Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.
Outstanding Mahogany Body Dreadnoughts Under $1,000
My purpose here is to discuss two of the very best mahogany body dreadnought guitars I know of in the under one thousand dollars category. I have personal experience with both of these instruments, and in the case of the Blueridge guitar, I've personally spent time with three different individuals of such.
This particular subject is important to me for a personal reason, and this is I once purchased a new Martin D-18GE for quite a lot more money than these two guitars sell for. I sold my D-18GE in a fit of depression for encountering some drastic reduction in income. I've always regretted selling that guitar, but I also don't see being in a position to buy another any time soon. What I can imagine is getting another mahogany body dreadnought, and especially one as good as these are, and in this price point.
All Solid Wood Construction
The least expensive guitars are constructed of laminated wood back and sides, and a laminated wood top. For all intents and practical purposes, such guitars are beginner's instruments.
The next level up is a guitar with laminated back and sides, and a solid wood top. These are intermediate level guitars. The top or soundboard of an acoustic guitar is where the most of the sound is generated. You can really tell a difference when you go from playing a guitar of all laminated back, sides, and top, to one with a solid top.
When you get to an acoustic guitar which is all solid wood construction, well, now you're talking about something which is of professional quality. The back and sides are of solid wood, and the top is of solid wood as well. An all solid wood guitar will simply blow guitars with laminated parts out of the water, tone wise, and volume wise.
Mahogany as a Tonewood
Traditionally, there were two primary flavors of steel string acoustic guitars, and they are mahogany body guitars, and rosewood body guitars. The mahogany body guitars are always, all other things being equal, much less expensive.
This has caused some persons to imagine rosewood body guitars are better than mahogany body guitars. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reasons rosewood guitars are more expensive are twofold, for one, rosewood is harder to come by. The laws of supply and demand dictate it is more expensive for that reason. The second reason is rosewood is much more difficult and time consuming to shape into a guitar's body.
The sound of a mahogany body guitar is very different from a rosewood body guitar's sound. These things are a matter of personal taste, whether you like one best or the other, but if your goal is to get an all solid wood construction steel string acoustic guitar, and you're not heavy in the wallet, then that mahogany body guitar is going to be your first love.
The Blueridge BR-140a
I want to say with no ambiguity here that Blueridge guitars are an outright God send to persons who are very very serious about owning a C.F. Martin style guitar, but simply can not come up with enough cash to purchase an all solid wood Martin. It's also something that needs to be said that Blueridge is a Chinese manufacturer who makes almost total copies of classic US acoustic guitar designs.
For the most part, Blueridge exists to craft and sell extremely good copies of Martin guitars. These are copies and not counterfeits, as Blueridge says 'Blueridge' on the headstocks, and besides that, they often have some original and pretty distinguishing inlays on the headstocks. Blueridge does also make copies of classic Gibson acoustic designs.
I'm not here to say Blueridge copies are as good as current or past Martin originals. I'm here to tell you that I've not only played several of this model, but lots of other Blueridge all solid wood copies of different Martin models, and I'd be lying to you were I not to say Blueridge is at least ninety five percent as good as Martin originals in playability, sound, and at a price much less than half.
What's my qualifications to make such bold statements? Well I own a very nice and very old Martin at present, and I've owned both an HD-28vr and a D-18GE in the past. Both were extremely fine instruments, and I've played the Blueridge copies for both, and found them always far beyond what I had previously ever imagined possible to own for such low asking prices.
Adirondack Spruce Soundboard
To appreciate the BR-140a, which is absolutely a copy of the Martin D-18GE, one needs to understand what's so very special about the D-18GE to begin with. Well, I don't wish to limit things I love this much, but I'll focus on one specific thing here, and that is Adirondack spruce as a soundboard.
Adirondack spruce is sometimes also referred to as red spruce. When it is used as the soundboard, or top of an acoustic steel string guitar, it won't look remotely red at all. Different species of spruce have different tonal characteristics, and how you play the guitar makes all the difference regarding which type of spruce soundboard would be the most optimal for you to have.
The Martin dreadnought guitars have forever been the guitars most used for flatpicking, and the very best Martin dreds have Adirondack spruce tops. The BR-140a is absolutely marketed towards the type of person who flatpicks the guitar.
Adirondack spruce is difficult to obtain in high quality. The wood has a high velocity of sound, as does mahogany, and so when you have mahogany paired with Adirondack spruce, you've got an acoustic guitar which is going to be louder than normal.
People playing bluegrass are trying to be heard while playing along side a fiddle, mandolin, and possibly a banjo. Those instruments are often much louder than a guitar. The flatpicker uses a thick, dense material plectrum, and uses his right hand to dig into the strings with power and aggression, all to get as much snap and volume out of the guitar as possible.
There are other specifications for the Blueridge BR-140a which definitely matter. On an acoustic guitar, every last specification for the build matters a bit more than would be true of a solid body electric guitar. The sound of a steel string acoustic comes from the build, there are no pickups dominating the tone, just the materials and the build. The rest is forever up to you, your skills and technique.
Because this guitar is a copy of a Golden Era Martin D-18, the neck is wider at the nut than the typical Martin D-18, and so this guitar is on and three quarter inches in width at the nut. With necks, it's always a matter of you, and only you. What pleases you is what pleases you, what doesn't just does not. I'm not an especially large man, physically, at all. My hands aren't huge, but I've met men who were larger than me, and had smaller hands. I've also seen women play guitars with this size neck, and play the fire out of them.
I do not view this fatter neck as being tough to handle at all, but that's just my view. I would think a small teen, or a smaller than average woman could possibly find this neck a bit too wide, but like I say, you simply must decide such things for yourself, there's no amount of descriptive writing which could substitute for your own hands around the neck of a particular model of guitar.
The nut and saddle on this guitar is of bone. Bone causes the strings to ring louder, clearer, and the notes to sustain longer. I've had extremely nice guitars in the past which did not have bone nuts and saddle, and I had to have bone nut and saddle made for and installed on them. At this point in my life, when I buy something, I want it straight from the manufacturer with the features I desire, and a bone nut and saddle are definitely features I desire.
I could talk all day long about guitars, but I think it is quite important for a shopper to hear what one sounds like. The video below is exactly what I would want someone to see and hear, the man playing the guitar is playing the exact sort of music the BR-140a was created for, and he does play it quite well. This is a Bluegrass music sound cannon.
Blueridge BR-140a features:
- Model - Blueridge BR-140a
- Select and rare, solid Adirondack spruce top with hand-carved parabolic top braces in authentic prewar forward X-pattern
- Choice solid mahogany sides and back
- Natural high-gloss finish with a lightly toned top
- Slim mahogany neck has adjustable truss rod and dovetail neck/body joint
- East Indian rosewood fingerboard, bridge
- Maple bridge plate
- Saga's exclusive Dalmatian tortoise pickguard
- B/W/B plastic binding with fine black and white purfling on soundboard
- Nut and saddle are made from bone
- Rosewood peghead overlay adorned with a unique mother-of-pearl and abalone design
- Accurate vintage-style 14:1 ratio nickel-plated open-back tuners with butterbean-style buttons
- Nut width: 1-3/4"
- Scale length: 25.6" (650mm)
- Shop adjusted
- Case sold separately
Seagull Maritime SWS SG
Seagull guitars are a branch of Godin guitars, and Seagull is the branch dedicated to acoustic guitars alone. The company was formed in 1982, in Canada. Everything produced by Godin, and this includes Seagull, is of a fantastic value for the money spent.
When I was a kid Seagull guitars were something I knew about, and it seemed to me it was a bit of a secret. Of course I was a child, and I'd not seen very many Seagull guitars, but I was under the impression that here in Texas, there weren't many folks at all who know about this wonderful brand.
It is truly amazing to me, and it is an absolute fact, that Seagull guitars are manufactured, from the start to the finish, entirely in Canada. How they can manage to build such fantastic guitars and sell them at prices which are so low they can compete with Chinese brands, like Blueridge, is simply beyond me. For some persons not buying Chinese is important, and so this is another good reason for this exact article and comparison here.
Blueridge, as a brand, is dedicated to making extremely good copies of designs already made classic by US manufacturers like C.F. Martin & Company. Seagull is exactly the opposite, and is instead all about producing completely unique designs, and these often incorporate design features not seen before.
A Shorter Length of Scale
The Seagull Maritime SWS SG has a shorter length of scale than does the Blueridge BR-140a. This is an extremely important thing to know about. What's the big deal?
Scale length affects the feel, the playability, and the tonal character of a guitar. To be precise about what scale length is, it is the exact length between the nut and the saddle. This Seagull guitar has a length of scale of 24.84" and the Blueridge a length of scale of 25.6", and the difference is pretty significant.
What happens with a longer length of scale is the strings on the guitar are drawn tighter in order to be in standard tuning than are the strings on a guitar like the Seagull here, where the length is shorter. Tighter strings are quite easily going to produce more volume. The advantage of the shorter Seagull length of scale is playability. The strings at common or standard tuning will be much easier to fret.
The shorter scale length guitar would then be, without any ambiguity, easier to play, and if you're somewhat new to the guitar, this would probably aide a bit in your learning of the instrument. This does not in any way, however, mean a longer scale guitar is any more a professional's guitar.
The shorter scale guitar is at its best when played with a medium touch. You're not going to compete in volume with your mandolin playing friend unless you've got a bit of amplification going on, and so the shorter scale guitar is more optimal for the person who plays to accompany a singer, be it their own self, or another.
Sitka Spruce Top
I'll make a somewhat controversial statement for a traditional steel string acoustic guitar lover, a tonewood believer, and an all out music lover; I don't think Adirondack spruce is superior at all to a high grade Sitka spruce top. The grade of the Sitka spruce top does have to be of sufficient quality to compare with a high grade Adirondack top.
Adirondack spruce is tough to get in high enough quality to make for a fine tonewood top to begin with, Sitka spruce is not as difficult to attain in comparable quality. So you can see the supply versus demand thing completely in play here, as it should be, but again, I've not experienced Adirondack spruce as superior to a sufficiently comparable Sitka spruce top. There you have it, and one can now call for steaks and kindling with which to burn me, and all the other heretics.
Before I'm roasted, I'd like to state I brought some science with me, to back up what, admittedly, I already believed. Sitka works well on all styles of guitar, and regardless of your style of play, Sitka performs wonderfully. I'm not slighting Adirondack at all here, you see. I wouldn't sneeze in the general direction of either of them.
Indian rosewood and chrome tuning machines are very much par for the course here. Both are good stuff, and yet more reasons why this is a fantastic guitar, one of the best I know of, at under a thousand dollars.
The Seagull head-stock is something very worth a mention, as it was designed specifically to put the tuning machines in line with the nut, and this to promote tuning stability. Now, I don't get too wild with a steel string acoustic. Once I've got strings on there stable and in tune, I don't knock them out of tune much, but who could possibly frown at anything designed and proven to aide in keeping your guitar in tune better than the typical design?
The width of the neck at the nut is 1.8", and this is not a common width, except with Seagull guitars. Again I have to say that all things having to do with neck sizes and shapes are entirely subjective, or that is to say, entirely up to you to decide what is best, and what is not desirable. It has everything to do with your hands, and how comfortable they are around a certain neck. With nut width, it's also much to do with the size of your fingers, and how easy or difficult it is for you to fret notes on the fretboard.
What's the difference between this guitar's 1.8 " at the nut, and the Blueridge guitar's 1 3/4 " at the nut? Brothers and sisters, if you can truly tell the difference, then you're more sensitive in this area than I am.
Seagull Maritime SWS SG Features:
- Seagull Maritime SWS SG
- Body Type: All solid wood construction
- Body Wood: Solid Mahogany
- Top Wood: Solid Sitka spruce
- Scale Length: 24.84"
- Neck Joint: Integrated Set Neck
- Neck Wood: Honduran mahogany
- Fretboard: Indian Rosewood
- Neck Shape: Soft C
- 21 total frets
- Nut Width: 1.8"
- Bridge: Indian Rosewood
- Hardware Color: Chrome
- Finish: Semi-Gloss custom polish finish
Making a Decision
First off, because of the type of music I more often than not play with a steel string acoustic guitar, I very much favor the Blueridge BR-140a, as I like to flatpick ancient fiddle tunes. I am not in any way suggesting this can't be done, and done in a fantastic manner with the Seagull guitar.
I'm a stickler for tradition, and so I favor the Martin style guitar, and as mentioned before, I once owned a Martin D-18GE, and very much regret that I no longer own it. I sit here hoping for a day when I am affluent enough to replace that guitar with a Blueridge BR-140a.
I have one bit of regret here, insofar as this presentation goes, and that is I was not able to locate a video of the Seagull guitar which is close to the equal of the self proclaimed redneck, with the Blueridge guitar. That redneck fella is killing it. It would be awesome were there a video of the same guy wailing away with the Seagull, alas, there is not.
Another thing to make no bones about is the Seagull guitar is easier to play. It doesn't matter if you've been playing guitar for decades, or started yesterday, the Seagull will be easier to fret notes or chords on, and this is because of its shorter scale. Also for the exact same reason, you can get the best tone the guitar has to offer from the Seagull with less physical exertion and skill. That's a definite bonus.
Because it is an easier guitar to play, for having a shorter length of scale, I believe the Seagull the superior instrument for someone who wishes to do folk or classical fingerstyle playing. Being easier to chord would also make the Seagull a superior guitar for the person who wishes to sing while playing chordal accompaniment
What's the drawback on the Seagull? Just that it won't be as loud as the Blueridge, it's a matter of physics, really, you won't be able to get the same amount of volume using the same amount of force, as you would from the Blueridge. The shorter scale also makes it so that one is less inclined to get good performance from the Seagull were they using an alternate tuning involving less string tension. So in this regard, the Blueridge is more versatile, i.e., you could employee with more success, more alternate tunings on the Blueridge.
Finally, this is something I hope is useful for the persons seeking out the single best all solid wood construction steel string dreadnought guitar at under one thousand dollars. No, I wouldn't say either one is the single best in that category, but that they are absolutely two of the very best I've ever had the pleasure to demo. Thanks for reading.
© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 09, 2019:
Thanks very very much, Kaili! Seems like I used to be able to bust out something like this in a day. I don't know what happened, but I can't seem to do it so quickly at present.
Also, I need to purchase a new tuner. Tore up my last one. I try to tune by ear, but it never has come out right. I always wind up flat.
Kaili Bisson from Canada on June 09, 2019:
Another great article Wesman. Such a lot of work and research goes into these, I know. I always learn something!
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 08, 2019:
Thanks and Thanks!
My stuff probably seems strange to some folks, but guitar construction is an art form. I tend to view guitars as actual works of art, works of art which can be used to create further works of art.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 08, 2019:
I only have to note it. I am not good at such works.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 08, 2019:
This is a great article for anyone thinking of a purchase. I have learned a lot. It has made me think about digging my old guitar out and checking its construction.