Sigma DME Series
The DME has a top fashioned from Sitka spruce with a matt finish, mock tortoiseshell scratch plate and a light brown inlaid wood rosette. From what I can see of the inside of the guitar, everything looks very neat and tidy indeed – something that fits in perfectly with the consistent high quality that I’m seeing from Chinese built acoustics today. It looks as if both the top and back of the instrument have been fitted flush to the sides without binding or purfling of any sort. It looks plain, but not unattractive at all.
Speaking of the back, it’s laminated mahogany hereabouts, which you might suspect at this price, but you really would have to look very hard before you noticed it. As such the grain is typically mid to dark brown in hue with the occasional flourish in its patterning.
Moving on to the neck, this is mahogany too, with a separate heel and a scarf joint just below the Sigma-stamped die cast tuners. In terms of profile, the neck is a D which feels fairly wide and slim in the hands. In fact, the spec here tells me that the nut width is 42.9mm which is a tiny bit skinnier than standard, but it’s not in the least obvious when playing.
Sigma’s Martin-esque logo sits at the top of the guitar’s headstock and it’s amazing to pause momentarily to think that the company has been in business in some shape or form for 45 years.
Back to the plot and the DME’s nut is bone and looks expertly cut. In fact the action is about as good as you’re going to find, being on the low to medium spectrum. The fret board is Indian rosewood with 20 well-polished frets with no sharp edges in evidence after a casual finger glide down each side of the neck. On reaching the bridge, there’s a compensated bone saddle and the standard issue six-string pins.
From what I’ve seen so far, everything in terms of quality of workmanship is absolutely fine. The next thing to assess is what the DME sounds like.
I haven’t sampled Sigma’s own pickup and preamp combo before and so this one is totally new to me. I suspected at first that it might be made by one of the usual suspects and merely rebadged, but I can see a sticker on the underside of the preamp through the sound hole that says “Made In China” and so I suspect that Sigma might be rolling their own these days. First things first, however; there’s still a way to go before I plug the DME in. So what is the picture here in terms of sound quality? Always difficult to describe, but I’ll take a shot at it. If you fix in your head an idealised version of the sound of a dreadnought you’d probably agree that it comes down to loud, proud with loads of mid and bottom end, right? After all, dreadnoughts were generally built for power in the days when it was just you and a microphone pointed vaguely at your guitar’s sound hole. You had to project and that takes a lot of body. In the case of the DME there is certainly a lot of volume on tap and when attacked with a pick it produces some truly full sounding chords. If I was to launch any criticism at all it would be that the low end needs bolstering slightly and, at present anyway, the trebles are a mite on the harsh side, but that could well settle down after the guitar has seen a little action. This doesn’t mean that it sounds disappointing – far from it, in fact. This is a useful guitar with a lot of positive tonal attributes and we haven’t even considered the electric side of things yet.
It's no surprise that mahogany-topped acoustic guitars have long been associated with acoustic blues and other uncomplicated music forms - their no-nonsense vibe and relatively unsophisticated voice make them the perfect complement to moody ballads or raunchy work songs. Here we take a look at a prime example, Sigma's S000M-15 - a svelte 000 shape finger style stunner. We recently reviewed Martin's own wonderful M-series instruments, which gained high praise and converted many players to the 'brown sound'. However, we've also looked at Sigma's own laminated versions in the past, and one of these has become an office favorite - often used as a gauge against which acoustics at all price points are judged. So, it was with great anticipation that we received this all-solid instrument with onboard electronics. Built in Korea, it broadly sits between those venerable Martins and their own humbler siblings, but with a spec sheet that makes one scratch the chin and ask: how on earth do they do it for the price? In a timeless, svelte 000 design it appears to offer something to satisfy the needs of many a blues, folk or bluegrass picker or strummer.
The narrow-waisted S000M-15 looks, at first glance, like the plainest of Janes. But in fact, its style is both simple and elegant. The dark-stained mahogany of the top, back, sides and neck, striped rosewood headstock veneer plus pitch-black ebony fingerboard and bridge offer little instant reward for the eyes. Spend a little time, though; look closer, and the guitar begins to exude its own special beauty. The slender body brings the playing area closer to the strumming or picking hand, so if you're required to play complex parts, this might be worth considering.
Although completely unbound - either round the body or along the 20-fret 'board - the five-ply sound hole ring adds subtle decoration. And so simple is the look that the silver frets, white bone nut and saddle, mottled brown pick guard, chrome Grover tuners and gold Sigma logo, adopt the secondary role of added ornamentation. Surprisingly, but itself a subtle nicety, Sigma has chosen to adorn the fingerboard with 42-style abalone snowflake inlays. In dark pink and green shell with flashes of gun-metal silver, they offer welcome respite from the sea of matt brown and black, adding a welcome touch of visual class, and managing not to look out of place in the otherwise meager surroundings. Built from solid mahogany all round - no laminates showing around the unbound edges (always a give-away on cheaper guitars of this type) - another happy discovery is that, while the neck does feature tell-tale joins halfway up the heel, there's no messy-looking scarf joint at the headstock. Sigma has gone to the trouble of including diamond volutes, just like on much more expensive Martin and Martin-derived instruments. The smell of the guitar gives away the fact that it is finished in polyester and not nitrocellulose. That said, it's certainly not smothered in the stuff - for instance, there's no unsightly build-up around the dovetailed neck joint - and overall, the look is anything but plastic-y. In fact, the subtle graining of the mahogany glows beautifully through the matt, as opposed to hiding behind a sea of shiny reflections, which would be the case with a gloss finish. The grain pattern is sure to vary from instrument to instrument, so shop around and choose one that you like. Strung with Martin strings, the action is medium to low, and the neck is shaped to give the player no surprises in the performance department. The 000 body size makes for an easy guitar to hang around the neck and play standing up. The slender body brings the playing area closer to the strumming or picking hand, so if you're required to play complex parts, this might be worth considering.
The compensated bone saddle means intonation is as good as it gets on an acoustic, and should you choose to tune to an open chord and pick up a bottleneck, the string tension from the 645mm (25.4-inch) scale length is enough to make this a relatively rattle-free experience.
"The S000M-15's upper-mid definition makes the guitar ideal as the lead instrument in acoustic scenarios"
There's something about the sound of all-mahogany guitars that's incredibly appealing. True, they lack the frequency range, finesse and tonal transparency of a quality rosewood and spruce model, but it's these very limitations that give the 'instruments' such purpose as bluegrass, folk or country-blues guitars. While it lacks the bottom-end boom of a dreadnaught, the S000M-15 makes up for this in upper-mid definition - which translates into projection and makes the guitar ideal as the lead instrument in acoustic scenarios. And while it naturally associates it more with finger style than strumming, it certainly doesn't disgrace itself in that department. With volume and tone controls mounted ready for a fingertip's brush within the upper rim of the sound hole, Fishman's popular Sonitone under-saddle transducer and built-in preamp is a no-nonsense solution to amplifying the Sigma’s.
The system's inherent sound is honest and uncomplicated, with very little of that intrusive piezo 'ping', and controls that are intuitive and offer enough tone tailoring to suit any straightforward live situation. Some players want everything on the guitar; others want as little as possible. This reviewer is in the latter camp: nothing cleverer is required. It's worth a quick reminder that this guitar is a solid mahogany construction, with a quality neck, real ebony fingerboard and bridge, bone nut and compensated bone saddle, chrome Grover tuners and abalone inlays. It also features a Fishman Sonitone pickup and preamp system with sound hole volume and tone controls and comes in a decent-quality padded gig bag. All that for just £499 - it's a very persuasive prospect. Should your tastes be for smaller-bodied guitars, or you describe yourself as more picker than strummer, the S000-15 will fit such needs admirably. It's got enough guts to cut through the sonic melee of an acoustic jam, or will happily accompany a solo voice. Of course, it can be played 'plugged', too. It's very hard to find a downside here. When we consider what was available just a few years ago for this relatively affordable amount of money, we have to ask again: how do they do it? And while we can't be entirely sure of the answer, what we can say is that we're mighty glad that they do.