So I was looking through one of my many guitar magazines, and I saw a great find, a Martin D-16 for $2000. I don’t think this is a sale price because on the Martin site it is $2700 retail. The features on it are (straight from martin guitar.com)
-14 playable frets
-Solid Adirondack top
-Solid Mahogany or sapele back and sides (basically the same type of tonewood. They use to call sapele
mahogany for a long time just because mahogany was a more prestigious name but now they separate the two)
-Neck is made of select hardwood, probably mahogany again
-25.4” scale length
-Corian nut and 1-3/4”
-Finish on the top and sides is polished gloss, not nitro cellulose probably where they are saving money
-satin neck finish
This is certainly a beautiful guitar but it looks like the kept the rest of the guitar pretty plain to justify the use of Adirondack spruce
Why the big deal?
Guitar tops are usually made out of 3 different types of wood; cedar, spruce and mahogany. If you notice 2 of these are conifers or softwood, cedar and spruce. Then the last is a hard wood or deciduous.
Adirondack (also called red spruce) is usually preferred over Sitka spruce because of the stiffness to weight ratio. You want a lighter weight to higher stiffness. So Adirondack has a higher weight to stiffness ration, or low weight high stiffness. This makes it ideal for guitars where you want to have a lot of vibration but durability. Sitka spruce has a high ratio also although not as high as Adirondack. However there is one problem. Sitka spruce trees are enormous one of the largest conifers in the Americas. Adirondacks are small and hard to get large sheets of wood for guitar tops. This is the same dilemma for Englemann spruce which is similar to Adirondack. This is not to say Sitka is bad (laminate is bad), but Adirondack is better.
So this also mean it is much more expensive. It can be a $1000 upgrade to switch from Sitka to Adirondack. So this should make it clear why the guitar is a good buy.
Cedar is generally used for classical guitars because that’s just how it is. Apparently, spruce used to be used a lot more for classical guitars but now cedar has become the standard, but high end classical guitars use spruce more. However, cedar is softer and classical guitars have a lot less string tension. I also believe that using cedar put less strain on spruce trees which is good for regrowth.
Mahogany is used as a top to get more of a bass, warm tone. It doesn’t have the clarity of Spruce that many musicians look for. Still a good tone wood and used more on the sides and back.
Sides and back don’t actually add that much to the sound of the guitar. Antonio Torres Jurado actually built a guitar with the sides and back made out of paper mache to prove that the material doesn’t matter. I still like solid back and sides to my guitars but sound wise the top makes more of the difference. So if you can afford it go with the best top you can buy. It should also be noted that personal taste trumps all of this so if you like a laminate guitar’s sound. Go with it.
There is so much to say about tone woods and next will probably be rose wood, but I’ll save those problems for another post.
Any other guitars you think are a great buy? Or maybe ones to stay away from?