Bluegrass Guitar - How to Purchace
Purchace tips, guitar types, acoustic guitars, handmade acoustic guitars, martin guitars, gibson guitars.
- Bluegrass Guitar Buying Tips
- Buying Tips Continued
- Guitar Recommendations
Not all that different from a standard
acoustic guitar or a handmade acoustic guitar, but there are some
differences and features that you may want to consider.
Volume in a Bluegrass Guitar is attained by several factors:
- How the guitar is made. In other words quality of construction, quality of wood and the
manner in which it was assembled.
- Age of the guitar. Many guitars made by Gibson Guitar and Martin Guitar in the 30's and 40's
(Often called Vintage Guitars) are deeply sought after for their loud voice and quality tone
- Type of wood used in the guitar construction. Often the exotic woods such as Brazilian Rosewood or
Indian Rosewood will product much louder guitars than those made from Mahogany, Walnut and Maple.
With Bluegrass music, you will be after a certain tone and "bite" from your Bluegrass Guitar. You are in direct competition with a very loud banjo and fiddle and need a guitar that really can really project well.
That narrows us down a bit, but still leave a very large pool of guitars to choose from. We will primarily be looking at dreadnought shaped guitars with deep bodies and string action that is a bit higher to allow for hard picking and playing rhythm.
The three primary back and side woods to look for in a Bluegrass Guitar are Brazilian Rosewood (Very Rare), Indian Rosewood (Brazilian Rosewood's Replacement) and Honduras Mahogany - often referred to as Genuine Mahogany.
Top Wood to look for in a Bluegrass Guitar are: Sitka Spruce, Englemann Spurce Bravarian Spruce and some of the Cedars, which are warmer sounding.
Nut and saddle materials are important as well. For older Bluegrass Guitar instruments expect to see ivory saddles and nuts. New guitars will sport bone. The latest model guitars usually incorporate some sort of plastic or composite materials, reffered to as tusq or even plastic.
For a truely good sound, look for fosselized bone, which is aged and hard and will product a great sounding guitar (yes the nut and saddle are that important in sound production).
Ivory is not available in any kind of quanitity and you have to be careful that it is not an illegal source of ivory as much of the ivory industry has been shut down.
As of late, more and more musicians have gravitated toward wider neck guitars for a bluegrass guitar - at the nut that is. I prefer this arrangement too and one of my first and best guitars that I built in 1975 had a wide neck at the nut and at the saddle.
I built this guitar with a wide neck because I primarily finger picked the guitar at the time and had formal classical guitar training.
Typical nut with for an acoustical guitar is 1.75" or 1-3/4" . Some musicians prefer a 1-7/8" or 1.875" neck. This is especially true if the guitarist is not only a flatpicker, but a fingerpicker too.
Typically fingerstyle guitarists prefer a wider neck for more complex chords. This allows some additional space for open strings to sound between fingered or fretted notes.
Be Aware of Repair Problems, when shopping for a Bluegrass Guitar, especially if it is an older instrument, be aware of repair problems that older and inferior instruments posses.
Two of the most common are necks that need resetting and top bellying. Both of these conditions can be repaired, but be aware that it is not an inexpensive procedure.
Check out my article Best Guitar Buying Tips for additional information on spotting problems with guitars and what to look for. I will also be publishing an ebook on Guitar Repair. So look for that in the next few months.
In your search for a Bluegrass Guitar, don't rule out a vintage prewar Martin Guitar. One in good shape will leave your wallet much lighter as they range in price from $10,000 to over $100,000.
If you are lucky and can find one that is trashed and repairable, you can save a lot of money. I found a 1940 D18 from a guy and traded him one of my handmade custom guitars for it. Now who do you think got the best deal??
The most prized Martins out there are the prewar D28's or herringbone Martins. They are called herringbone because of the herringbone trime used as purfling material around the the top and back plates. Check out the Collings picture in the next column and you'll see what I mean.
There was a lot of controversy over the D28 of Clarence White back in the 60's. He had actually modified this guitar himself by putting a Gretsch electic fingerboard on the guitar and making the soundhole larger than normal.
Martin now makes a reproduction of that guitar and we have it listed for sale on the next page. If you want to see the original Clarence White D28, just follow Tony Rice around. He inherited it when Clarence suffered and early death.
Traditionally Martin Guitars are the de-facto standard for Bluegrass Guitars. This is due to their pre-war guitars that are hard to match.
Martins made in the 1970's and 80's are very poor in my estimation and as of late the guitars they are re-introducing are up to the prewar guitar standards they once produced.
The only thing against them is that they are not "broken in" or "aged", and we will not know how good they will really be for many years.
Santa Cruz is a medium sized guitar shop that produces some very good sounding Bluegrass Guitars.
Wyatt Rice (Tony's Brother) plays a Santa Cruz and he gets a great tone from it. The model shown in the above picture is a Rosewood back and sides. This really projects well in a Bluegrass Band.
The Santa Cruz above also has the Clarence White Gretsch type fingerboard projecting over the soundhole and the larger than normal soundhole, reflecting the modifications to that original Clarence White Martin D28.
Collings Guitars is a guitar you should definitely check out. They make a very nice dreadnought with East Indian Rosewood back and sides and a Adirondack Spruce top.
I sat in Eldery Instruments for an entire Saturday one cold winter day in thier East Lansing, MI store. I played everything they had - form new Martins, to Vintage Martins, Gibsons, Taylors and everything inbetween. I walked out of that store with a new Collings D2H and l still love the sound of it.
I also like Taylor guitars, but they are a bit too warm in my estimation for true Bluegrass Guitar Picking, but I love them for fingerstyle guitar!
The Gallagher Doc Watson Signature is another great Bluegrass Guitar. Most of the these manufacturers are smallerl scale than the Martin and Gibson factory guitars and you will find that there is more attention paid to detail. The bracing will be smoother and the guitar will be largely put together by hand.
Martin Guitars can be purchased at musiciansfriend.com, Music123, American Musical Supply, Guitar Center, Guitar Trader and Amazon.com. Other guitars mentioned here have a dealer network or chain of music stores you must buy from. Don't forget to stop in at a well stocked music store as many do carry the higher profile bluegrass guitars
Am I missing some? Yes of course I am. Here are some others to consider:
Breedlove - look into their dreadnoughts
Alvarez - stay with the higher end models
Takamine - as with Alvarez stick to the pricier one's
Construction: mahogany blocks/dovetail neck joint. Body size: dreadnought, 14-fret. Top: solid Sitka spruce. Rosette: Old style 18. Top bracing pattern: DOM forward-shifted. Top braces: scalloped 5/16".
Back material: solid genuine mahogany. Back purfling: style 18. Side material: solid genuine mahogany. Endpiece: tortoise color. Binding: tortoise color. Top inlay style: multiple, black/white. Neck material: solid mahogany. Neck shape: modified V. Nut material: white Corian. Headstock: solid, square, tapered. Headplate: solid East Indian rosewood/large old-style logo. Heelcap: solid black ebony. Fingerboard material: solid black ebony.
A perfect choice for the aspiring professional, it features rosewood back and sides, a mahogany neck with flawless ebony fretboard, rosewood headstock overlay set off by gold tuners with pearloid buttons, gorgeous multiple wood binding, and an intricately crafted wood mosaic rosette.
The tone of the Martin D-28 Acoustic Guitar is what separates it from all other guitars. It has a solid Sitka spruce top with glossy finish, special East Indian rosewood for the polished back and sides, and genuine ebony fingerboard and bridge.
With its rich, resonant warmth and punchy volume, the D-28 is particularly well-suited to music styles requiring loud, powerful rhythm accompaniment. Includes Martin deluxe hardshell case and limited lifetime warranty.
The Blueridge PreWar Series is the finest line of guitars we have ever built. These amazing instruments have been universally praised typ top players, collectors, music retailers and countless music magazines.
Our BR-280 and BR-283, for example, is made from the finest Brazilian rosewood, with delicate abalone inlay on every border and lavish, original M.O. P. peghead designs.
Solid Adirondack spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, fine herringbone top inlay, solid black ebony fingerboard and bridge, solid rosewood headplate with Golden Era logo, Dalmatian tortoise pickguard, and Waverly W-16 nickel tuners.
Interior label signed by C.F. Martin IV and Michelle White Bledsoe. Includes hardshell case.
The incredible luthiers of Gibson Acoustic in Montana have created replicas of their top five historic models. These guitars have been added to satisfy the demands of the discriminating vintage guitar customer.
The Hummingbird model is the gorgeous model seen on stage and heard in many famous recordings from the 60s and 70s. This historically accurate model brings you that much closer to that era of music. All True Vintage models feature Historic orange labels
Bone nut and saddle Historically accurate binding over fret ends Madagascar rosewood components Premium Vintage style case Select dark amber toner Handcrafted in Bozeman MT Body Body Style Square Shoulder Dreadnought Top Species Premium Sitka Spruce Back and Sides Mahogany Body Binding 6-ply top 4-ply back Neck Species Mahogany Scale 24-3/4 in.
Construction: Mahogany Blocks/Dovetail Neck Joint. Body size: D-14 Fret. Top: Solid Adirondack Spruce. Rosette: Style 28. Top bracing pattern: Standard X Scalloped (Circa 1937 Style), Forward shifted. Top braces: Solid Adirondack Spruce. Back material: Solid Brazilian Rosewood.
Back purfling: HD Zigzag. Side material: Solid Brazilian Rosewood. End piece: Grained Ivoroid. End piece inlay: Black/White Boltaron. Binding: Grained Ivoroid. Top inlay style: Fine Herringbone. Side inlay: None. Back inlay: Black/White Boltaron.
Neck material: Solid Genuine Mahogany. Neck shape: 1937 Contour. Nut material: Fossilized Ivory. Headstock Solid Brazilian Rosewood/Square Taper. Headplate: Solid Brazilian Rosewood w/Large Golden Era Style. Heelcap: Grained Ivoroid. Fingerboard material: Solid Black Ebony. Scale length: 25.4. # of frets clear: 14. # of frets total: 20. Fingerboard width at nut: 1-3/4. Fingerboard width at 12th fret: 2 1/4;
Body Style: 6-String dreadnought. Back & Sides: Indian Rosewood. Top: Western Sitka Spruce. Rosette: Abalone. Neck: Tropical American Mahogany. Fretboard: Ebony with Binding.
Fretboard Inlay: Pearl 800 Series. Headstock Overlay: Indian Rosewood. Binding: White Plastic. Bridge: Ebony. Nut and Saddle: Tusq. Pickguard: tortoise shell. Tuning Machines: Gold-Plated Taylor Tuners. Strings: Elixir Medium Gauge Strings with Nanoweb Coating.
Scale Length: 25-1/2;. Truss Rod: Adjustable. Neck Width at Nut: 1-3/4;. No. of frets: 20. Bracing: Scalloped, X-brace. Finish: Gloss. Electronics: None. Body Width: 16;. Body Depth: 4-5/8. Body Length: 20. Overall Length: 41. Case: Taylor Deluxe Hardshell.
Type/Shape: 6-String Grand Auditorium. Back & Sides: Hawaiian Koa. Top: Sitka Spruce. Soundhole Rosette: Abalone. Neck: Tropical American Mahogany.
Fretboard: Ebony with Binding. Fretboard Inlay: Abalone Snowflakes. Headstock Overlay: Ebony. Binding: Ivoroid. Bridge: Ebony. Nut & Saddle: Tusq. Tuning Machines: Gold-plated Taylor Tuners. Strings: Elixir Light Gauge Strings with Nanoweb Coating. Scale Length: 25-1/2 Inches. Truss Rod: Adjustable.
Neck Width at Nut: 1-3/4 Inches. Number of Frets: 20. Fretboard radius: 15 inches. Bracing: Standard II (Forward Shifted Pattern W/Relief Rout). Finish: Gloss Natural. Body Width: 15 Inches. Body Depth: 4-1/8 inches. Body Length: 19-1/2 inches. Overall Length: 40-1/2 inches. Case: Taylor Deluxe Hardshell.
See our article on Best Guitar Buying Tips and How to Buy a Classical Guitar for a lot of addition information - and - some suggestions for guitars. Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced guitars are covered.
Set them off in the right direction and watch them enjoy this musical experience for the rest of their life!