Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Music Making!!
In this blog post, we shall look at two of the most successful rosewood Dreadnoughts on the market today, the Blueridge BR-160 and the Martin HD-28. Santa Claus received many requests for both from good boys and girls, for very good reasons.
Acoustic guitars come in many shapes and woods and cosmetic designs. But none have been as consistently popular as the mighty Dreadnought size guitars made with rosewood back and sides. These two examples have a lot more going for them than most.
The HD-28 and BR-160 are made with all-solid tonewoods, including gorgeous East Indian rosewood back and sides, and a high-quality soundboard of Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest. The additional resonance and tonal complexity of solid-wood guitars, compared to those made from laminated plywood, is greatly enhanced by the engineering that goes into these particular professional level acoustic guitars.
Living, Singing History
The 14-fret dreadnought was invented at C. F. Martin & Co. in the mid-1930s, reaching perfection with the arrival of the 1937 D-28. With its scalloped, forward-shifted braces under that wide Dreadnought soundboard, inlaid with its black and white herringbone marquetry, and classic Diamonds and Squares position markers on the fingerboard, todays HD-28 is the direct descendant of that Holy Grail of acoustic guitars.
A 1937 D-28 sold at auction earlier this year for $281,250.00. You will get an HD-28 from Maury’s Music for (a LOT) less, and you will still be getting one of the best guitars for the price in all the world.
Since the Standard Series D-28 now has the looks of a 1950s Martin, an H is added to the model’s name to signify that vintage Martin herringbone trim from the 1930s seen on the HD-28. But it also signifies something you cannot see, the scalloped bracing under the top.
Unlike lower-priced models, the X brace and tone bars on the HD-28 are still hand-carved by a highly trained craftsman or craftswoman using a razor-sharp chisel. Peeling away delicate curls of spruce one slice at a time, they reduce the depth of each brace or bar in key areas, a traditional technique that increases flexibility of the brace, while retaining taller peaks here and there. The extra flexibility makes the whole soundboard more responsive and expressive, while the narrow peaks on each brace provide stability, while also acting as dampening nodes for specific frequencies. The results are heard as increased resonance and reverberation, and a more open and three-dimensional soundscape that fills up a room with ear-loving, eye-widening wonderment.
The HD-28 has forward-shifted scalloped bracing, which means the position of the main X brace is approximately 1” from the sound hole – the same layout used in 1937. Forward-shifted bracing increases the flexibility of the soundboard near the bridge and bridge plate, where the kinetic energy passing through the strings enters the structure of the instrument itself. That more-flexible bottom bout ramps up the bass response, while the general increase in responsiveness creates a fullness to the sound reflecting within and projecting out of that deep, wide Dreadnought sound chamber. It is just so awesome!
The BR-160 from Blueridge’s Historic Series, is quite similar in many respects to the HD-28. It is also inspired by the prewar D-28 and has forward-shifted, scalloped braces, with subtle differences to the overall engineering that produces a voice with a full bottom end that is a bit more focused and punchier than the Martin’s darker, rounder bass. And that popping, focused tone across all six strings makes the BR-160 very good for Bluegrass flatpicking and accompanying a singer via light fingerpicking.
The neck on the BR-160 is a bit slimmer, with a 1-11/16” width-at-nut, compared to the Martin’s 1-3/4” nut width. But the Martin’s High Performance Taper to the fingerboard means they have basically an identical width in the upper frets.
Also, the BR-160 has a slightly longer string scale, being 650 mm, or two-tenths of an inch longer than the Maritn’s 25.4” scale. This may contribute a bit to how the notes on the Blueridge leap out of the sound hole with such clear, ringing immediacy.
Another specification that stands apart from the Martin HD-28 is the BR-160’s fingerboard and bridge, which are made from solid rosewood, something it has in common with the classic D-21 that Martin made from 1955 to 1969. A rosewood fingerboard is smooth to the touch and very nice on the eyes, with figuring that is lighter in hue and much more interesting and varied to look upon than the dark black ebony used on the Martin.
The rosewood bridge is not as dense as an ebony bridge. That means energy will pass through it differently, with less muting of frequencies, so it can add to the open, less murky undertone – again, like how a vintage D-21 sounds more open and sunnier compared to a D-28 from the same time period.
Other differences include the color of the binding. The vibrant white binding on the Blueridge looks like a new Martin from recent decades, when compared to the duller Antique white on today’s HD-28, meant to seem like vintage instrument binding that lost some sheen after years of discoloring. Both instruments have a high gloss finish, with aging toner on the spruce soundboard that looks more like a vintage instrument than brand new spruce that has no toner at all.
The pickguards have their own tortoise shell pattern. The Martin HD-28 is darker and opaque, while the Blueridge BR-160 has the Dalmatian pattern made famous by the 1935 D-28 previously owned by flatpicking phenoms Tony Rice and Clarence White before him.
Where the BR-160 fancies things up a bit is on the neck and headstock. The colorful abalone shell is inlaid on the fingerboard with a pattern that combines the split diamonds of vintage Style 28 with additional snowflakes and cats eyes used on Martins like the D-45. This gives it the look of the customized D-28s seen in the Woodstock era in the hands of musicians like Neil Young and Stephen Stills.
Where the HD-28 has the traditional C.F. Martin & Co. gold scrip logo across the headstock face plate, the BR-160 has the botanical “torch and ivy” pattern unique to Blueridge guitars. Argent white decorations are set off by jade green accents, like those seen on various ultra-fancy guitars and banjos from the turn of the previous century.
Variations on a Classic
Big, bold, and beautiful; either of these magnificent musical instruments would make your favorite guitarist extraordinarily happy, if they could unwrap it on Christmas morning, or any morning for that matter. Their full, rich voices have powerful bass response, and clear treble notes enhanced by complex harmonic overtones, and the generous volume and dynamic range to accomplish every style of music. That’s what you get with a Dreadnought made from solid rosewood. The tonal personalities of the BR-160 and HD-28 are similar yet unique, with each being a fine representative of the signature sound of its specific brand.
Devotees of Martin guitars will rightly say you get what you pay for when you step up to world-class level of the Standard Series HD-28, which sets the standard for what a rosewood dreadnought can aspire to. But the Blueridge BR-160 has the advantage of coming from a guitar factory on the other side of the globe, so they can offer a very similar guitar for considerably less money. Buck for buck, the BR-160 may just be the very next best thing to owning an HD-28. And for the money, or just for the tone and playability, many players will prefer the Blueridge on its own merits.
Maury’s own Christmas and New Years would be greatly enhanced if he could enhance your holidays with such a fine musical instrument as the Martin HD-28 or the Blueridge BR-160. So, drop Maury a line, or give him a call, before Santa’s sleigh comes for them all!
From all of us at Maury’s Music, we wish you and your loved ones a merry, safe, and happy holidays, musically ever after. Ho ho ho! Mauryyyyy Chrisssssstmassss!