What guitar best fits my playing style?

While many players suggest that small-bodied guitars like 00, 000 and OM’s are more suited to finger-style playing, we feel that there is no “correct” guitar for any style player. As an example, Norman Blake flat picks mostly small-bodied guitars; other players finger-pick dreadnaughts. There is no hard and fast rule – it’s about what you like to hear and what feels right to you.

What neck width and depth should I choose?

Some people feel a certain nut width or string spacing at the bridge is a requirement for a certain style of playing. The reality is that there is no rule here either – most players have a preference regarding neck width and depth but it is a completely personal issue. Compare, for example, two modern-day flat-picking legends: Clay Hess likes a 1 & 3/4 modified V, while Jack Lawrence prefers a full thickness 1 & 11/16ths. Good players can play anything, but usually find a size and width that works for them.

Should I choose mahogany or rosewood?

There are some very definite tonal characteristics that separate these two tone woods. Mahogany is a sweeter, brighter, lighter sounding wood and rosewood is darker and more robust in the bass register and usually has more sustain. We normally encourage people who are strumming and want to provide rhythm support in an ensemble situation to go with rosewood and those who are flat-picking bluegrass leads to choose mahogany – although this also debatable! Again – the determining factor is really what you like to hear.

What kind of tone wood is the best for the top (soundboard)?

The usual discussion centers around spruce – typically Sitka versus Adirondack (Red) versus Englemann versus Italian/Alpine. Sitka and Englemann tend to be warmer and more “rounded”; Adirondack is woody and dry. Italian Alpine is very clear and crisp. Many people feel that the crisper spruces are better for defined clarity when flat-picked and the warmer spruces respond better to bare fingers and strumming.

How do differences in bracing affect tone?

There are actually a number of different bracing patterns; the most common types are straight bracing, scalloped bracing and forward-shifted scalloped bracing. The best-known straight-braced guitars in the Martin line are the D-18, D-28 and D-35. 5/16ths” braces impart a brighter tone; 1/4” braces impart a more profound bass response. Scalloping the braces (which is achieved by shaving some of the wood off of the brace) makes the top vibrate more which creates both bass and volume. Shifting the braces slightly toward the sound hole makes the bass response even stronger.

Is there a difference between models of the same make?

In our experience, we feel there is actually very little variation in modern models of the same guitar (i.e. a Martin D-18 Golden Era or a Santa Cruz OM). Some will disagree with this, but we feel builders like Martin, Santa Cruz, Bourgeois, etc., have synergized all the good stuff they have learned over time and build guitars of excellent consistency. Vintage guitars, however, can vary wildly in tone and balance and many supposedly “great” vintage guitars can be very ho-hum (although once again, this is largely a personal preference, not an empirical fact).

What is the correct humidity level for acoustic guitars?

Ideal humidity is between 40% – 50%.

Why is it important to keep acoustic guitars at the correct humidity level?

Incorrect humidity levels can be very damaging to acoustic guitars over time. Humidity levels that are too low will result in the wood in your guitar drying out and becoming brittle. Also, your neck will start to shrink and the frets can start to come loose. Too much humidity can cause the neck or top of the guitar to warp – making the instrument difficult to play, causing poor intonation, or ultimately forcing a neck re-set or a re-top of the guitar.

Is it bad to ship guitars in cold weather or on Fridays?

When it’s cold, the best thing to do is bring the guitar inside and let it acclimate for 24 hours before you open it – it’s mostly the abrupt climatic change that causes the problem. Our vendors ship us all kinds of guitars on Fridays and we ship many ourselves and we have never had a problem in that regard. Of course, the absolutely safest way to ship a guitar is overnight (because there is less handling), but it’s more expensive.

Is one shipping carrier better than another?

We have found that all the carriers are about the same – they all do a real good job and hardly ever hurt anything. But occasionally, they do – it’s just the laws of probability. The least expensive method is usually US Postal, but they also have the highest number of guitars damaged in shipment.

Will you pick me out a guitar that sounds better than the others?

I believe that tone is hugely subjective. While I am more than happy to play guitars and offer my thoughts, it’s important to remember that how I play is different from how you play, and the kind of pick or picks I use may also be different. Also, what I may think sounds good, you may not. Since we ship most of our guitars, our customers don’t usually play them first. But people have trusted the Martin brand for almost two centuries and the reason they buy a Martin is because they sound great! And in case someone doesn’t like what they get, we have a hassle-free return policy, to help eliminate concerns over “buying-without-playing.”

Aren’t Martins set up really high from the factory?

Years ago, they used to be that way, but nowadays, Martins are set up at the factory with the PLEK Machine which makes sure they are set up nice and low for ease of play-ability. Of course you may have some specific setup requirement, (almost everyone wants “the action as low as it can be without buzzing”) but almost without exception, Martins are nice and low right out of the box.