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.
The 000 body size guitars were big sellers and widely popular guitars for C.F. Martin & Company. But they only had twelve frets clear of the body, and people were requesting a fourteen fret guitar. Well, Martin gave it a go, but the result wasn't ideal. Successful businesses stay that way by giving the public what they want, and doing it well. The people at Martin took some outside advice, and the fourteen frets clear of the body orchestra model was born.
Soon the orchestra models were taking off in popularity. The additional two frets clear of the body and the longer scale were both big hits with players. Why? The longer scale length causes the strings to be strung tighter, and this causes plucked notes to be louder. And if a guitar is to be heard in an all acoustic setting where there are mandolins, fiddles, and banjos present, it needed to have more volume. The orchestra model delivered.
Roy Rogers with his Martin OM-45 Deluxe
Why rosewood guitars are so expensive
Rosewood is a stubborn wood. It is much more time consuming to shape rosewood into the shape of a guitar body than it is to do the same with maple or mahogany. Rosewood is also more expensive than other tonewoods. So because of the cost of rosewood, and the additional labor involved in turning it into a guitar body - C.F. Martin & Company went ahead and adorned their rosewood bodied guitars with more fancy appointments than their mahogany bodied guitars.
Rosewood guitars were thus more expensive from the very beginning. This misleads some persons to think rosewood guitars are better guitars. This is clearly not the case. They are very different in appearance, and have a much different tonal character. They're not better, just more expensive.
In 1930 Roy Rogers was forever using a Martin OM-45. A 45 in the model number of a Martin guitar denotes the instrument is one of their top shelf instruments, with all the top of the line appointments. The very old Martin guitars are nearly priceless in this day and age, and the very first Martin OM-45 Deluxe (with even more inlay than the standard 45) sold in recent years for an amazing four hundred and sixty thousand dollars.
So the rosewood guitars get more abalone inlay. It is very time consuming to cut and fit all those teeny tiny pieces of abalone shell that makes the guitar so beautiful. But there is more to it than just that, working with abalone shell is literally hazardous to the health of persons who build fine acoustic guitars. The shell dust can work over a crafts-person's lungs in a manner somewhat similar to asbestos. So please keep such things as this in mind when you see the outrageous prices some of these guitars here command.
Further and most important in the cost of the production of these guitars is the price of Brazilian rosewood. The tree is not extinct as a species. But it got to where, because no one wants for it to ever become extinct, it became prudent to make harvesting Brazil's rosewood completely illegal. So obtaining Brazilian rosewood sufficient to make a guitar body is extremely difficult.
1. 2015 OM-45 Deluxe Authentic 1930
There were a total of 11 of these guitars made in 1930. The first one, as previously mentioned, recently sold for just under one half million dollars. The sold for two hundred and twenty five dollars new. You can own one exactly like the first eleven, but it will cost you 'just a tad' more than two hundred and twenty five dollars.
This is a seventy nine thousand dollar guitar. You read that right, $79,000. Well, if you can afford to buy it, you can be certain it will appreciate in value as time marches on. But a fine Martin guitar, no matter how nice the investment sounds, is a very fragile thing. Every effort should be taken to see to the safety of even the least expensive ones.
To honor the year 1930, only eleven of these OM-45 Deluxe Authentic 1930 guitars were built. These were built in 2015. There are some for sale, new, online. C.F. Martin & Company meticulously analyzed one of the 1930 OM-45 Deluxe guitars from a museum to recreate these in as exacting a manner as was humanly possible in the year 2015. They take these things very seriously. It's scientifically done, and the proof is in the pudding, so we say, and the price. Below are the specifications for this masterwork in craftsmanship, these are works of art:
- Construction: Dovetail Neck Joint - Hide Glue Construction
- Body Size: 000-14 Fret
- Top: VTS Solid Adirondack Spruce
- Rosette: Style 45
- Top Bracing Pattern: OM-45 Deluxe Authentic 1930
- Top Braces: VTS Adirondack Spruce 5/16" with 1/4" Tone Bars - Circa 1930
- Back Material: Solid Brazilian Rosewood
- Back Purfling: Style - 45 Golden Era
- Side Material: Solid Brazilian Rosewood
- Endpiece: Grained Ivoroid in a Narrow 1930 Shape 45 Wedge
- Endpiece Inlay: Brazilian Rosewood with Maple/Black Fiber
- Binding: Grained Ivoroid
- Top Inlay Style: Style 42
- Side Inlay: Brazilian Rosewood with Maple/Black Fiber
- Back Inlay: Brazilian Rosewood with Maple/Black Fiber
- Neck Material: Genuine Mahogany
- Neck Shape: Authentic 1930 Barrel & Heel
- Nut Material: Bone
- Headstock: Solid/Diamond/1930 Taper
- Headplate: Solid Brazilian Rosewood
- Heelcap: Grained Ivoroid
- Fingerboard Material: Solid Black Ebony
- Scale Length: 25.4"
- Number Of Frets Clear: 14
- Number Of Frets Total: 20
- Fingerboard Width At Nut: 1-3/4"
- Fingerboard Width At 12th Fret: 2-1/4"
- Fingerboard Position Inlays: Style 45 Snowflakes - 1930 Authentic Style
- Fingerboard Binding: Grained Ivoroid
- Finish Back & Sides: Polished Gloss
- Finish Top: Polished Gloss
- Finish Neck: Polished Gloss
- Bridge Material: Solid Black Ebony
- Bridge Style: Authentic Style Belly - Long Saddle
- Bridge String Spacing: 2-3/8"
- Saddle: 16" Radius/Long Bone
- Tuning Machines: Waverly Engraved Gold Banjo Tuners with Solid MOP Buttons
- Recommended Strings: Martin SP Lifespan Phosphor Bronze Medium Gauge (MSP7200)
- Bridge & End Pins: Ivory Colored Poly with Select Pearl Dots
- Pickguard: Tortoloid with 1930 Style Floral Inlay
- Case: 533V Harptone
- Interior Label: none
- Electronics: none
The Martin OM-45 DeLuxe Authentic 1930
2. Martin 000-42 Authentic Series 1939 Acoustic Guitar Natural
So the Martin OM-45 Authentic Deluxe 1930 is a little bit too rich for you. Congratulations citizen, you're right here with almost everyone else in the world. Martin doesn't make a standard OM-45, as you would think they would, or should. So you wonder what is the next closest thing to that holy grail guitar?
It's the 000-42 Authentic 1939. A Martin 42 style guitar is just a tick under the 45 style in appointments, but it is two ticks under the 45 Deluxe. Well, this is a substantially less expensive guitar. This one goes for just $11, 699. So it's quite affordable when compared to the OM-45 Authentic Deluxe 1930. But this is a very different guitar altogether. How? It's quite the same to the eye with just a tad less inlay work.
This is a 000 and not an orchestra model. What this means is that even though this is a 14 frets clear of the body guitar, the scale of the guitar is a little shorter. The scale length is the length of the guitar from the nut to the saddle. This one is a shorter length than the orchestra model, that's what a 000 is. What is the difference in effect? The strings will be in tune but will have less tension even when tuned exactly to the pitch of the orchestra model. And this makes for a guitar with less volume, but at lower volumes or less aggressive attacks, the plucked strings of this guitar will have a bit more subtle nuance.
This guitar employs Martin's revolutionary VTS system. What is this? VTS stands for 'vintage tone system,' and is really rather scientific insofar as modern guitar building goes. In fact, it is rather revolutionary. This is why Martin is always the benchmark in fine acoustic guitars, they employ some serious science in building their most premium products. VTS acts much like a time machine in which Martin can target certain time periods and age the top/braces to that era. This focused method allows Martin’s craftsmen and craftswomen to recreate not only the pleasing visual aesthetics of a vintage guitar, but also reproduce the special tones previously reserved for vintage instruments. Specifications in bullet points below:
- Body type: 000-14 Fret
- Cutaway: Non-cutaway
- Top wood: Adirondack Spruce
- Back & sides: Madagascar Rosewood
- Bracing pattern: Authentic Spruce with VTS
- Body finish: Gloss
- Orientation: Right handed
- Neck shape: Authentic 1939
- Nut width: 1.69" (43mm)
- Fingerboard: Ebony
- Neck wood: Solid Genuine Mahogany
- Scale length: 24.9"
- Number of frets: 20
- Neck finish: Gloss
- Pickup/preamp: No
- Brand: Not applicable
- Configuration: Not applicable
- Preamp EQ: Not applicable
- Feedback filter: Not applicable
- Tuner: Not applicable
- Headstock overlay: Madagascar Rosewood
- Tuning machines: Nickel Enclosed Gear
- Bridge: Ebony
- Saddle & nut: Bone
- Number of strings: 6-string
- Special features: Body shape
- Case: Hardshell case
- Accessories: None
Martin 000-42 Authentic 1939 Acoustic Guitar
3. Bourgeois OM-42 'Tree of Life'
The Tree of Life thing is self explanatory when you see the instrument. Lots of manufacturers, like Martin, will produce some Tree of Life guitars. These things are going to be extremely expensive and it's because of all that fine abalone inlay work. And nobody is going to do that kind of work on a guitar unless the rest of it is off the charts with the most fine materials and specifications.
I've said a few times in my articles about high end acoustic guitars that Santa Cruz and Bourgeois are my very favorite boutique guitar builders. I've owned a Santa Cruz for many years, and when I go out playing guitars 'kicking tires,' as they call it, in Guitar Centers and other distributors, Bourgeois guitars are always what draw my attention in the most. There are people out there who can make a guitar as fine as Dana Bourgeois. There are none alive who can make a better guitar though.
You don't have too look too very hard at this guitar to see it is, indeed, quite a lot fancier than that eighty thousand dollar Martin. And this guitar has the same level of fine Brazilian rosewood back and sides. It has the same level of fine spruce top. And this guitar costs just under fifteen thousand dollars. This would be what I would call a 'no brainer' for someone who wants what is probably an even better guitar than the far more costly Martin.
About that spruce soundboard on this thing. This is not an Adirondack spruce top. This guitar has a Croatian spruce top. I will have to admit I have absolutely nothing in the way of experience in playing guitars with Croatian spruce tops. In fact, this is the first one I've heard of. There are many varieties of European spruce. And increasingly boutique American guitar builders are using various and sundry European spruce species for soundboards. What I can tell you for sure is Dana Bourgeois is as intelligent and brilliant as any luthier on the planet. He doesn't make bad choices when he builds guitars.
You look around on the web, and you read about these Bourgeois OM-42 Tree of Life guitars, and you'll maybe see one with Swiss spruce used as the soundboard. You might see one with yet another European variety. Dana probably puts a lot of thought into matching a specific soundboard he has with a specific Brazilian rosewood body. And it is also quite possible you will see, at some point, Dana building an OM-42 Tree of Life guitar using Madagascar's rosewood.
Most of the other specifications are going to be very similar to the previous two Martin guitars. These will have Martin 42 style specifications on an Orchestra Model body. Dana does different things with body binding than does Martin. And obviously, these guitars involve a ton more abalone inlay work.
4. Santa Cruz 1934 OM Old Growth Brazilian Rosewood and Adirondack Spruce
This is a seventeen thousand dollar Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is as good as can possibly be, and they know it. The market knows it, and everyone who's played one knows it. Santa Cruz can ask and get this kind of money for their 1934 OM with Brazilian rosewood because these guitars literally sound like seventeen thousand dollar guitars.
They have something to them other guitars do not have. This guitar would compare very nicely to the Martin 000 previously discussed up above. This is a less adorned guitar; and because it has a longer scale length it would be a louder guitar. But the amazing nuances a professional musician can hear and get out of such an instrument could truly spoil someone forever. This guitar is like a Stradivarius violin. The other instruments discussed here are on the level too.
The secret to these specific Santa Cruz masterwork guitars lies in the aged wood. The wood used here was felled long ago, and has crystallized resins within it. This is where the spectacular tone and the selling price come from. Santa Cruz makes many similar orchestra models which sell for far less. You can get one of east Indian rosewood for a much more down to Earth, but still professional level price. Here are some basic specs:
- Adirondack Spruce Top
- Brazilian Rosewood Back & Sides
- Zipper Back Stripe
- Ivoroid Binding with Side Purfling
- Vintage Ivoroid Rosette
- Hide Glue Construction
- Scalloped Bracing
- V-Style Neck
- 1 3/4" Nut
- 25.375" Scale
- Dalmatian Pickguard
- Deluxe Ameritage Case
Santacruz OM Brazilian
5. Collings OM 42 BA Adirondack and Brazilian Rosewood
Bill Collings down in central Texas will build you your dream guitar exactly how you want it. Collings offers a wide range of build specifications for you to choose from. Then there are lots of Collings guitars already for sale out on the market. The orchestra models with 42 style appointments of Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce are premier soloist guitars for finger-picking and flatpicking. They'll ring loud and clear, high definition notes from the soundboard with all the dark overtones provided by Brazil's rosewood.
These guitars go from between eight and eleven thousand dollars for Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce. Make no mistake, you can absolutely get one with east Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce for less money. Because nobody truly knows for certain how much Brazilian rosewood suitable for guitar building will be available in the future, these guitars can be expected to appreciate appreciably in value as time goes on. They make for nice investments for those wealthy enough to afford them. But of course fine guitars are rather fragile things, and require environmental protections.
Below are a list of specifications you are likely but not absolutely going to see on a Collings OM-42BA. What? Collings offers a lot of options. I'm listing below the specifications of a specific instrument. You can find other specific Collings OM-42BAs with different features like a thinner width of the neck at the nut
- Top Wood: Adirondack Spruce
- Back Wood: Brazilian Rosewood
- Scale: 25 1/2"
- Nut Width: 1 3/4
- Frets To Body: 14
- Neck Wood: Mahogany
- Fretboard: Ebony
- Bridge: Ebony
- Bracing: Pre-war Scalloped Bracing
- Headstock Shape: Solid Headstock
- Overlay: Brazilian Rosewood
- Headstock Inlay: Flowerpot
- Tuners: Gold Waverly
- Inlays: 42 Style Snowflake
- Rosette: Abalone
- Purfling: 42 Style Abolone
- Body Binding: Ivoroid
- Fretboard Binding: Ivoroid
- Headstock Binding: Ivoroid
- Backstrip: Multi-color mosaic
- "Chevron" Pickguard
- Nut Material: Bone
- Saddle Material: Bone
- Saddle Spacing: 2 1/4"
- Bridge Pins: Ebony
- Body Depth: 4 1/8"
- Lower Bout Width: 15"
- Case: Hardshell Case Included
Collings OM-42 BA at The Fellowship of Acoustics
© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw