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.
Less Expensive Alternatives To the C.F. Martin & Company D-28 Guitar
In the history of steel string guitars, there's probably not an instrument more owned, more desired, than a Martin HD-28. There's not going to be one either. Probably the Martin D-28 is more popular or desired than the D-18, but it's not any better a guitar, it's just a fancier guitar with a different makeup and a different sound.
The fancier appearance of the HD-28 is what I attribute to its popularity over the D-18. The tone of the guitar is fantastic, of course; and along the way, a lot of terrific players decided to make the instrument their numero uno guitar, and so the HD-28 craze began. I've owned a HD-28VR in the past, and so I can attest to the astounding qualities such instruments have. Thing about it all is, you can spend more and get the same thing a bit hot rodded apart from the Martin, and for less, you can get something very much like the HD-28 from somewhere and someone else for a lot less money. This article is for persons who want a D-28, but can't afford one.
What I plan to do here is offer five less expensive alternatives to the Martin HD-28. All of them will be dreadnoughts of the HD-28 design, rosewood bodies, spruce tops. These guitars will all be terrific for flatpicking, or fingerpicking, or just rythme, as the HD-28 is sure a versatile instrument. Hopefully if you're in the market for such a guitar, then I'll provide you some good choices.
What is an "HD-28?" Easy to explain, but confusing. Original D-28's were all herringbone trim D-28's with advanced "high x" bracing. Later, Martin dropped the herringbone trim and shifted the braces back towards the rear of the guitar, but this design proved less popular, as it was less attractive to most, and changed the tone. Nowadays, when one wants a D-28 like the originals, what they want is called an HD-28, as it comes with herringbone trim, and forward shifted x bracing. I'm pricing HD-28's on the web new from $2,500 used to $4,999 new on Amazon.com.
Blueridge BR-160 Historic Series Dreadnaught Acoustic Guitar
The Amazing Value of the Blueridge BR-160
At a lesser cost than I can hardly even believe is real, a body can buy a Blueridge BR-160, and have something very very close to a Martin HD-28. This made in China herringbone flat-top is inexpensive, to say the least, it is not cheap. The people at Blueridge have studied Martin designs in order to produce this low cost beauty, and others like it (read - the D-18 version they produce, the BR-140).
The BR-160 is a studied replication of the HD-28 in most ways, all the important ones. It's solid rosewood back and sides, and solid spruce top with replicated Martin style x bracing internally, it's built to scale and everything is the same as Martin, herringbone trim and such, except for minor details which make the instrument even more affordable than it otherwise would be. For instance, the BR-160 uses less expensive rosewood for the bridge and fingerboard instead of ebony.
This guitar is my pick of this group for best value, as the value it provides for the money is just damned shocking to me. Some persons may literally find this instrument more attractive than the Martin HD-28 for all it's inlay, and some persons may literally find this instrument is louder and plays better than certain HD-28 specimens; but even were this guitar just under the playability and tonality of the HD-28 in someone's opinion, there is NO DOUBT for what this guitar costs, it provides more guitar for the dollar spent than the HD-28 does. If I didn't already own two rosewood and spruce dreadnoughts like this one or the HD-28, I'd be gunning for this guitar myself. Should I ever take on a full time job again, I'm buying that BR-140 for sure, and I'd likely buy this one too. I just friggin' love guitars, and this one has a lot to love for not a lot of invested money.
I can hardly believe it sells for less than $1,500. This thing is only available at still such a low cost because Chinese guitar builders don't have to jump through all the regulatory hurdles the people at Martin and other US manufacturers do. Oh I totally support American guitars - but if a poor man or woman wants a fine fine guitar like this one, it would be foolish of me to not tell them about the deals they can get from Blueridge, it just is what it is; one of the best deals going.
Blueridge BR-160 Guitar features:
- Select, solid Sitka spruce top with hand-carved parabolic top braces in authentic prewar forward X-pattern
- Solid Indian rosewood back and sides with center strip of delicate wood marquetry
- White body binding with delicate herringbone inlay around top
- Slim mahogany neck with dovetail neck joint and adjustable truss rod
- Rosewood bridge and bridge plate
- Rosewood peghead overlay adorned with a unique Mother-of-pearl and abalone design
- Saga's exclusive Dalmatian style pickguard
- Natural high-gloss finish with aged toner
- Accurate vintage-style 14:1 ratio nickel-plated open-back tuners with butterbean-style buttons
- Nut and saddle are made from bone
- Nut Width: 1 11/16 inch
- Scale Length: 25.6 inch
Banjo.com video: demo of a new Blueridge BR-160 Acoustic
The Takamine P7D
The Takamine P7D
The Takamine P7D is neither cheap nor inexpensive like the Blueridge instrument above, and neither should it be. The Takamine solid wood series of guitars have long been called "Japanese Martins," and little if any doubt some of these are going to sound better and play better than some Martin HD-28's. Make no mistake, friends, that sometimes the Martin will sound better than the Takamine - it's really subjective, what sounds best, what plays best, it's dependent upon the man or woman with the guitar in hand, and no one's opinion, also subjective, changes the subjectivity of it all.
Now, don't read this wrong, so far as I am aware, the Martin will hold it's resale value much better than the Takamine. C.F. Martin & Company has EARNED that respect. Takamine is doing a good job of earning the same respect with its solid wood instruments, but such things take time to really sink in with the hive minds of the masses. Bunk that junk, this is an outstanding musical instrument, a terrific flat top, a bluegrass cannon, a fine guitar. I'm pricing this instrument at $2,859.00 on amazon.com. This guitar has a more sedate appearance than either the Blueridge or the HD-28, as it has no herringbone binding, but rather, maple binding. It also has less fancy inlay - but DOES come with state of the art electronics for acoustic/electric play.
Takamine P7D Guitar features:
- Mahogany asymmetrical neck
- Abalone "snowflake" inlays
- Abalone rosette
- Dark wood purfling
- Split bone saddle
- CTP-3 Cool Tube Preamp System with 3-band EQ, auxiliary input, onboard chromatic tuner, Palathetic undersaddle pickup, notch filter
- Includes archtop hardshell case
The Guild D-150 Guitar
Guild's Terrific D-150 Flat Top
Neither the Takamine above or this Guild guitar are meant to be copies or less expensive reproductions of the Martin HD-28, the Blueridge, however, is. The Guild and the Takamine are alternatives to the HD-28 in that they're not copies, or less expensive reproductions, they are their own guitars, they just happen to be different people's interpretations of how to best make a dreadnought with a solid rosewood body and a solid spruce top.
I always tell people to shop around as much as they can, and put their hands and fingers into as many guitars in their price range as they can before buying - but at the same time, there's no reason why the first one you pick up that feels right and sounds right isn't the guitar for you. Don't forget about Guild guitars - they are terrific. .
This guitar is available with either or, or both cutaway and electronics for acoustic/electric play. One of the interesting things I discovered on the web from doing the research for this page is that Guild guitars are very popular in Japan. Keep in mind the USA exports guitars to the rest of the world, and though sometimes the Chinese instruments are more affordable for the less affluent here, the world is always buying American made guitars like Martin, Fender, Gibson, and Guild.
Guild D-150 Guitar features:
- Body type: Dreadnought
- Cutaway: Non-cutaway
- Top wood: Solid Indian Rosweood
- Back & sides: Solid Indian Rosweood
- Bracing pattern: Scalloped X
- Body finish: Natural Gloss Polyurethane
- Neck shape: C
- Nut width: 1.75" (44.45mm)
- Fingerboard: Indian Rosewood
- Neck wood: Mahogany
- Scale length: 25.5"
- Number of frets: 20
- Neck finish: Natural Gloss Polyurethane
- Headstock overlay: Other
- Tuning machines: Guild Die-Cast Closed Gear
- Bridge: Indian Rosewood
- Saddle & nut: NuBone
- Special features: None
- Case: Polyfoam case
- Accessories: Truss-rod tool
- Country of origin: China
Nice demonstration of a Guild D-150
The Larrivee D-09 Guitar
The Larrivee D-09
Larrivee guitars are very very fine, and are made in America. Oh they're made in Canada, not the USA, but that's a small difference. Larrivee's are less expensive than Martin guitars, and there's no doubt some persons literally prefer them
. It's a matter of opinion, of course, and Larrivee is well worth the considerations of anyone shopping for a fine dreadnought with a solid rosewood body and solid spruce top. The Larrivee D-09 isn't the only dreadnought Larrivee offers in that configuration of body style and wood combination, but it is the least expensive one, and it is less expensive than the HD-28. Another fine Larrivee HD-28-LIKE guitar is the Larrivee D-60.
Larrivee guitars are NOT built to mock or copy Martin guitars. There's no disputing the dreadnought design and wood combinations is a rough facsimile of Martin, but the internal bracing of Larrivee guitars is not the same, and so the tonality is not the same either.
Now Larrivee D-09's don't all look the same. Some of them have translucent pickguards, others have standard faux tortoise pickguards. Some Larrivee D-09's have no fretboard positioning markers, some have some pretty fancy ones.
I'm not sure what I could say more about this fine guitar, the Larrivee D-09 which the video following this text does not say. The video provides a nice cross section of acoustic music. It all sounds fantastic.
Larrivee D-09 Guitar features:
- All Solid wood Construction
- Single Piece Mahogany Neck
- Canadian Sitka Spruce Sound Board & Bracing
- African Ebony Fretboard & Bridge
- Canadian Maple Multi-Strip Body Binding
- Rosewood Back & Sides
- Symmetrical Parabolic X-Bracing
- Hand fit Dovetail Neck Joint
- Abalone Rosette, Pearl Logo w/ Sterling Silver Border
- Chrome Tuners (18:1 Ratio)
- Ivoroid Fretboard Binding
- Larrivee Custom Beveled Pickguard
- Microdot Fretboard Markers
- Bone Nut
- Compensated Bone Saddle
- Limited Lifetime warranty
- Arch-top Case
A Larrivee D-09 (lefty)
Seagull SWS SG Maritime, Rosewood and Spruce
When I was a kid Seagull guitars, which is a branch of Godin Guitars, was just getting underway, and from the start, they deserved a lot of respect. Nowadays they're getting the respect they deserve as fine instruments, which aren't exactly traditional because they are their own guitars. Seagull guitars do not mock or copy Martin, Gibson, Taylor, or anyone else, they are merely and wonderfully Seagull guitars.
Seagull guitars are made in Canada, and like Larrivee, and all others here save the Blueridge, they are originals based loosely on a Martin design from the 1930s. These Seagull SWS maritime guitars, however, are not up to full dreadnought scale as a Martin, but are just slightly smaller.
Seagull guitars use a distinctive and recognizable headstock which places the tuning machines roughly in line with the nut to improve tuning stability. Most models are available with either the Godin Quantum I electronics (featuring an under saddle transducer) or the Godin Quantum II electronics (with both a transducer and small microphone which can be blended together). Another notable feature is Seagull Guitars have also released a "compound-curve" top design on all of their lines. The idea behind this is to add an arch to the top of the guitar to allow the company to use a thinner and a more lightly braced top.
This is opposed to the typical flat top of an acoustic guitar which has problems with the sound hole sinking in. Now myself, I've never once seen a "soundhole sinking in." Now this could be due to the climate where I reside, or it could be due to me taking superior care of my instruments. Of course climates affect guitars tremendously, and possibly, in Canada, due to the heating of homes, this "sinking in of soundholes" is a major problem.
"All Seagull guitars are made with select pressure-tested solid tonewood tops. Each solid top is crafted from a single layer of spruce or cedar and is pressure-tested to ensure its highest level of rigidity and stiffness along with maximum harmonic vibration. The extraordinary wood used in Seagull guitars comes from trees that are hundreds of years old. The tight, straight grain in this wood produces a unique combination of strength and flexibility. The top is strong enough—in the direction of the grain—to withstand the pull of the strings, while at the same time it's flexible enough—across the grain—to vibrate freely."
I include the quote above for an important reason. A cedar top SWS maritime with rosewood body is different in many ways from a spruce top one. So when shopping for a less expensive HD-20 LIKE guitar, it's important the instrument have a spruce top. If you prefer the cedar top, then that's also a wonderful thing, and not something to sneeze at, it will only sound and play differently than a guitar with a spruce top.
If you've pondered what the "SG" in the name of the guitar means, then the answer to the question is "semi gloss." This refers to the finish. The finish of a guitar is a pretty big deal, but is a nuance for another page entirely.
Seagull SWS SG Maritime Guitar features:
- Body Type: Solid
- Body Wood: Solid Rosewood
- Top Wood: Solid Spruce
- Scale Length: 24.84"
- Neck Joint: Integrated Set Neck
- Neck Wood: Honduran mahogany
- Fretboard: Indian Rosewood
- Neck Shape: Soft C
- # of Frets: 21
- Nut Width: 1.8"
- Bridge: Indian Rosewood
- Hardware Color: Chrome
- Finish: Semi-Gloss custom polish finish
Seagull Maritime Rosewood SWS sg GEAR REVIEW
Thanks for reading. I know for certain all of these guitars are fine guitars which will last a serious amateur or professional an entire lifetime, and then, if cared for, be passed down to a loved one. These instruments are all dreadnoughts, though the Seagull is a bit smaller than normal - insofar as being the most Martin HD-28 like, the Blueridge wins the prize. As always, shop around and figure out what works best for your fingers, your ears, and your budget. Thanks for reading.
Questions & Answers
Question: I bought a Martin D-21 new in 1962. I still play it and enjoy it. Rarely is that model mentioned. I was wondering why and when did they stop production?
Answer: I think the D-21 is rarely mentioned simply because it is rarely seen. Off the top of my head, I can't remember having ever had the pleasure of seeing one. Could be if I asked some friends and family if anyone knows anyone who has or used to have one, I could remember something.
I should probably thank you here, seems like researching and writing about the D-21 would be something I could and should do.
Question: With a cursory read I did not see the last three guitars list with a price. The larrivee the seagull and the Guild. What would those prices be respectively?
Answer: The problem with putting prices for guitars on a webpage is the prices will change year to year, and there are always sales going on somewhere. If you are asking me for prices, then I can give them to you, but the price may be different tomorrow. What's not going to change here is that these guitars are going to remain priced below the Martin D-28. Thanks for your question. I should remove those prices, as this webpage would be better without them.
Question: Why is Eastman not listed as a cheaper alternative to the Martin D-28?
Answer: Eastman deserves to be on the list. Yesterday, as a matter of fact, was the first day I got to visit an Eastman dealer. They replaced their Blueridge stock with Eastman, and I got to spend a lot of time there admiring things, and I spent a lot of time talking with the guy who was the head salesman there. We talked a long time about Eastman and Blueridge, and of course, Martin guitars.
So I agree with you here, Eastman is absolutely fantastic. The man at the store I visited said his problem was keeping Eastman stocked. He says they're hard to get, and this is because they make a low number of guitars each year, and they make sure what they put out on the market is flawless. The Eastman guitars I saw yesterday were certainly flawless.
© 2014 Wesman Todd Shaw
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 04, 2016:
Thanks Dave. Is it made in China? I've only recently read about Guild in China. There are quite a lot of nice guitars made there these days, and I'd not sneeze at anything with the Guild name on it.
Dave on June 05, 2015:
Just by way of clarification, the Guild D-150 is an imported guitar. It is the less expensive alternative to the US-made D-50 from Guild.
Huntgoddess from Midwest U.S.A. on June 14, 2014:
Wow, you're lucky to have had such mentors. I also love acoustic also.
My ex-hubbie had a twelve-string, which he played very well. It really had a beautiful sound.
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 14, 2014:
Huntgoddess - Thanks Very Much! My mother's father and her brothers were always WAY into acoustic folk music, and guitars...and growing up, I spent a huge amount of time with my grandfather who was always buying and selling guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos - all those sorts of things, and he simply drilled a TON of information about musical instruments into my head....and of course I've always loved them too - especially acoustic guitars :)
Huntgoddess from Midwest U.S.A. on June 14, 2014:
Wow, lots of information here -- most of which I do not understand, since I'm sort of musically illiterate.
I'll show this to my son. He does some street strumming at times with his guitar.
Up, interesting, useful, et al.