In acoustic guitar circles, these two names often crop up when guitarists are discussing which guitar brand they like or dislike. What is it about these two brands that have led them to become so loved and hated by acoustic guitar aficionados? Think Apple vs Samsung. I shall provide some insight into the matter for those who are wondering what this debate is all about.
First, here is a little background on these two brands.
Martin Guitar Co.
The Martin Guitar Company (“Martin”) was founded in the U.S. by German immigrant Christian Frederick Martin Sr. in 1833. It is family owned and has operated for six generations till this day. Martin introduced features that have become industry standards today, including X-bracing, the 14-fret guitar and the “Dreadnought” size. The “Dreadnought” size has become the most popular guitar body style today.
One of the reasons why Martin has become synonymous with the acoustic guitar is its tone. Through its long history, Martin has developed a signature guitar tone which many describe as sounding warm, mellow and woody. This sound is characterised as having deeper sounding bass tones. The Martin tone has become the classic acoustic guitar sound desired by most acoustic players.
Taylor Guitars (“Taylor”) was founded in 1974 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, and has grown into a global builder of premium acoustic guitars. Bob Taylor is widely recognized throughout the musical instrument industry as a visionary acoustic guitar manufacturer. He pioneered the use of computer mills, lasers and other high-tech tools and proprietary machinery in fashioning their ever-growing line of guitars.
Taylors became increasingly sought after through the years because their guitars are very playable. They achieved good playability by redesigning their guitar necks, allowing for a very low distance between the strings and the fretboard. This feature suits most electric guitarists who need a lower action akin to the electric guitar and are hence Taylor guitars are more popular among them. Tone wise, Taylor guitars are characterized as having an even clarity across the bass, mid and treble registers. Their sound is described as bright, crisp and brilliant.
The debate guitarists have about Martin and Taylor is the relative importance (to them) between tone and playability. To get to the gist of the matter, we have to understand that every guitar is built and voiced according to what the maker envisions to be the “ideal” instrument. From a player’s perspective, this ideal is subjective due to personal preferences in sound and each’s playing style. However, there are some qualities a fine sounding guitar constitutes that has been agreed upon by both players and makers alike.
Good Sound Projection: Guitar resonates well and is able to achieve a relatively loud volume.
Good Responsiveness: Sound is emitted by the guitar with immediacy when played gently.
Good Note Separation: Individual notes can be heard clearly when strummed.
Good Tone Balance: Low notes and high notes do not overpower each other and sound even throughout.
Good Intonation: Fretted notes must be in tune wherever played along the entire fretboard. Open strings must also be in tune when played together with fretted ones
Good Action: When fretting notes, strings require little effort to be held down.
Good Sustain: Notes have a long duration when played and do not die out quickly.
Good Tone Colour or Timbre: Guitar has a broad range of different tonal nuances distinct from pitch and intensity.
Martin and Taylor are examples of how large high-end mass manufacturers are striving to fashion the ultimate guitar without sacrificing any of the above, to suit every need of the player. At the end of the day, it’s not that one is better than the better. But rather, what kind of sound do you prefer? You may swoon over a Martin which sounds warm, mellow and woody or be enthralled by a Taylor which sounds bright, crisp and brilliant. At Living Strings, we recommend trying as many different brands as possible to gain a better understanding of the differences in tone and feel amongst the panoply of guitars available today. You may find a guitar that’s just right for you and still have enough for a hearty dinner at a fine diner! If nothing inspires you, why not conjure up your own design? It may go on to be the next big thing. How do you think these two gentlemen started out in the first place?
P.S Incidentally, there’s a jazz fingerstyle guitarist called Martin Taylor haha! Do click on his name and check him out!