Martin OM-28 vs Blueridge BR-163
The latest installment of Maury’s popular A vs. B series compares two popular guitar models, the Blueridge BR-163 from the Historic Series of traditional designs inspired by various pre-war Martin guitars, and the Martin OM-28 from the Standard Series, which upgraded in 2018 to get its own pre-war Martin styling. These two awesome Auditorium-size acoustics are similar, yet offer a unique playing experience from one another.
Both of these professional-level acoustic guitars are inspired by the legendary pre-war Martins of the 1930s. They are therefore similar in their overall design. The differences are in the details, but so too are the similarities. We will focus first on the guitars’ bodies, then the necks, then appointments that make up the guitar’s visual styling, the hardware, and so on. And of course, the tone of these finely-crafted musical instruments will also be compared.
Each guitar is made in what Martin originally called the 14-fret Auditorium size, which first appeared with the Orchestra Models built between 1939 and 1933, before being renamed the 14-fret 000 in the 1934. That is why today’s Martin OM-28 and their 000-28 have the same body size. And the BR-163 is listed as a 000-14 Fret on the Blueridge spec sheet.
The soundboard, aka the top, is made from quartersawn Sitka spruce. Although the BR-163’s specs only say “spruce,” it looks and sounds too much like Sitka to be anything else. Sitka spruce is by far the most popular wood for soundboards, due to its excellent combination of strength and flexibility that helps in putting out a warm tone that has clear fundamental notes.
The back and sides are made from solid, East Indian rosewood. Culled from environmentally sustainable forests, this gorgeous tonewood has a the rich, dark, complex beauty both visually and in terms of its contribution to tone, providing a phenomenal amount of harmonic overtone content compared to most other woods use for the back and sides of acoustic guitars.
The Blueridge BR-163
The dimensions of the bodies are not exactly the same, as the BR-163 is made using metric measurements. It is slightly longer than the Martin and may be a tad deeper as well. The OM is officially spec’d with a side depth of 4-1/8”, which according to Tim Teel at Martin is more like 4-1/16” after final sanding.
Both guitars basically have the same scalloped X-bracing pattern under the soundboard, which was first used in 1930 on the original OM-28. Both guitars have the bracing carved by hand, but the BR-163 has 5/16” brace width of the Martin 000-28, while the OM-28 1/4" braces.
The Martin OM-28 has a bridge made from solid African ebony, which goes along with an ebony fingerboard on the neck. And on the example we are using for this comparison, it is very black with very even color throughout. The Blueridge BR-163 has a rosewood bridge and fingerboard. The spec sheet does not specify the exact species of rosewood is used on this BR-163. But it seems clear to us that the bridge is made from very straight-grain East Indian rosewood, with the two-tone banding running length-wise across the bridge.
The fingerboard, at the other hand, has lovely, ornate figuring to the grain, created from multiple, lighter tones that suggest it is made from Santos rosewood, aka Bolivian rosewood, although it can also come from Brazil, but is not related to the endangered species commonly called Brazilian rosewood.
Those fingerboards are also inspired by vintage Martins and inlaid with abalone shell for the fret position markers. But the necks behind them have modern shapes designed for comfort and fast playability.
Both guitars have a mahogany neck set into the body with a traditional dovetail joint. Both guitars have long-scale neck, the BR-163 being just a little longer, again due to the metric measurement, which comes out to 2/10” longer than the OM-28. And with the slightly longer body the headstock does feel a little farther out there, but it also means a bit more space between the frets, which is good for players with less than perfect technique.
Both guitars have a comfortable low curve to the back of the neck, with Martin’s Modified Low Oval, being a bit rounder in the palm and the Blueridge being shallower. Neither neck is anything like a fat vintage neck, so players who spend as much time or more with electric guitars in their hands should find both guitars an easy changeover.
The Martin’s High Performance taper has a 1-3/4” nut width. The Blueridge has 1-11/16”, but they are both the same width up by the neck. Maury feels the strings on the Blueridge guitars are set a little far away from the edge of the frets, compared to the Martins. So the overall feeling of a Blueridge neck is slimmer and would be the better choice for players with smaller hands that have issues with wider necks.
Not that the Martin neck is wide. It is just a little wider than the Blueridge; most noticeably out at the first few frets. Conversely the Martin might be the better choice for people with larger hands and longer fingers.
Both guitars have open-back vintage style tuning machines. The Martins seem a bit sturdier but the Blueridge tuners look really nice. Both guitars have a bone nut and saddle. The Blueridge frets are a little taller, noticeably so for someone used to playing Martins. But that also means they should last a lot longer before they need to be dressed or replaced.
The Martin OM-28
The OM-28 has the long-pattern Diamonds and Squares fret markers that first appeared on the OM-28 in 1933. The BR-163 has more and fancier fret markers. In fact, it has markers of the pre-war OM-45, except the fingerboard isn’t the ebony used on a 45. It is rosewood and looks very similar to the Brazilian rosewood fingerboards used on Martin guitars made in Style 21 and Style 18 in the 1940s and ’50s.
The headstock on the OM-28 has the gold vintage C. F. Martin & Co. est. 1833 decal first used in 1931. The BR-163 has stunning torch design inlaid with argent mother of pearl and colorful abalone, which is unique to Blueridge guitars, and clearly an exotic reimagining of the fanciest vintage guitar and banjo headstocks from the early twentieth century.
Back to the bodies, the binding on the Blueridge is pearly white, while the Martin features Antique white, made to look like white binding that has dulled over decades of seasoning. They both have a similar aging toner to the top and a tortoise pickguard.
The OM-28 has a vintage teardrop pickguard used on OMs up into 1931, in dark red tortoise. The BR-163, considering itself to be a long-scale 000 rather than an OM, has the full-size pickguard shape in a translucent “leopard” pattern that emulates the pickguard on the much-customized D-28 played by the late Tony Rice.
The back strips are different as well. The OM-28 has a Style 28 back strip from the 1950s onward. The BR-163 has the Zig-zag back strip that was used on Style 28 instruments up through the 1930s. All in all, the Blueridge BR-163 has drawn from a variety of classic Martin styles from across multiple decades and topped it off with their own.
The OM-28 is a Martin guitar and the direct decedent of the OM-28 made from 1929 to 1933. The BR-163 is inspired by the original OM-28 and the 000-28 that followed it. The simple fact is, the Martin OM-28 has fuller, deeper, richer, and more resonant and more complex tone. But this does not mean the Blueridge BR-163 isn’t full or rich, or doesn’t have resonance or complexity. It still has a very good tone, with deep, warm rosewood bass notes, projecting midrange, and clear singing trebles. It is just that the Martin has greater richness, and notably more in the way of harmonic overtones that help make up that special Martin complexity.
They still sound a lot alike when strumming or fingerpicking singing a song. The both have a classic spruce over rosewood sound. And when you consider the price difference, the BR-163 is a ridiculously great sounding guitar for the money. And truth be told, some people feel Martins sound too thick to their liking, and prefer an instrument with greater fundamental clarity and satisfying chime that isn’t flooded with woofy bass.
So, if they are so similar, why do they sound differently? Some of this might be attributed to the exact bracing or thickness of the tonewoods on the back and top. Some of it certainly can be attributed to the bridges, as ebony is much denser than rosewood, so even Martins made with a rosewood bridge tend to sound a bit brighter and airier than similar guitars with an ebony bridge. But the biggest difference is probably in the finish, at the finish line.
The Blueridge BR-163 has a modern finish of polyurethane or something similar, which is used on most acoustic guitars made today. It provides great protection against the elements and is resistant to dings and dents, and has a fabulous high gloss sheen to it, which some people love on a guitar neck. Others prefer a satin finish neck, as found on the OM-28.
The Martin OM-28 has a traditional finish made from nitrocellulose lacquer, which adds considerably to the price of an instrument, but allows the woods to breathe more than modern finishes. And that allows Martins to produce the fuller, more complex tonal properties that make the world-famous.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these two similar acoustic guitars is the price required to own one. The Blueridge BR-163 is $1,419.00. The Martin OM-28 is $3,199.00. Some of the price difference comes from the Martin being constructed in the USA, in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The cost of the skilled labor in training, salary, benefits and so on, is significantly higher in America than the cost of labor in Asia.
The Martin is, of course, a Martin, made from select tonewoods seasoned in their famous acclimation room, and there is no question that you get what you pay for when you step up to lofty Standard Series Martins that set the standard for all other acoustic guitars.
But you also get what you pay for in a Blueridge as it is still a major step-up from most acoustic guitars out there and offers quality, playability, and good tone for nearly half-the price of a similar Martin. You simply won’t find a guitar at this price built from all-solid tonewoods by veteran luthiers, with hand-carved bracing and a true dovetail neck joint. As you listen to example videos of these two excellent guitars, try to decide what you like best about them and which of the two you would want to buy. But most importantly, which are you going to buy?