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5 Best Mahogany-Top Small-Body Acoustic Guitars

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.


All-Mahogany Guitars: Woodier, Warmer and More Mellow

Playing an all-mahogany guitar can separate you from the crowd. Most steel string acoustic guitars have either a spruce or cedar top on them. But mahogany used as a soundboard is not something new. It is as traditional a tonewood for a soundboard as any other, it is just a very different wood.

A mahogany soundboard sometimes produces less volume, and can have less in the way of projection; and more in the way of focus. Are you a finger-style blues fanatic? An all-mahogany guitar may be just the right guitar for you and your style of playing.

It can be tough to find words to describe the different tonal characteristics of different guitars. Some descriptions I see often for all-mahogany guitars include notions the sound is woodier, warmer, and more mellow. I can't disagree with those descriptions. They work well enough.

Why Buy an All-Mahogany Small-Body Guitar?

Some of America's finest poetic lyricists have made their way to the national consciousness while playing all-mahogany small-body guitars. Woody Guthrie was forever playing a Martin 00-17, and insisting the guitar was a machine which killed fascism. Bob Dylan, hot on the heels of the Dust Bowl Troubadour, played the same guitar while cutting his teeth in coffee houses.

I'm just the guy who writes about guitars, but I too own a Martin 00-17. I've killed no fascist with the thing, but I can tell you what a joy it is to play, and how much different a character it is from a spruce top guitar. Because the all-mahogany guitars are less taxing to produce in terms of labor, while also being less costly to produce than spruce top guitars, the all-mahogany guitar became the most common guitar during the Great Depression.

These guitars of the smaller than dreadnought size are often preferable to women. The smaller guitar size allows one to get their arms around it more comfortably allowing for cleaner and easier playing. But these smaller sized guitars are also great for the serious young musician of either sex who needs a guitar they will never outgrow. They excel as a finger-picker's guitar, and also as the guitar used by the singer/songwriter who accompanies themselves with chordal rhythmic patterns.

The Martin 00-15

The Martin 00-15

The Martin 00-15e Retro Series

The Martin 00-15e Retro Series

The Martin 00-15 and 00-15e

Despite luminaries such as Woody and Bob favoring the 00-17 guitar, the model wasn't exceptionally popular over the long haul. It got discontinued entirely for a several decades.There are plenty of old school, natural finish 00-17 fourteen fret guitars for sale used. You can find them on ebay and on consignment in guitar stores.

Some of them, as all of them are rather old, will need some work to be front line daily player guitars. But there is no need to fret yourself too much about it, as Martin sells brand spanking new 00-15s. These are essentially the exact same instrument as the 00-17s of old. The body binding used on the new 00-15s is different from what was once used on the 00-17, and this allows for the 00-15, and all Martin 15 series guitars to be as affordable as they are.

I have played a lot of Martin 15 series guitars. I've played the 15 series dreadnoughts, jumbos, and small-body guitars too. I can't stress enough how these guitars are built with the exact same care and level of attention to detail as the very finest and most expensive Martin guitars. I know for sure should you pick one up and play it, you'll come away with the same impression, and the experience of having played one will stick with you.

The Martin 00-15e is very atypical for a Martin guitar. It's that e that makes it so. Martin does not make a lot of guitars with electronics in them at all. But because the 00-15 is smaller than an orchestra model, and made of all solid mahogany, it is the ideal sort of guitar to have on board electronics. Martin chose Fishman electronics. You do not go wrong when you choose an acoustic electric with Fishman electronics. Following paragraph is not mine, but is what is used in the typical sales wrap on the 00-15e:

Stand on stage, plug your 00-15E Retro in, close your eyes, and strum your first chord. What you'll hear is the Fishman F1 Aura Plus in action. It uses acoustic images taken directly from the choicest guitars in Martin's own museum of spectacular pre-war instruments. This means that every time you plug in, your guitar is not only louder, but the the sound is enhanced by the pickup system to faithfully mimic the detailed and warm sounds vintage Martins are renowned for.

Not into acoustic electric guitars? No big deal. You can get a Martin 00-15 without the electronics too, and for a less money. This is a two thousand dollar investment for the acoustic electric version. A few hundred bucks less for one without electronics and the retro series finish, which is only available in the version with electronics. Below are the specifications for the 'e:'

  • Construction: Simple Dovetail Neck Joint
  • Body Size: 00-14 Fret
  • Top: Solid Mahogany
  • Rosette: Single Ring Maple and Black Fiber
  • Top Bracing Pattern: A-Frame X
  • Top Braces: Solid Sitka Spruce 5/16 inch
  • Back Material: Solid Mahogany
  • Back Purfling: none
  • Side Material: Solid Mahogany
  • Neck Material: Select Hardwood
  • Neck Shape: Modified Low Oval w/Performing Artist Taper
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Headstock: Solid/Square Taper
  • Headplate: Solid East Indian Rosewood
  • Fingerboard Material: Solid Black Ebony
  • Scale Length: 24.9 inches
  • Number of Frets Clear: 14
  • Number of Frets Total: 20
  • Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1-3/4 inches
  • Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret: 2-1/8 inches
  • Fingerboard Position Inlays: Diamonds and Squares - Short Pattern
  • Finish Back and Sides: Satin
  • Finish Top: Satin w/15-Style Burst
  • Finish Neck: Satin
  • Bridge Material: Solid Black Ebony
  • Bridge Style: Modern Belly
  • Bridge String Spacing: 2-3/16 inches
  • Saddle: 16 inch Radius/Compensated/White Tusq
  • Tuning Machines: Nickel Open-Geared w/ Butterbean Knobs
  • Bridge and End Pins: Solid Black Ebony
  • Pickguard: Tortoise Color
  • Case: 350 Hardshell
  • Interior Label: none
  • Electronics: Fishman F1 Aura Plus
The Santa Cruz 1929 00

The Santa Cruz 1929 00

The Santa Cruz 1929 00

The Santa Cruz 1929 00 was designed to honor the depression era all mahogany guitars. Santa Cruz makes some of the finest guitars on the planet. There aren't better guitar builders than the people at Santa Cruz. Still, the people at Santa Cruz are forever trying to build better guitars than before. They never stop raising the bar.

This guitar has a very pronounced V shape to the neck. It is important to know your hands can fit this guitar before you buy one. You can, of course, order one with a more C shaped neck. This guitar will be as loud as a guitar this size can possibly be. Because Santa Cruz doesn't do meek or mild in guitar voicing and volume. And one can get a Santa Cruz like this one in 000, a size larger, or 0, a size smaller.

This is a twelve frets clear of the body guitar. So this instrument has a very short scale length, and the strings will be much looser while in standard tuning than on a fourteen frets clear of the body guitar. All of this affects the tonal character of an instrument. Strumming and finger-picking are the most likely applications for the Santa Cruz 1929 00, but flatpicking the thing will create tones very distinct from the typical fourteen frets clear and spruce top dreadnought. Any Santa Cruz can make you stand out, tonally, from the crowd.

These guitars could be described as elegantly under-stated in appointments. There is not much in the way of adornment, as the guitar is, after all, a modern representation of the way guitars were during the great depression. This doesn't make the guitar inexpensive. These are available for sale priced at between four and five thousand dollars. Here are the specifications:

  • Peghead: Solid VJ
  • Peghead Binding: None
  • Overlay Material: Ebony
  • Headstock Inlay: SCGC Vintage Script Logo
  • Scale Length: 25.375
  • Width At Nut: 1-3/4"
  • Width At 14th: 2-3/16"
  • F-Board Binding: Black
  • Side Dots: White
  • Body Wood: Mahogany
  • Back Stripe: None
  • Body Binding: Mahogany
  • Side Purfling: Black .020
  • Other: 12 Fret, Black .020 Back Purfle
  • Top Wood: Mahogany
  • Rosette: Ivoroid/Tortoise/Ivoroid
  • Purfling: Black .020
  • Bracing: Scalloped
  • Other: 12 Fret
  • Soundhole: 4"
  • Type-Body: Clear
  • Type-Neck: Clear
  • Type-Top: Clear
  • Style-Body: Buffed
  • Style-Neck: Matte
  • Style-Peghead: Buffed
  • Pickguard: Tortoise - OOO17 Shape
  • Gears: Standard Nickel With Ebony
  • Bridge Spacing: 2-3/16" Pyramid
  • Number Of Frets: 18
  • Frets Clear Of The Body: 12
  • Bridge & End Pins: Ebony with Pearl Dots
  • Fingerboard & Bridge: Ebony
Collings 001 Mh Custom (left-handed guitar shown) in natural finish

Collings 001 Mh Custom (left-handed guitar shown) in natural finish

Collings 001 Mh Custom

If you've ever thought that Collings and Santa Cruz, as boutique guitar builders, compete directly against each other, then I'd say you've thought correctly. They both, of course, are competing against Martin guitars (and others) - by hoping to win sales with persons who want to have something even better than what Martin offers. But with any two guitars, which is the better is really nothing more than an opinion.

This Collings guitar does compete directly against the Santa Cruz 1929 00. It would be most ideal were the prospective buyer able to play both of them, and I mean one after another, in order to determine which one they should purchase. But such an ideal situation is probably not common. These are small scale guitar manufacturers, and it is possible, but just unlikely, that a guitar store someone visits would have both guitars. Well, that's just how things are; and there isn't a way one could wind up with a bad guitar from either builder.

This is another blues finger-picker's dream guitar. The 'golden doghair' finish is a big departure from the great depression era themes, but that is just an off the charts option of aesthetic beauty dreams. The most of these guitars will be natural finish. Bill Collings and company will really offer you just about anything you could possibly want. You can custom order. There will be non custom ordered guitars on the market; and any number of differences in specifications could be found. All Collings guitars are spellbinding.

The Gibson LG-0

The Gibson LG-0

The Gibson LG-0

The Gibson LG-0 is a wonderful guitar for a young man to own. I know this because I was once a young man who owned one. This is a pretty inexpensive guitar for a Gibson. And if you search out pawn shops and flea markets, you just may find one for little to nothing.

This guitar is not, however, comparable to the ones listed above it except that it is small and made from mahogany. This guitar is a student's guitar. A student's guitar which will perform fabulously for someone at a great price. And Gibson guitars hold their value. After you or your loved one outgrows this guitar it can be handed on down to the next generation, or used to get into a more expensive instrument for the newly serious amateur.

Most of the Gibson LG-0s out there date back to the mid 1960s. And to be sure, these guitars have a small sound. They originally came with a plastic bridge. Yes, you read that correctly. Well, people have been changing out those plastic bridges since the 1960s. If you buy an old LG-0 with that plastic bridge on it, you will certainly want to have that replaced with a rosewood, or even an ebony bridge.

Some simple modifications can be done to improve these guitars vastly, provided the bridge has been replaced already. Simple hot rodding can improve them by miles and miles. The plastic nut, saddle, and bridge pins, were they all replaced with superior materials; i.e., bone nut and bone saddle - and dense ebony bridge pins - and your tiny sounding Gibson LG-0 just grew larger and louder.

The Taylor 324 Grand Auditorium

The Taylor 324 Grand Auditorium

The Taylor 324 Grand Auditorium

There is one in every crowd. You know what I mean, someone who simply must be different from the pack. Well, Taylor is it when it comes to small-bodied guitars with mahogany tops. The Taylor 324 is called a grand auditorium, not an orchestra model or some such thing like that. And despite its mahogany soundboard, it has no mahogany body. Nope, the Taylor 324 is of solid Blackwood back and sides. Some of them have solid Sapele back and sides.

These guitars are all solid wood and built by Bob Taylor's guitar company, and that means they are of terrific quality, and come most often with electronics for acoustic/electric play. All Taylor guitars which are all solid wood construction are made in the USA.

Finger-picking, flatpicking, and strumming - the all solid wood 324 grand auditorium Taylor can handle it all. Blackwood is tonally somewhere between mahogany and rosewood. The 324 with Sapele, however, will sound very much the same as an all-mahogany guitar. Which one you choose, of course, is up to you. Again, most Taylor guitars come with electronics. Most, not all. Below are bullet point specs for a 324 of blackwood body, and no electronics. These guitars are priced at $1,400.00 Compare this guitar directly to the Martin 00-15 before buying either one, would be my sage advice.

  • Body type: Taylor Grand Auditorium
  • Cutaway: No
  • Top wood: Solid Tropical Mahogany
  • Back & sides: Solid Blackwood
  • Bracing pattern: Taylor Standard III with Relief Rout
  • Body finish: Satin 5.0 Top, Back and Sides
  • Orientation: Right-Handed
  • Neck shape: Standard Taylor Profile
  • Nut width: 1-3/4" (44.5mm)
  • Fingerboard: Genuine African Ebony
  • Neck wood: Tropical Mahogany
  • Scale length: 25-1/2"
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Neck finish: Satin
  • Headstock overlay: Indian Rosewood
  • Tuning machines: Taylor Nickel Tuners with Nickel Buttons
  • Bridge: Genuine African Ebony
  • Saddle & nut: Micarta "Wave" Saddle; Tusq Nut
  • Special features: Taylor New Technology ("NT") Neck System
  • Case: Taylor Deluxe Hard Shell Case
  • Country of origin: USA

Questions & Answers

Question: What do you think about the Guild M20 guitar?

Answer: Guild is a great brand. They are U.S. made guitars, and are every bit as good as Martin, in most cases. It's a slightly different flavor. It's great when someone can play many different models from many different brands before buying, or before writing a webpage. I can talk about Guild all day long based on reputation, and based upon the Guild guitars I have played before. If I've played an M20 before, it's been a long time. When I published this page, I was going off of guitars I'd played most recently. And there's no way to make everyone happy, or to list all the best in a "Top 5," or "5 Best" article.

Question: Why did you choose the Collings 001mh over the OMmh?

Answer: For the simple fact I've got to play one, and not the other.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


Paul Boden on December 27, 2018:

Check out Orangewood guitars,

especially if you're financially

strapped. Decent guitars starting at $125 !!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 04, 2017:

I sure feel you pain, but at the same time, what a great problem to have! Cheers!

Brian on October 04, 2017:

Like most in my price range, I'm trapped between the Taylor 324 and Martin 000-15M. I keep telling myself the 15M is meant for what I play (fingerpicking roots/blues, some flatpicking) and it's certainly the vintage tone with clear bass response that I like. I just can't get over the way the Taylor feels in my hands and the versatility it displays. I can't seem to find these both at the same shop to do a true side-by-side. Every day I seem to come to a different 'decision.' The worst part: this decision is ALL me. No other opinion can really say what sounds/feels best to ME. The decision would be so much easier without my indecisive ways!

Nate on August 24, 2017:

Ok how about something I can actually afford?

shon on August 06, 2017:

I come from taiwan,a small island in Asia.These days i want to buy a mahogany guitar.It help a lot to read your article.Thanks.