This week we have a review of the rather unique Ibanez ORM1 Omar Rodriguez Lopez signature left handed guitar. Usually I wouldn’t even consider a guitar with retro styled looks such as this one but then I noticed that it was a shorter 24” scale length and my curiosity got the better of me.
Okay, so it’s more a recount of my past month with the ORM1 than a proper review, but hopefully you can still take something from it. Information on this guitar is rather thin on the ground so hopefully I can help point potential buyers in the right direction.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT? NOT ENTIRELY…
I sauntered into my local guitar store exactly 4 weeks ago to the day intent on giving this interesting little guitar a thorough investigation. ‘Little’ is the keyword here folks as this thing is tiny, I thought someone had mistakenly hung up a GuitarHero controller when I spotted it hiding in the corner. I was almost a little too embarrassed to request to give it a spin.
The sales rep grabbed it down for me and set me up in the store’s soundproof booth so we could have our intimate one-on-one session. First off, let me tell you i’m glad the room was soundproof because this thing sounded HORRIBLE. To be fair there were a lot of factors affecting the sonic diarrhea taking place in that booth. I was incredibly sweaty due to it being a beast of a day, I had no idea how to fine tune the amp, the action was ridiculously high and the ORM1 pickup was just weak sounding and incredibly shrill at the same time.
OK, I’LL TAKE IT!
Nevertheless, there was something about this little ORM1 guitar that urged me to buy it. I’m not a tall individual and so the smaller body shape and thin short-scale neck just seemed to fit me like a dream. I decided that any niggling problems I had with it could be easily rectified and so I handed over the cash and hauled it back home. Luckily it came with a really nice retro-styled gig bag which made dragging it along in the heat that much more bearable.
CLEANING MY ‘NEW’ ORM1 GUITAR
I got it home and whipped out my cleaning products and gave the guitar a thorough going over. LeftyFretz top tip: if you want a spotless guitar do not buy from stores in Glasgow, holy crap that thing was dirty!
As I stated before, the action from the store was a joke, you could probably have shoved a big-mac underneath those strings, so the first thing to be fixed was the string height. The action on the ORM1 can be set super-low, I actually had to raise it a little as it was so low that strings were getting caught underneath each other during bends. I’ve no idea why it was set so high in the store.
ORM1 SESSION NUMBER ONE
With the string height lowered this little beast came to life and was an absolute joy to play. The shorter scale length on the ORM1 meant that previously unattainable stretches were within my reach and I probably could have bent the g-string all the way off the top of the fretboard if I had wanted.
I noodled around for an hour and was almost 100% satisfied with my new purchase. As some of you may know I am a bit of an artificial-harmonic nut and love to throw them into the mix whenever I can, so I was really disappointed to discover that harmonics on this guitar (artificial or otherwise) died out almost immediately. The distorted tone I was getting was just really weak and limp sounding, something I put down to the stock pickup. So I hopped on the net and ordered a replacement Seymour Duncan JB Jr mini-humbucker. I chose this as I knew it was high output and hoped it would help to beef up the guitar’s lacklustre sound. Omar-Rodriguez Lopez uses a JB Jr in his, so I figured it should be a good match.
I also really began to notice the build quality on the ORM1, which is unfortunately less than flawless. The paint job is sloppy around the cavities and there was some paint transfer from the neck cavity onto the neck. Maybe they were in a rush to switch their machines back to assembling right-handed models and couldn’t wait for the paint to dry, who knows.
The frets are typical of what you would find on lower-end guitars. Try doing some vibrato for more than a couple of seconds and you begin to get that nasty scratching sensation. A minor niggle, but a niggle nonetheless.
When attempting to replace a string one of the PLASTIC string holders on the back of the body popped off and disappeared for 15 minutes somewhere in the room. Apparently Ibanez have never heard of super-glue. Again though, a minor niggle.
The tuners are also low quality. Most reviews I have read of the ORM1 have involved the owner replacing them with locking tuners. Don’t get me wrong, they do the job but can definitely be improved upon.
After I had finished my first session I could not unplug my cable from the input jack, it was holding on for dear life! I actually ended up damaging my cable from pulling so hard. It did eventually give it back and the problem hasn’t happened since however.
NEW ORM1 PICKUP TEETHING TROUBLE
Wouldn’t you know it, the JB didn’t fit! The cavity was too tight and the little bugger just wouldn’t squeeze in there, or it would but it would never come out again! So I had to take some sandpaper to my new pickup which I wasn’t too happy about but luckily only a portion of the edges had to be removed. I had noticed a small chip on the side of the pickup cavity in the store before I bought it, but hadn’t thought too much about it. I now realise it was probably damage as a result of the boys at Ibanez trying to shoehorn the stock pickup inside. I sanded away until it was small enough to fit in with wriggling space and soldered it in. Great!
ORM1 STILL SOUNDS WEAK!
Unfortunately the new pickup didn’t help the ORM1 much. The sound was definitely much beefier but those harmonics still eluded it, I just couldn’t understand it. Concluding that the looser strings on the short neck were causing a lack of sustain I upped the strings to 11s, still no dice!
I spent a week enquiring around guitar tech forums for advice on what I could try and was largely unsuccessful in obtaining any concrete answers. Ultimately we decided that the ORM1 was just not designed to produce the kind of sounds I was looking for. I mean, look at it’s features; one pickup, one volume pot! What we have here is a guitar that has been built from the ground up to be played in the style of music performed by Omar in The Mars Volta. I think perhaps I was a little naive to believe that I could use it as a good all-rounder.
As you can probably tell, the ORM1 is not a guitar that I will be keeping as it just doesn’t fit my requirements. I could spend money adding new tuners, a quality bridge, routing a cavity for humbuckers and adding tone pots just to find out that I still can’t get some level of versatility out of it, so for this reason I will be trading it for something a little more suitable. I really wanted to love this guitar and for a while I thought I would, so i’m fairly disappointed to have to let it go. Please don’t take my minor criticisms too seriously, I have high standards and am used to playing high-end guitars. For the money I definitely think this guitar will be hard to beat.
I definitely believe that if you are into a similar genre of music as played by the Mars Volta and are happy with this guitar being solely for that niche then this could be hard to better for the money. Likewise if you are a smaller person and don’t have the largest of hands, this little guitar could be just what you have been looking for! The quality isn’t the best, but for this sort of money it really isn’t something you can complain about (too much!). Try it, you may just love it.
- Neck is fantastic for smaller hands
- Incredibly cheap
- Smaller/lightweight body shape is great for ‘petite’ players
- Sounds great when used for the genre it is designed for
- Poor sustain/harmonics
- Lack of tonal control/versatility
Leave comments below if I missed anything out or if you have any questions
UPDATE1 : A string change and a quick clean with Ernie Ball String Cleaning Wipes and the scratchy fret issue has disappeared from the ORM1. Excellent!