Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Guitars for Bluegrass

I have been looking for a new guitar. I have played many martins and I was wondering besides a breadnaught what other style of guitar would you use. I like the perf. art. series by martin .but, I don’t know if its right for bluegrass.I’m a beginner. I have only been learning for 5 or so month. Give me your toughts please.

I’m probably going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I think anyone who buys a new, expensive guitar should get one with a bolt-on neck.

I was looking at a OMCPA4 Martin. I read in the history of bluegrass that either the dreadnaught or OM model of guitars are used but you only see dreadnaught.

Looks like I will go with the D-16rgt Martin then. Have you had the chance to play one of those Ben?

Hey Jim,
I have a dreadnaught (D-18GE, mahogany), an OM (OM-18V, mahogany) and a performing artist (GPCPA3, rosewood), so I can maybe help with the comparisons a bit. As far as playability goes, any of them play bluegrass just fine. As far as tone goes, they are all different, but I like them all (to me, the D18 and the OM18 have what I would consider a fairly traditional bluegrass tone). As far as volume goes, the D-18 is very loud, the OM is reasonably loud and GPC has less volume and it doesn’t cut like some guitars. More volume is not necessarily better in all situations. If you play and sing by yourself, a flatpicked loud guitar can be too much. However, like Ol’ Ben Kenobi said, if you are going to play with others acoustically, volume is a good thing.

The PA series has great electronics. They sound incredible plugged in, they are very easy and comfortable to play and I think they are a really great all around guitar (I’ve no plans to sell mine). With that said, if you are going to focus on acoustic grass with groups, in my opinion, the PA series may not be the best suited for that particular purpose due to the lack of acoustic volume.

The different body shapes and wood combinations all have their strengths and weaknesses. The OM and GPC are a more comfy body shape and size for me than the dreadnaught. The mahogany cuts better, but rosewood has a warmth that is pleasing and I think is more conducive to singing. In short, it comes down to what works for you and how you will use it. Don’t get in a rush, and try to get to a store where you can play different shapes, brands and woods. If you can, find a great guitar shop with a quiet area to play a great variety of instruments. Near me, I like Charleys in Dallas and when I can get there I love Gruhn in Nashville. Ben goes to Artisan in Franklin, TN… I haven’t been there, but the instruments on their website are incredible. Sooner or later, you’ll find something that works for you. And by the way, you may not find “the” guitar with your first purchase. As time goes by my tastes in what I want in a guitar have changed, and I suspect it will continue to do so. Happy hunting!

Edit: As I was typing my long-winded thing I saw you decided on a Guitar. Good deal. I have played some 16 series that were quite nice.

Mike, Thanks for your input. I have to stay in a budget for now. But, In a few 10 years from now when my twins graduate school it will be a differant store. I would love to own a d-28 SB some day but there is no way I can justify the moey with two graduating this mounth too. (ya we speaddded them out a little 10 yrs.)LOL

Hi Jim,
There are great guitars to be had in the price range you are looking. The difference between a nice $1000 guitar and a nice $2000 guitar are generally not that significant. If you read the topic Ben posted about Tony Rice’s Santa Cruz, somewhere talking about that guitar, Tony made the statement that he used that guitar and his 1930s D-28 on a particular album and he defied anyone to be able to tell which guitar was used on which song. A 1930’s D-28 is considered the “Holy Grail” guitar of bluegrass, and I would guess Tony’s would be worth more than everything I own. Tony doesn’t think anyone can tell the difference between that and a guitar worth a very small fraction of that of the D-28. The point I am getting to is that there are a bunch of great guitars at all different price ranges. Once you get a guitar with good tonewoods that is well built, the differences as one goes up in price are small and depend on the listener. If you can, try as many as you can (even of the same model) and take your time. Some guitar will feel and sound the way you want. When you find it, get it, love it and play the strings off of it. You might find that you never feel a need to get a different one. I’m excited to hear what you get.

I will let you know when I get my new toy. I should have it in a month or so.

— Begin quote from "Julian"

I’m probably going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I think anyone who buys a new, expensive guitar should get one with a bolt-on neck.

— End quote

all collings guitars have a “bolt on” neck and cost in the 3-5K range.

— Begin quote from "Julian"

I’m probably going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but I think anyone who buys a new, expensive guitar should get one with a bolt-on neck.

— End quote

Not rubbed the wrong at all but I am curious why you would have that opinion. That would leave out some great guitars.

'cause one of my guitars needs a neck reset and it would cost more than the guitar is worth. Why buy obsolete tech when you can have a modern, bolt-on neck that’s maintainable.

Hi Julian,
For what it’s worth, if the guitar that is worth less than a reset still has a reasonable bridge thickness, it can be shaved to change the geometry as well. Most wouldn’t want to do this to a valuable vintage instrument, just due to the impact on value. But in the case of an inexpensive instrument it’s a good option for the problem you describe. I have a friend with a Yamaha that has a similar issue. It’s a great old guitar. It sounds and plays nice as it sits, but the saddle is very low. He wants to get more volume, so a reset or bridge shave are the two good options for increasing the saddle break angle. I suspect he’ll shave the bridge, but he is still considering a reset. He loves that guitar, so who knows.

Back to the earlier statement about only getting a bolt on neck. You certainly didn’t rub me the wrong way, as there is nothing wrong with that opinion. Ease of maintenance is a valid concern. Even with a bolt on neck, a neck reset is not a trivial task, but the lack of glue in the joint (in most cases) and the simpler geometry does make it less time consuming and less expensive. On the other hand, the tone of a guitar is a very complex thing. There are guitars that sound great with all sorts of designs. Every little design difference (including neck joint construction) has an effect on tone. There was a guitar I was considering buying that had a special tone. It was built with a bunch of things intended to make the tone jump, adirondack on madagascar, less top thickness, scalloped & shifted adi braces, hide glue throughout, and a T bar. I loved the tone, but the T bar as opposed to an adjustable truss rod bothered me. I love being able to tweak my relief for action changes or flatten the neck for working on my frets. In addition the thinner top worried me a bit. I initially walked away. Eventually, I went back and bought it. The guitar would not allow me the same maintenance capabilities as some other guitars, but when it came down to it, I valued the tone over the convenience (or cost of repair). How much did the T Bar affect the tone? I have no idea, and people will argue different ways. But I do know that all the different elements gave the guitar a special sound. Would it have sounded the same with a bolt on neck design? I doubt it would sound the same, but I can’t say it would be worse. To my ear it might have been better, it might have been worse, but I’ll never know as it wasn’t made that way. My point is, based on my actions, it seems I am willing to accept future maintenance complications as a trade off for the tone I crave.

Martin, Gibson, Guild, Santa Cruz among many others all use “set-in” neck joints so I doubt that would be considered obsolete tech.

There are lots of great bluegrass guitars these days.

I think you will definitely need to go with a dreadnought or at very least a 0000 (M) size. If you are on a budget, there are tons of great sounding instruments that are very budget friendly. The Recording King RD-316 is a tone monster and quite loud as are the Blueridge BR-140A and the Eastman E10D. All of these guitars have solid Adirondack tops and solid mahogany back and sides. The Recording King also has an ebony fingerboard, bridge, and Grover butterbean tuners. You should be able to get any of these for under $1000 street. I purchased the RD-316 for $600 new. In fact, the RD-316 has a dovetail neck joint, one piece mahogany neck (no wings), nitro-cellulose finish, 2 way truss rod, forward shifted braces and bone nut/saddle. I bought one about a year ago and it is getting lots of play time, even more than my Martins.

If you are willing to put out the bucks for a Martin, there are a good number of great choices. The D18 is a standard guitar for bluegrass. The D28 is also a great choice, but has a thicker, more overtone rich tone that you may find a little much when picking in a group. Then there are the various expensive iterations of the D18, e.g. D18A and the D18GE. If you decide of saving a few bucks, you can get the D16, D16 Adirondack and for under a grand, you can get the D1GT.

Play as many as you can. Have fun. Remember that any guitar, as long as it is not broken, can be set up to play extremely well by a competent guitar tech or luthier (the first thing you should do after purchasing a guitar). Find an instrument that makes you want to play it and buy that one. :smiley:


Here’s a couple interesting guitars I saw while perusing. Just thought I’d pass them along as food for thought.

Eastman E10D at Gryphon (has a sound file at the link): “shopworn” for $725. I don’t have any personal experience with the Eastmans, but many rave about them. I can’t believe they can build the guitar for that little.

Gryphon also has a sunburst D-18GE ($2350), a D-18P ($1650) and an HD-28V ($1860)

Gruhn has a Martin custom dreadnaught with adirondack over mahgoany for $1250. It looks a bit like an old ditson with a “normal” headstock. Stock number AA8592

I’ll have to check out the other guitars mentioned above. What’s everybody’s take on a D-35 as far as being a good bluegrass guitar? I’ve really gotten into bluegrass lately (thanks to Banjo Ben) and I’m in the market for a good Martin. I liked the D-35 I played the other weekend, but I’m still undecided. Any thoughts?

It’s all about what **you **want to hear.

For what its worth, I’ve owned two D35s and both were excellent guitars. I’ve also played a couple great D41s that friends of mine own. Myself I would get a D41 if I bought another guitar, but that is beside the point: what is important is what **you **want to hear out of **your **instrument.

Fiddlewood knows his Martins. The D35 is the big daddy of the Martin dreads as far as I’m concerned. It has a huge, deep voice that plays second fiddle to no one in the fat sound department. It seems to me the the concept of “balanced sound” is not the primary concern with the D35 as much as it is on other Martin dreads. And I love the look of the 3 piece back! :smiley:

If you like it, buy it!

— Begin quote from "drguitar"

It seems to me the the concept of “balanced sound” is not the primary concern with the D35 as much as it is on other Martin dreads.

— End quote

I don’t know all that much about instruments period except what I’ve personally experienced and been told by those who I trust. that’s why I have a friend shopping for a Gibson Banjo for me.

My D35s were (I thought) as balanced as 18s or 28s with a combination of the good characteristics of the other two models. They had the pure power of a 28 yet they had a brightness somewhere between the models and cut through camparably with an 18.

Once you get up to the 41s and 45s you really attain an instrument that is balanced across the board. This has just been the personal experience of my friends and I though. there are millions of guitars out there and there is always one to break the rules/beliefs with.

Each instrument is as much an individual as a person. Take the time to pick the one that is right for you. Martins, through much of the 70s were (in my opinion) mis-engineered. To attain the correct saddle height for optimum sound they need the neck reset and probably a few other things done depending on the model.

My '74 D-28 has had the neck set, bridge re-=cut, and the bridge plate shaved down a bit (it was bigger than it is supposed to be). I won’t part with this guitar, I love it. But it is an example of what one might run into.