The clear, woody tones singing from the sound hole of an Auditorium-size acoustic guitar with mahogany back and sides and topped with Sitka spruce makes beautiful music indeed. The Blueridge BR-143 is just such an instrument.
On paper, the BR-143 appears to be quite similar to the celebrated Martin 000-18. You know what? They actually are quite similar, with perhaps the biggest difference between them being the expense required to own a 000-18 compared to the amazingly affordable price of the BR-143.
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, the Martin 000-18 is one seriously admired guitar. It is among the most influential models of all time, with millions of instruments made around the globe from mahogany and spruce, in the same body size and often with the same aesthetic styling of that classic model. But Blueridge’s version of a mahogany Auditorium-size guitar is closer to the 000-18 than most.
Both of these models are built by a guitar-making concern that has been creating excellent musical instruments for many decades. Although the Martin Company has been around for nearly 190 years, the master craftsmen and craftswomen currently working at Martin were all hired long after Blueridge guitars first went into business. The care, quality and craftsmanship that goes into each Blueridge guitar is envied by other makers in direct competition with them, price-wise.
But the BR-143 is part of their Historic Series. That means it is even closer to a Standard Series Martin than most guitars on the market. Both of these instruments are made entirely of solid, world-class tonewoods. Each has a soundboard of high-quality Sitka spruce, a hugely popular choice because it puts out huge tone that is meaty but lovely, with a physical flexibility and strength that makes it an ideal top wood for all styles of playing.
Tonewood from the mahogany family is famous for its clear, open tone that our friend Dick Boak of Martin guitar fame likes to call “glassine.” The combination of mahogany back and sides and a Sitka spruce top provides arid tone of clarity and brightness that is nicely balanced by a warm bottom end and very pretty high harmonics, and a wonderfully woody body resonance to compliment the chiming definition to the fundamental notes.
Both of these instruments have pre-war style scalloped bracing. This means the main X brace and the tone bars supporting the large lower bout below the sound hole have been shaped by hand so that long slopes of wood have been carved away, giving the center and tips of each brace increased flexibility, so the soundboard moves more freely, putting out soundwaves of greater volume and natural resonance compared to a similar guitar made with non-scalloped braces.
Blueridge guitars sometimes feature parabolic bracing, which means the brace is wider where it is glued to the soundboard than the top of the brace, in an effort to reduce mass and the overall weight of the instrument. But as a member of the Historic Series, the BR-143 employs traditional scalloped top bracing to achieve the same goal, with shaping more like on a vintage Martin than other Blueridge guitars from, say, their BG Series, for example.
Both of these instruments have comfortable, modern necks. But they are different. The Blueridge BR-143 has a long-scale neck with a 1-11/16” width at the nut, like a pre-2018 000-18. The Martin has a short-scale neck with a 1-3/4” width at the nut. But due to Martin’s High Performance Taper on the fingerboard, the width of these necks quickly becomes the same as the player moves up the frets. The string spacing at the saddle on the 000-18 is a scant 3/32” wider than the spacing on the BR-143.
The difference in string scale means the Blueridge BR-143 neck is a little longer, so there is a little more room between the frets which is most noticeable high up the neck. In Martin parlance the long-scale neck makes the BR-143 an Orchestra Model. But Martin has made various long-scale 000 models in the past, so the direct comparison remains worthwhile, especially since Martin no longer produces an OM-18.
The most important difference is that there is more string tension with a long-scale neck, which means a bit more volume and projection from the BR-143. But there is more play in the strings of the 000-18, so a player can bend them more easier and to a higher pitch when playing rock or blues solos.
Both of these instruments have classic acoustic guitar appointments in their own right. Martin’s Style 18 in the Standard Series set the standard for what a mahogany guitar looks like. But it evolved over time. Today’s 000-18 closely resembles a 000-18 from the late 1930s. The BR-143 shares some of those looks.
Each model has black white 5-ply binding around the edge of the soundboard that Martin first put on a 000-18 in 1932. With it comes the matching vintage Style 18 sound hole rosette rings, as well as white mother-of-pearl fret position markers that have been copied by countless guitar makers. They also have a faux tortoise shell pickguard. But where the Martin has a dark red and black guard, the Blueridge has the translucent “leopard pattern” pick guard similar to the one on the famous Martin guitar played by the late, great Tony Rice.
Another difference is the color of the outer binding on the body. Today’s 000-18 has tortoise binding of a pre-war 000-18, while the BR-143 has black binding like the post-war 000-18s built between 1945 and 2018. The BR-143 also has beautifully figured rosewood for the fingerboard and bridge, like those same post-war 000s. The 000-18 has ebony for the board and bridge, again, like a Style 18 Martin from the 1930s. And they each have an aging toner on the spruce top that gives them the look of a vintage guitar that has soaked up its share of sunlight across many decades.
But when we get up to the headstock, it is the BR-143 that shines out with its exclusive Blueridge inlays on the peghead face plate. Mother-of-pearl and high-color abalone shell is used to create a stunning torch design that harkens back to the early 1900s when such ornamentation was inlaid by many different luthiers to show off their best guitars and banjos with their own unique styling. The 000-18 retains its usual conservative Martin script logo, as they reserve such pearl inlays for only their most expensive models.
Both of these instruments offer lovely mahogany tone representative of their respective brands. Someone commented on our YouTube comparison video that “the Blueridge sounded a bit brighter and more articulate, the Martin smoother/more mellow.” We would tend to agree.
The Martin 000-18 has the fuller body resonance that cushions the fundamental notes and adds a certain roundness to the overall voice of a mahogany guitar that is unique to Martins. The BR-143 has the signature clarity and note to note separations that make Blueridge guitars so well-loved and sought after, with less body resonance to the more-open and airy voice, while still offering plenty of power and projection to that classic mahogany chime.
One shouldn’t expect a guitar to have the exact same tone of similar instruments costing nearly three times the price. But we always expect them to be genuinely surprised and oh so pleased with how lovely a Blueridge guitar sounds. Most instruments in their price range are over-built, frankly. Blueridge employees pride themselves on making guitars with that are light and resonant and very much in the tradition of the finest pre-war instruments, just like Martins.
For those who cannot step up to the price tag of a 000-18, or who are looking for more-affordable solid wood construction and scalloped bracing to add to their collection of higher-priced instruments, the BR-143 is an amazingly fine and tuneful acoustic guitar. We wouldn’t be selling it, or any Blueridge guitar, if we didn’t believe in and stand by Blueridge quality, craftsmanship, and tone.
Whether a player is looking for that open woody chime of the mahogany BR-143, or the richer resonance and more complex harmonics of the rosewood BR-163, we have never found better guitars that we could offer at these affordable prices. If we ever do, we will be selling them too.
Which do you prefer?