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The Martin HD-28e Retro Series vs. The Taylor 810e

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.

The first dreadnought guitars were produced in 1916 by C.F. Martin & Company, but they did not have that name on their headstocks. Instead, they were marked as Ditson guitars. The Oliver Ditson Company had been a major publisher of music, and they had also retailed some musical instruments. The Ditson dreadnoughts were not successful products at all, but this was not because of poor quality. Consumers had simply not caught on to the idea of these big guitars just yet.

In 1931, the dreadnought design was revived by Martin, and soon these large body guitars were produced and sold with the Martin name on the headstock. The consumer public began to see their value, as their bolder, louder, and crisper tone gave a player a lot to love. The new Martin dreadnoughts were the D-1 and the D-2. One was a mahogany body, and the other was a rosewood body.

These guitars were extremely popular with the folk guitarist, especially with bluegrass guitarists. These types of instruments soon became the signature instruments for bluegrass guitarists. This is still the way it is today. The big booming bass sound was just irresistible, and those famous bluegrass G-runs would become a signature trait of the sound of the music.

Rosewood Body Dreadnought Guitars

As time went on, other major manufacturers saw what Martin was doing and wanted to make their own dreadnought guitars. Gibson joined in the fray quickly with its J series instruments, which debuted on the market in 1934. Gibson remains a major competitor in this market today.

Bob Taylor founded Taylor guitars in 1974, and as the years have passed, his terrific and high-quality instruments have jumped into the number two position for US acoustic guitar manufacturing.

From the very beginning, there were two tonewood recipes for building dreadnoughts, and these seemed to be magical to all. One recipe involved a mahogany body, and the other had a rosewood body. Both major tonewood recipes also included a mahogany neck and a solid spruce top.

Rosewood body guitars are not better than mahogany body guitars, but they are more expensive.

Two major reasons why rosewood guitars are so expensive:

  1. Rosewood itself is harder to get, and so the balance between supply vs. demand causes rosewood to be more expensive.
  2. Rosewood is a more difficult wood to shape into a guitar's body, so rosewood guitars require much more labor than mahogany body guitars.

What Are the Advantages of a Rosewood Body Dreadnought Guitar?

  • Dreadnought body provides more volume, that's its function.
  • The rosewood provides stunning visual beauty.
  • Rosewood provides all the mid-range tonal character of mahogany.
  • Rosewood provides more bass, treble, while also providing a lot of rich harmonic overtones.

Martin vs. Taylor

Look, I'm a huge enthusiast of guitars, and I love high-end steel string acoustic guitars. This is because I've got a really big folk and Bluegrass music background. Some of my favorite memories in life are from attending the biggest of all Bluegrass music festivals, the Walnut Valley Festival, in Winfield, Kansas.

I grew up hanging out with my grandfather, who loved trading and repairing bluegrass instruments (not just the guitars, but it was primarily guitars). I learned to play guitar, and when I was first learning, it was all Bluegrass fiddle tunes on a dreadnought guitar.

I've owned Martin HD-28 guitars before, and I own a smaller Martin now. I've no interest in saying Martin is better than Taylor, and this is because I don't really believe that is true. I believe that when really you get into guitars, like the two we're going to discuss, it becomes purely a matter of what feels best and sounds best to you. These are the kinds of guitars a person buys because they are looking for something like a lifetime partner. You marry one of these guitars because you truly fall in love with the thing.

Martin and Taylor are the two big shots of steel string acoustic guitar manufacturing in the United States of America. The HD-28 and the 810 represent the flagship rosewood dreadnoughts from each manufacturer. Both manufacturers make more expensive models than these, but these are the ones that most professionals and serious amateurs will seek to own.

These guitars compete directly against each other in specifications and prices, but maybe the real story here is the electronics. You've got the Taylor Expression System 2 vs. Fishman F1 Aura Plus, and these are two of the very best systems for amplifying steel string acoustic guitars.

The Martin HD-28e Retro Series Guitar

C.F. Martin & Company own a museum full of their own guitars, and this makes sense, as these are the kinds of instruments that shaped the sound of a sizeable portion of America's musical history. The guitars mimic the great design of past guitars. But the Martin Retro Series also incorporates an entirely new neck carve.

Wrap your hands around that neck, and play a few runs, and you have all that amazing tone you expect to have, from Hank Williams to super flatpickers like Tony Rice. Every HD-28 I've ever played delivered on the promise of its reputation. Their classic tonewoods combination and their Martin advanced X bracing produce that amazing bone tone that the herringbone guitars are coveted for.

Another part of the globally adored Martin sound is the dovetail neck joint. The neck is constructed to where there is as much wood to wood contact as there can be, and this absolutely helps that great tone get projected loudly, and clearly, while at the same time providing maximum structural stability.

The distinct Martin herringbone inlay has been co-opted by many other manufacturers and, to me, this just speaks to its near-universal appeal. It looks absolutely fantastic to my eyes, and the trim is bound around the spruce top, and is also at the rosette. The purfling on the back is the gorgeous and traditional zig-zag pattern.

The neck profile is brand new here. The HD-28VR I owned had a bit of a v profile to it, and I liked it just fine, but this guitar has what they are calling a modified low oval profile with a performing artist taper. I assure you that if you've ever played an HD-28, then you'll find this comfortable. The fingerboard is a wonderful slab of ebony, and I really do have strong feelings about ebony, and its superiority as a material for any guitar's fingerboard. Rosewood will never feel so wonderful to your fingertips as will ebony.

The bridge is also of ebony, and the saddle sitting in the bridge, and the nut, are of bone. Strings ring through bone nuts and saddles louder and clearer, with more sustain, than they do with any other material. Everything about this guitar's construction is done for tone, playability, and aesthetic elegance. These are the kinds of instruments created to become family heirlooms, and the case that comes with the guitar is just further evidence of this.

The Martin HD-28e Retro Series guitar.

The Martin HD-28e Retro Series guitar.

The Martin HD-28e Retro Series Guitar Features

  • Model: HD-28E Retro
  • Construction: Mahogany Blocks/Dovetail Neck Joint
  • Body Size: D-14 Fret
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Rosette: Style 28
  • Top Bracing Pattern: Standard ''X'' Scalloped, Forward Shifted
  • Top Braces: Solid Sitka Spruce 5/16''
  • Back Material: Solid East Indian Rosewood
  • Back Purfling: HD Zig-Zag
  • Side Material: Solid East Indian Rosewood
  • Binding: Grained Ivoroid
  • Top Inlay Style: Bold Herringbone
  • Neck Material: Select Mahogany
  • Neck Shape: Modified Low Oval Profile w/ Performing Artist Taper
  • Nut Material: Bone
  • Headstock: Solid/Square Taper
  • Headplate: Solid East Indian Rosewood
  • Heelcap: Grained Ivoroid
  • Fingerboard Material: Solid Black Ebony
  • Scale Length: 25.4''
  • Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1-3/4''
  • Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret: 2-1/8''
  • Fingerboard Position Inlays: Diamonds & Squares - Long Pattern
  • Finish Back & Sides: Polished Gloss
  • Finish Top: Polished Gloss w/ Aging Toner
  • Finish Neck: Satin
  • Bridge Material: Solid Black Ebony
  • Bridge Style: 1930s Style Belly w/ Drop-In Saddle
  • Bridge String Spacing: 2-3/16''
  • Saddle: 16'' Radius/Compensated/Bone
  • Tuning Machines: Nickel Open-Geared w/ Butterbean knobs
  • Bridge & End Pins: White w/ Tortoise Colored Dots
  • Pickguard: Delmar Tortoise Color
  • Case: 445 Hardshell
  • Electronics: Fishman F1 Aura Plus

The Taylor 810e Guitar

I've never introduced myself to Bob Taylor, but the guy may very well recognize me. I've stood directly in front of him on different occasions over the years to listen to him talk about Taylor guitars. I guess I always considered myself a Martin man, and so Taylor, being the biggest competition, has always been something I wanted to know all about. Having owned an HD-28vr, I knew the 810 was the most direct competition on the market. It most certainly does compete.

The Taylor 810 has been redesigned several times over the years. It would be more correct to say, however, that it has been re-voiced. What does that mean? The bracing inside the body of the guitar has the most say in how a guitar is voiced, and we are talking about putting braces in places in order to literally create the character of the guitar's tone. The newest Taylor 810s and the specific 810e are sometimes called First Editions. This is because of this newest Taylor bracing design.

The First Edition guitars were specifically produced in 2014, so we're not calling them that anymore. If you were looking at any 810e from 2014 onward, then we're talking about the exact same thing, as one doesn't go redesigning internal bracing on one of your biggest selling products too often.

The combination of tonewoods is much the same as the Martin HD-28s. You've got an East Indian rosewood back and sides, Sitka spruce top, mahogany neck, ebony bridge, and fingerboard. These woods are chosen to be beautiful, and in the case of the rosewood and spruce, for being tested for tonal productivity too.

Important construction differences with the Taylor that must be discussed:

  1. The Taylor 810e has a longer scale length. Taylor is using the same scale length on these guitars as Fender uses for its electric guitars, and this is a 25.5" length of scale. This is .1" longer than Martin. Now, this small bit of extra length may seem insignificant, but I assure you it makes a difference. Taylor is known for having a brighter tonal character than does Martin, and I mean brand-wide. Longer scale lengths are absolutely known to cause tonal traits to become brighter, and possibly more defined.
  2. The second major difference between Taylor and Martin guitar building has to do with the necks. Taylor necks are literally bolted onto the bodies of the guitars, and this is something very different from Martin's dovetails and glues. To a Martin or Gibson man, this is pure heresy. Bob Taylor should be burned at the stake, or maybe let's just give him a medal for making fine steel string acoustics which have necks much more easily re-aligned and repaired than his competitors have.
The Taylor 810e guitar.

The Taylor 810e guitar.

The Taylor 810e Guitar Features

  • Model: Taylor 810e
  • Dreadnought guitar with a powerful voice and well-balanced tone
  • Incredibly natural-sounding plugged-in tone thanks to the Expression System 2 electronics with 2-band EQ
  • Exceptionally open, vibrant sound thanks to real protein glue, no synthetic adhesives used
  • Sitka spruce top provides a light and expressive sound
  • Indian rosewood back and sides gives you a rich, vibrant sound with exceptional projection
  • Classic dreadnought tone with crisp highs and powerful lows, thanks to customized Advanced Performance bracing pattern
  • Maximum strength and tone with minimum weight, thanks to customized wood thickness
  • Extremely thin gloss finish (3.5mil thick)
  • Neck Shape: Taylor Standard Profile
  • Neck Wood: Tropical mahogany
  • Width at the nut: 1 3/4"
  • Scale Length: 25.5"
  • Head-stock Overlay: Genuine African Ebony
  • Tuning Machines: Taylor Nickel Tuners with Nickel buttons
  • Bridge Material: Genuine African Ebony
  • Saddle and Nut Material: Tusq
  • Hardshell case included

Two Styles of Perfection

I want the reader to understand I've played a lot of HD-28s, and a lot of Taylor 810s. I've played both of the guitars discussed here—the HD-28e Retro Series, and the Taylor 810e with the all-new bracing pattern. I will tell you some very general truths about these guitars.

Taylor guitars seem to always come from the factory with the action set very very low. This can give the impression that a Taylor plays faster and easier than a Martin. Martin tends to send their guitars from the factory with the action set higher, and this is so the buyer can then keep it as it is, or have someone set it up lower.

I think a Martin dreadnought player is someone who is more likely to be inclined to use medium gauge strings than a Taylor player is. Martin is just what a Bluegrass person most often reaches for. For Bluegrass you are nearly always going to be using medium gauge strings, so you can get the maximum volume and snap from the guitar. If you're looking for a more balanced tone, and you don't have to compete with a banjo or a mandolin, the Taylor may be more what you're looking for.

Taylor guitars are voiced differently and have what you could consider to be a much more modern and high definition tone. Martin is voiced to sound like what your grandfather loved to hear over the radio, and on vinyl records. The fit and finish of either of these will be absolutely perfect. You're going to be paying a lot of money to own one, and these manufacturers pride themselves very much on their work. These guitars will be flawless, and I'm confident that if you spend some time with one of each of these in your hands, one of them will speak to you the clearest.

Strangely enough, over the course of the last couple of decades, it also seems to me that Taylor guitars are becoming a bit more like Martin, and that C.F. Martin & Company are starting to adopt a bit more of a Taylor vibe.

Taylor Expression System 2 vs. Fishman F1 Aura Plus

All this talk about the new Taylor bracing system and how it is to make the guitar louder, that's something you know they've done to compete more directly against the great Martin guitars. For years people just didn't expect, and didn't see, C.F. Martin & Company putting so much thought and effort into making top-notch acoustic/electric versions of their classic instruments.

Taylor's Expression Systems have been extremely well regarded from the beginning. The Taylor ES 2 overcomes most every complaint ever discussed about the first rendition. Martin is using Fishman F1 Aura Plus, and it competes against the Taylor ES 2 as directly as the 810 does against the HD-28v.

Taylor's ES 2 features a behind the saddle pickup coupled with three different pickup sensors in different locations so as to capture more diverse tonal range. The accompanying pre-amp is absolutely professional grade and includes a bass, treble, and volume control. There is a built-in equalizer which responds to your use of the three pre-amp knobs. This is all powered by a nine-volt battery.

The Fishman F1 Aura Plus is quite different. I admit here that I found it a bit jarring to see a LED display on the side of a beautiful slab of East Indian Rosewood. I got over that quickly, and decided that I very much liked the Fishman system. The reason I like it is there are four distinct presets built into this system. Fishman and Martin are two great companies that really know what they're doing. They've got the presets for the best possible tone combinations already done for me. I don't want to mess with the knobs or an equalizer to find the best tones.

So the Fishman has three preset blends of its pickup's sensors, and then there is a simple "just the pickup" setting. The second knob does allow for tone control from brighter to more bassy. This system is also powered by a nine-volt battery, and it is stored, unobtrusively, by the rear strap lock. There is also the ever-so-handy guitar tuner as part of this system.

I hope this article has provided some value and will find people who are as enthusiastic and excitable about these amazing guitars as I am. Thanks for reading.

© 2018 Wesman Todd Shaw