How many guitarist can afford a Martin D-28 or Gibson J-45? I dare say 90% of the guitarist’s can’t. I love buying American made guitars as much as the next guy, but my pocket-book says “mmmm… not so much”. Yes there are some absolutely fantastic USA made guitars out there Huss & Dalton, Bedell, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Gibson, and Martin etc… Unfortunately most American made guitars, remain out of the reach of the average guitar player. Yes Martin and Taylor make scaled down versions of their guitars but even these have hefty price tags. In the sea of affordable priced guitars the Asian manufacturers lead the way but there are a few “American” guitars that might fit your budget.
Taylor guitars have a large following and overall they make a pretty nice guitar. I have owned several of the 410 and 510 series guitars but over time I became disappointed with their sound. According to a friend in Guitar Center’s management team, Taylor guitars are the number one return item. The biggest complaint is that Taylor’s are thin and brittle sounding. Additionaly Taylor has issues with the bridges on their less expensive guitars “popping up” when alternate tunings are used. Taylor has acknowledged this defect but have not really corrected the issue. I have repaired the bridge on my son’s Big Baby twice. On the positive side, Taylor’s bolt on neck design is exceptional and is one of the reasons Taylor guitars play so well. Taylor has truly mastered Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Machining (CAM) and assembly. Every guitar in a specific line sounds like the next. If you like a 514 and yours gets lost, stolen or broken you can pick up a new one and it will sound and play exactly like the one you had. No other manufacturer seems to have found this “magic”. Taylor guitars seem to be the rage for Contemporary Christian Music. So if contemporary Christian is your style then Taylor may be the one for you.
Taylors bargain basement Taylor starts with the Big Baby Taylor (BBT). The BBT is a 15/16 scale guitar. It has a 25 1/2″ scale fretboard and a 15/16th scale drednaught body. The Top is solid sitka spruce, the back and sides are laminated sapele. The cost a mere $399. Next in line is the Academy 10 series starting at around $550.00 The Academy 10 features a 24.87″ scale neck, and a drednaugt shaped body featuring a solid spruce top and laminated back and sides. To get into a full size guitar you have to jump up to the Taylor 100 series guitar. The Taylor 110E featues a 25 1/2″ scale fretbaord, a solid sitka spruce top and a walnut back and side. All of these guitars play well and sound good and are made in North America down Mexico way.
Martin, it is hard not to love Martin guitars. They are arguably the most iconic manufacturer of guitars on this planet. Consistency is an issue with Martin. If you have twenty new D-28s in a room no two will sound or feel exactly alike. I have owned a couple of Martins, one was sweet the other a total clunker. On their all wood guitars at least you need to play them before you buy them.
Martin has entered the under $1,000 mark guitars by being extremely innovative and like Taylor building a plant in Mexico. The DX line of guitars is Martin’s least expensive full-scale guitar. With a starting price at around $560 they are on par price wise with the Taylor Academy 10. These Martin guitars feature a spruce-grained high pressure laminate (HPL) top and mahogany grained HPL back and side. These guitars sound good but dampened compaired to a solid spruce top, they feature a laminated neck that are very stable and better in many respects than a standard solid wood neck. The HPL Top back and sides should not split, or crack under home use. The Martin DX1 features the same HPL back and side and laminated neck but have a solid sitka spruce top. The DX1 is greatly improved over the Martin DX line. The DX1 street price is $599.00 These may be a better choice than the Taylor Academy 10 given Taylors history of bridges separating from the tops on their lower end guitars.
Martin introduced the new Custom D Classic at the 2018 NAMM. I had the oppertuntiy to play this and it was very pleasureable. This guitar will sell around the $1,000 mark. The Martin Custom D Classic Mahogany Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar is Made in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, crafted with a solid Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides. Priced at $1,200 they are not exactly bargain priced however, we expect that you can find them on sale for just below the thousand dollar mark. This is the only USA made “bargain” guitar I could find.
Gibson just simply skips the lower end on their brand of guitars. Gibsons least expensive guitar is the J15 and it starts out at around $1,500. Like Martin, Gibson has consistency issues with the sound and feel of their guitars. Given a room full of J-45’s every one will sound and feel different.
Gibson’s Epiphone line though has some brilliant guitars that take up Gibson’s slack. The Epiphone Masterbilt line feature all solid wood construction for around $675.00 These are american designed but constructed in Asia. How good are these guitars? I purchased a Masterbilt in 2005, I have gone through a J-45, a D-28, a 514, and a 410 and I still have the Masterbilt.
Seagull Guitars are made in North America, but in Quebec Canada by Godin Guitars. Okay perhaps I am spreading the America thing out a bit, but it is a tough slog to find a bargain priced “American” made guitar. Despite being made slightly outside the USA, Seagull is a brand you should learn about. Seagull knocks it out of the park with high quality guitars starting at just $295.00. The Seagull S6 Entourage features a solid spruce top, laminated wild cherry back and sides, and feature a maple neck. Seagull smartly makes use of readily available native North American Tonewoods. This local sourcing keeps the prices down and the EPA off our collective backs. Seagull makes an all solid top back and side guitar the Artist Mosaic for just under $900.00 Seagull is very popular in the north eastern USA. They are making one of the best guitars on the market and doing it close to home.
So there are some options out there. Guitars made in Mexico, Canada and even one made in the USA. The Martin DX1 line of guitars sound very good and play very well however, how the HPL will hold up over time is unknown. The Martin DX sound will certainly not improve with age. The Seagull S6 would definitely be on my short list for a guitar. These are priced very competitively with Asian guitars. Are there better bargains out there perhaps, just not made in North America. I will hit on some of the gems from the Pacific Rim next week.
Peace, Love and Guitars