius ebony fretboard offer a wide, gently curved playing surface that will appeal to experienced fingerpickers, and a generous 2 1/4" E-to-Estring spacing at the saddle promises to accommodate even burly fingertips. The nut and compensated saddle are made of richly marbled synthetic bone (its natural base is derived from elephant's milk), and both are shaped and fitted with extraordinary precision. Like a classical guitar, the fretboard has no position markers (the small abalone dots in the koa fretboard binding should provide sufficent visual feedback for most players).
Because it's internally bolted to the body; the neck has no heel. This design allows unhindered access to the twelfth position, and it also lets you maintain thumb support while reaching up to the highest frets. Sporting a flawless inlay of a crane in flight, a slim koa cap covers the neck joint and holds a wooden strap button. Accessed through the soundhole, the smooth-turning, two-way trussrod is easy to reach with the supplied hex wrench. A pair of steel rods run through the neck, increasing stiffness and reinforcing the neck joint. These rods also make the guitar a tad neck heavy.
The OMK-1's elongated headstock allows the strings to leave the nut at a shallower angle and run to the tuners in a straighter line than on traditional Gibson or Martin headstocks. The benefit is less tension and binding at the nut, which translates to easier tuning. Equipped with ebony buttons, the Kiso's gold Gotoh tuners turn with a solid, silky feel. Kiso and Klein logos respectively grace the headstock and upper fretboard. Made from pieces of koa and milk bone (not the kind dogs love to chew), these understated inlays are perfect--no gaps, no black epoxy, no tool marks. The rosette is equally impressive. It's an elegant and eye-popping marriage of abalone, koa, milk bone, and fine wood strips.
The Kiso's asymmetrical, "impedance matching" ebony bridge is unique. …