Bourgeois Touchstone Vintage OM & Dreadnought: is this the future of high-end production acoustic guitars?
Dana Bourgeois is one of the world’s foremost acoustic luthiers, but his guitars have price tags to match. Can the new hybrid Chinese/American Touchstone series bring Dana’s genius to the masses?
Bourgeois Touchstone Vintage OM and Dreadnought. Image: Adam Gasson
Quite honestly, I’ve been looking forward to this review. Some time ago I had a Zoom call with Dana Bourgeois and Pepjin ’t Hart of Bourgeois and Eastman Guitars respectively and during the conversation they let slip that they had an exciting new project in the planning stages. A bold and brilliant way to marry meticulous North American soundboard construction and hand-voicing, together with Asian production techniques.
I was sworn to secrecy at the time, but since that day I had been hoping that eventually a box containing one of these intriguing instruments would arrive at my door. In actual fact, when it did happen, I got two – an Orchestra Model and a Dreadnought.
There are many North American brands building acoustic guitars in the traditional Martin Guitars style – the irony being that what started out as “they don’t make them how they used to” copies of vintage instruments very quickly evolved into new and inspiring signature sounds. This is certainly true of Dana Bourgeois who, since founding the company that bears his name in 1977, has won a solid reputation for extremely responsive instruments – made from the finest materials – each of which is individually voiced.
This no-compromise approach has inevitably meant that Bourgeois Guitars command prices that are similarly without compromise – as Bourgeois himself noted, “At an average street price of about $6,500, a Bourgeois guitar is beyond the reach of 95 per cent of all guitar players.” But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Well, back in 2019 something very interesting happened – Bourgeois and Eastman announced they were partnering to make affordable instruments together. In fact, it would transpire that Eastman’s parent company bought a controlling stake in Bourgeois, meaning that the two companies had a unique opportunity to explore their collaboration. Very nearly four years (and the small matter of a global pandemic) later, we have the fruits of this partnership; the Touchstone series.
What makes these guitars so interesting – and notably different to the standard ‘American brand creates licensed guitars in Asian factory’ routine – is that Bourgeois’ USP remains intact. Each Touchstone guitar has its soundboard created and hand-tuned at Dana’s Lewiston, Maine workshop, with these braced tops then being shipped to China where Eastman’s expert luthiers fit them to bodies and necks produced there.
It’s a clever and innovative idea – and helps bring the price down considerably. Okay, it’s not budget by any stretch, but it’s now occupying the same territory as a US-made Martin or Taylor, and that’s a big difference.
Having played literally hundreds of Bourgeois guitars over the years I’ve come to expect certain things from these beautiful instruments; immaculate fit and finish being high on the list. At first glance both of these guitars look identical to their entirely USA-made counterparts. The quality of construction is superb – as we have come to expect from Eastman. The only give-away is the blue-tinged Touchstone series label in each instrument.
The backs and sides of both guitars are made from Indian rosewood, and in each case we have high-quality, straight grained wood which is definitely in keeping with the vintage styling of these instruments.
The soundboards are made from old-growth Alaskan Sitka spruce, with Adirondack spruce bracing. While we wouldn’t blame Bourgeois for keeping their best wood for their USA-made guitars this is still very attractive stuff with beautiful cross sinking and dark winter grain lines.
Both guitars feature a 25.5” scale length and 14-fret to the body mahogany necks – each of which has a slight vintage V in the carve. This makes them very comfortable and the 1.75” nut width allows enough fretting hand space for the majority of players.
My first arpeggiated chords on the OM are intensely confusing. This guitar sounds and responds like a full-spec North American Bourgeois and there is nothing in the timbral spectrum or dynamic range that feels anything other than cohesive, musical and inspiring. It is beautifully balanced.
Dana Bourgeois was a pioneering force behind Schoenberg guitars and played a major role in the resurgence of interest in the Orchestra Model in the 1980s. Before this, the poor old OM had been all but forgotten – even by Martin – which is a crying shame considering how incredibly versatile these guitars can be. If you’re looking for one guitar to do it all then an OM should definitely be on your radar – and this is a particularly good one.
From delicate fingerstyle in DADGAD and Orkney tunings to supporting vocals with energetic strumming, this guitar consistently rises to the occasion. It is well-balanced, immediate, articulate and a joy to play. Now for the D!
Ask most people in the world to draw you an acoustic guitar and there’s a good chance that the results will resemble the ubiquitous Martin Dreadnought design. This guitar certainly does look the part. It’s an elegant, and well-balanced dreadnought. The Ziricote headstock cap and marquetry zipper backstop on both these guitars elevates them to another level of grace and gravitas.
Bourgeois is well known for its superb dreads – from the Dana Bourgeois signature model and the explosive Banjo Killer Bryan Sutton signature to the relatively humble Country Boy – there is something about Bourgeois’s asymmetrical soundboard thicknessing techniques that really brings out powerful monopole and cross-dipole movement – the results being a responsive and musical guitar.
Applying a medium gauge pick to the dreadnought brings a smile to my face – we are in immediate, explosive bluegrass territory here with shimmering chords and fat lead lines across the lower mid and bass registers. Angle the plectrum a little and you can go from a whisper to a roar in a heartbeat.
Unkind commentators have dismissed the venerable dreadnought as boomy and inarticulate – this may be true in lesser examples of mass-produced guitars, but in this case we have nothing but muscular, warm timbre and immediate response.
Compromises must have been made somewhere along the line with these guitars but it’s not immediately obvious exactly where. Look, the case isn’t as posh as the TKL number you’ll get with a USA-made guitar and the tuners are Schaller Grand Tune rather than Waverleys, but aside from that there is very little to separate these instruments from those leaving the Bourgeois factory in Lewiston – except the fact that they’re about half the price.
I very rarely award perfect scores, and in order for an instrument (or instruments in this case) to achieve this it has to be the absolute top contender in a particular price point. The fact that these guitars currently come in under the tricky £3,000 bar is almost as impressive as the guitars themselves.