Martin Guitars makes some of the most famous, most recognizable guitars in the world. But are luthiers taking Martin’s general design to make better Martin guitars than Martin can make?
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Now, I love Martin Guitars. Specifically, I love their bluegrass dreadnoughts that have become the gold-standard in the acoustic guitar industry. But, given the reach and breadth of Martin’s market share, I think it’s fair to shed some light on the smaller builders.
That’s why in today’s episode, you’re going to see 6 guitar makers who are making better Martin guitars than martin.
If you’ve ever wondered which guitars are better than Martin, specifically when it comes to bluegrass dreadnoughts, this video is for you!
I’ll share with you 6 guitar makers, where they’re located, their building philosophy, and a quick review of one of their best bluegrass dreadnoughts.
You’ll get a chance to hear from Collings Guitars, Bourgeois Guitars, Thompson Guitars, and so many more!
Bourgeois’ Bryan Sutton LE Dreadnaught. It is a beast – loud but balanced. Dana put it all into this one. It’s a true joy to play.
I absolutely love my Martin D-28. These other guitars highlighted are fantastic guitars and would be a delight to own. However, comparing my $3500 guitar to guitars that start around $5000 and up is hardly a valid comparison.
very well put, Walt.
a very insightful point as the “Martin sound’ is the benchmark, the goal they are all trying to achieve.
I have a sort of ideal guitar sound that I am searching for still 🙂 I play and love Bluegrass, but if I would pick one guitar I would like to own – never heard it live though – is the D28 Hank Snow used to play early on. Not sure of the year, but probably somewhere ’40s. I love my 1971 D35, which I bought in 1974 and have used it everywhere, excellent. I own 2 Collings, a D42A and a CJ with Indian Rosewood, which I prefer to the D42A, which is (too) loud, but not warm. The CJ has it all, Than I recently bought a hand made Yamaha LL36, beautiful guitar, beautiful sound, warm, clear, bass and sounds great, even with the capo on 7 or so, keeps on ringing….. At this moment from what I have seen, read and heard – also from you and JP Cormier – I think the Boucher BG52 Bluegrass guitar is the most amazing I have heard and I have ordered one, also following John Cormier and your comments. I wonder if that one will have all my Collings CJ and the LL36 has + more…. Can’t wait to play and hear that BG52. Best wishes and thanks for all your interesting and very enjoyable videos!
Boucher Guitar gets my vote for dreadnaughts that match Martin outputs. I was introduced to Boucher when my brother ( Roy Johnstone – PEI fiddler ) took us to see J.P.Cormier live at a local small venue show. He put on a show that was amazing and his Boucher was incredible in his hands. How about those Jets!! Watching from Winnipeg.
I would agree, but Boucher is not a USA builder. Maybe that was not in the criteria, but follows the 6 named.
Tony, I have to agree all 6 builders can make a NEW dreadnaught sound better than a NEW Martin Dreadnaught… not including a Martin Custom Shop Authentic. But maybe that’s for another discussion. But what about BEFORE THE DREADNAUGHT for those with smaller bodies, hands and just as big goals? Who makes a better Martin 000 or OM better than Martin? There’s your challenge!
I’m looking for guitar with good bass, with good finger picking and straight pick, short scale, and possibly a 12 fret? Maybe a thin soft V or thinner (than classic) neck profile? Not too glitzy. Taylor makes some great playable guitars, but not a Martin sounding guitar. Am I looking at a Santa Cruz H-13 or Bourgeois Deep Body OM? What say you? What do you have in your Guitarsenal in that line?
I have a Boucher Heritage Goose 000, loving it!
I own a ’97 Taylor R420 that I would stand that one up to many other dreads…except the Thompson. It’s almost a mini-jumbo sized with a super rich bass and mid for flat picking, but smooth enough for finger style.
Thanks for sharing the great examples! I’ve seen Goodall, Froggy Bottom and Dudenbostel guitars that are also supposed to be “all that.”
Tony. I have been looking at Zaeger Guitar Company. Am wondering if you’ve heard of them. Woul be interested in you opinion of them.
Lots of fun tony. I don’t like dreadnoughts; don’t find them visually appealing, but these sound great. I don’t like Martin’s sound either; only when I heard a Road series did i find one that appealed to me. I always adored the looks and feel of them though; you know you’re getting a guitar that has been built by people who care (well, except for the backpacker’s….i had two of them and bleeeccchh). BUt i guess that punchy non-resonant sound is better for strumming and flat picking when you don’t want a lot of overtones and sustain running into the next chord or note.
I recently started playing again after nearly 2 decades off. I’d played classical for twenty years and man, did I fit your description of someone who wasn’t progressing. Same dozen pieces, never mastered any of them. Just gave up. Then in Jan 2020 I retired and decided I’d start again. My goal was to play Watermelon by Leo Kottke and Desperate Man Blues by John Fahey. I figured if I could play them, well, then I’d have accomplished something.
Glad to say I can muscle through them both. I don’t play either perfectly, but I absolutely delight in the sounds I can make, and those times where I almost hit it, well, it is pure elation. What turned me around? Well, believe it or not, it was tablature. Instead of fighting to figure out the fingering and what the hell was that note on the staff, tab made it easy. Then there was the internet. I rarely had any useful drills given to me. Just play scales. But I have a strong right hand from fingerpicking Travis style, but a weak left hand pinky. SUddenly I was able to find all sorts of drills from you, Paul Davids, Darrel Braun, and others. If i didn’t know what i was doing, I could find a video of someone else playing the piece to help figure out fingering and tempo. So i just kept plugging away, letting the music dictate what i focused on. If i flubbed a note with my pinky I’d drill it with the song and some drills. If I fouled up the rhythm or a transition, I’d focus on that. IN a year I’ve played a dozen finger style songs I would never have dreamed I could play – Embryonic Journey, bunch of Kottke songs, Fahey, Bruce Cockburn and others. And during 2020 I also hand made a steel string finger style 000 acoustic which helped motivate me. It’s very classic looking – Venetian cutaway, abalone purfling, and it sounds terrific – exceeded my wildest dreams – so that helped with the motivation.
As far as these makers are concerned, you’d get no arguments from me. Having said that, well, I’m a Furch fanboy now. They sound better (even the laminates) than my handmade guitar and better than my vintage Yamaha FG1500.
Keep up the good motivational work.
Has anyone played a Zager? I have one on order. It will be interesting to try it.
My main guitar is a 1998 Guild DV-52, which my wife gave me new for Christmas. I lean heavily toward bluegrass in my listening, playing and writing, and my Guild will handle anything bluegrass-related that I’ve ever tried. As always, your mileage may vary.
I’ve owned Collins they are good & I love them BUT they are not Better than MARTIN. Played Thompson loved them also, I will Put my Martin D-18GE against the Thompson any time much less the Authentic.. This is getting old. While back it was Taylor vs Martin or this company vs Martin. Maybe this is just not a site for me or Martin owners
At the time I bought my HD-28VR my standards for comparison were other D-28s. a comparable Taylor rosewood dreadnaught, and the Alvarez I’d been playing for a couple years. I was looking for a “grind” in the low and midrange that I was hearing in some John Starling recordings, and this Martin produced it. And its tone got many complements at our Sunday afternoon hoots. Over time I drifted from bluegrass, though, which meant playing in “horn” keys, and my Martin sounded “choked” in Ab, Bb, Db, F. It only really opened up in G, D, A, and C. And I found all rosewood Martin dreadnaughts did this to some extent, even the HD-28VR Golden Era. Jump to lunchtime jams with a work buddy who’d just bought a used Santa Cruz. I was blown away by the balance (more midrange) and its ability to sound good in all keys. Live and learn, and open your ears.
Thank you Tony! Loved your Acoustic Tuesday email today. It was very inspiring!
I have always wanted a Bourgeois guitar, but now I want a Thompson!
Zager ZAD 900CE
I consider the Santa Cruz the best guitar. It sounds great, has a fullness of sound, doesn’t seem to favour any frequency, unlike many other guitars, which seems to my ears, favour one frequency. For example a Japanese copy of a Gibson Hummingbird was very dominant on the open G string.
my older twin brothers had the same band name before 2002 called acoustic life and their cd n band name is copyrighted but they also changed their name to in lost terrain but anyways i wanted to say good choice for band name!!
I’ll throw in a few names: Wayne Henderson, Kim Walker, and TJ Thompson.
I’ve owned a few D28s, 1 Hd28 which I truly miss, Santa Cruz F model, Gibson J45 standard , Collings 02 12 H, but the best sound personally for me is my Collings D2HA (traded a D28 and a flatiron f mandolin for it at The Darrington bluegrass festival, it was 3 days old… when it opened up my goodness gracious , I’m sure there’s better guitars out there ( I’ve never played a Henderson! ) so manny guitars ,so little time!