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The Martin D-35 vs the Martin HD-35 Guitars

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 beautiful Martin HD-35.

The beautiful Martin HD-35.

Rosewood Dreadnought Guitars

In the early part of the twentieth century, C.F. Martin & Company introduced the world to the dreadnought body style of steel string acoustic guitars. These instruments were called dreadnoughts after the battleships of the same designation,and they were called this because they were, like the ships, larger than anything else which had ever been produced.

There were, from the beginning, two primary styles of dreadnought, the rosewood and the mahogany styles. Rosewood guitars were alway more expensive than mahogany guitars. The reasons for this involve the lesser availability of rosewood, and thus, the first law of economics.

There is a second major reason why rosewood guitars are more expensive, and this is because rosewood requires more labor to shape into a guitar body than does mahogany. So rosewood itself is more expensive due to limited supplies, and then you have to pay people for more hours of work to turn it into a guitar body.

The primary rosewood dreadnought was the Martin D-28, and before world war two, there was no reason to call it an HD-28, as every D-28 was a Herringbone Dreadnought of 28 style. After the war Martin started producing D-28s which were not of the herringbone style, and were, in fact, built to be more sturdy instruments. Those guitars sounded great, but they did not sound like the earlier D-28s, and so eventually, Martin reintroduced the HD-28.

It was 1965 when C.F. Martin & Company introduced the D-35 to the global marketplace of high end, steel string acoustic guitars. In 2018 C.F. Martin & Company did a major redesign of all its standard series guitars, including the D-35. This page will discuss the older guitars some, but will be much more focused on the D-35 standard of today, and the HD-35.

The beautiful 3 piece rosewood back of the D-35, and HD-35 are their most defining feature.

The beautiful 3 piece rosewood back of the D-35, and HD-35 are their most defining feature.

3 Piece Back and Thinner Top Bracing

In 1965 it was becoming clear Brazilian rosewood was going to become too difficult to get for the company to continue using as its primary rosewood. At the time a man named Bob Johnson was the vice president, and he was often at the task of inspecting wood for quality. He realized how were they to make a guitar with a 3 piece back, instead of only 2, they could utilize smaller pieces of wood, and still make something both beautiful to look at, and to hear without compromising company standards.

And so Bob Johnson's brilliant idea for the most efficient use of Martin's Brazilian rosewood supply led to the creation of the D-35. Pieces of Brazilian rosewood which would have been rejected, for having too many knots in them, could be cut smaller, and utilized wonderfully for this new guitar. There were, however, problems.

The D-28 style of bracing the guitar on the new 3 piece D-35 back wasn't working out. The guitar just didn't sound as good as it should have. Something had to be discovered, and changed. The internal bracing of the guitar had to be decided upon, and so, it was determined the D-35 should have a thinner bracing for the top than the D-28.

The thinner bracing for the D-35's soundboard solved the tonal problems created by the guitar's three piece back. Out of the box, the D-35 would literally sound a bit better, more broken in, than would an equally brand new D-28.

The Martin D-35 Standard.

The Martin D-35 Standard.

The Martin D-35 Standard, a Blue Collar Hero

The D-35 outsold the D-28 for the first many years of its production. Everyone wanted to own the newest big thing from the world's single greatest acoustic guitar manufacturer. And the guitar was still relatively affordable. It was a blue collar cannon.

Stars flocked to the D-35. Johnny Cash, Bruce Stringsteen, Judy Collins, and even Elvis Presley all used the D-35 on the big stage and on their albums too. The guitar was available in the standard 6 string configuration, but was also available as a 12 string guitar. David Gilmour, Neil Diamond, John Mayer, Steve Miller, and Van Morrison all owned D-35s. It was an absolute hit product.

What's the great takeaways I can give about the Martin D-35 Standard? Due to its unique bracing, and very attractive three piece back, the D-35 Standard will sound better, right out of the box, than the D-28 Standard. It's more expensive than the D-28 Standard, of course, and is more on par with the HD-28, in terms of volume, but has a more bass heavy response.

The D-35 Standard is up for any job. Whether you are more of a singer and songwriter, and you like the rosewood sound, and just play chords and a few licks here and there, this attractive guitar gets the job done, and everyone knows Martin guitars are the best on the planet. If you're more of a person who is going to play some hellfire hot leads, the D-35 Standard has got you covered, and has all the beauty points you also deserve for being such a player.

Myself, I've not owned a Martin D-35 Standard, however, I have exactly two uncles and one cousin who do own these exact guitars. While I don't get enough time with my extended family, I do get some, and our clan tends to knock the dust off the strings, from time to time, if you understand what I'm saying. If you're a player and you don't have a D-18,or an HD-28, then you definitely are looking for that D-35, or HD-35.

Martin D-35 Standard's Basic Specifications

Body

  • Body type: D-14 Fret
  • Top wood: Sitka spruce
  • Back and sides: East Indian rosewood
  • Bracing pattern: 1/4" non-scalloped Sitka spruce X-bracing
  • Body finish: Gloss
  • Orientation: Right handed

Neck

  • Neck shape: Low Profile
  • Nut width: 1.69" (43 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Neck wood: Select hardwood
  • Scale length: 25.4"
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Neck finish: Satin

Other

  • Headstock overlay: East Indian rosewood
  • Tuning machines: Gold open-gear
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Saddle and nut: Compensated Bone/Bone
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: United States
the-martin-hd-35-guitar
Just about every angle of the Martin HD-35.

Just about every angle of the Martin HD-35.

The Martin HD-35

So what's the difference between the Martin D-35 Standard and the HD-35? Well, the H denotes herringbone trim, for starters, but it denotes more than that too. The herringbone trim is absolutely gorgeous. It's truly a beautiful thing, and involves a lot of work to have that on an acoustic guitar's build.

The Martin HD-35 is more dressed up than the D-35 Standard. Instead of wearing a great suit, the HD-35 is wearing a tuxedo. There is more to it than just that, however, as whenever Martin puts herringbone trim on a rosewood guitar, it absolutely means the guitar also has forward shifted and scalloped bracing.

What does that mean to you? It means this guitar is a higher performance one, and also, it is more fragile. When we are talking about expensive acoustic guitars, we are forever talking about fragile merchandise. The truth of the matter is the finer the guitar, the more fragile it will be, and this is because getting the most volume and tone out of the wood requires bracing and other structural considerations to be delicate.

So the herringbone trim is purely for beauty, but again, when Martin puts herringbone trim on a rosewood guitar, it always means the guitar has forward shifted (this is also referred to as "high X bracing") and scalloped bracing.

The soundboard on a D-35 is already high performance, and already lightly braced, and so the HD-35 has an even more lightly braced and high performance spruce top. The entire point of this style of build is to make the guitar loud, and besides that, because of the rest of the structure of the guitar, the HD-35 will have a very pronounced bass and mid-range response.

I'm no singer. I can't carry a tune in a bucket. My thoughts on the HD-35 are that, if you are primarily a person who likes to strum chords and sing, then the HD-35 would best be suited for the Johnny Cash type of voice. There's no reason at all, however, that any singer/guitarist would not love the guitar. I'm only speaking to what I see as the guitar's strengths and ideal matches, and this is clearly an opinion.

I'm a guy who likes to play ancient fiddle tunes, flatpicked on the guitar, and I like to do a bit of Travis style fingerpicking too. Every D-35 is fantastic for this style, the HD-35 is just more easily able to be heard loudly and clearly, and when I used one to snap off some of those bluegrass G runs, they were loud, clear, and just fantastic. Alternating bass note rhythm playing is another of this guitar's superpowers.

Martin HD-35's Basic Specifications

Body

  • Body type: Dreadnought
  • Top wood: Sitka spruce
  • Back and sides: East Indian rosewood
  • Bracing pattern: 1/2" forward-shifted, scalloped X bracing
  • Body finish: All-gloss nitrocellulose
  • Orientation: Right handed

Neck

  • Neck shape: Modern low oval/Performance Artist taper C
  • Nut width: 1.75 in. (44.45 mm)
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Neck wood: Solid Mahogany
  • Scale length: 25.4 in.
  • Number of frets: 20
  • Neck finish: Satin

Other

  • Headstock overlay: East Indian rosewood
  • Tuning machines: Chrome enclosed gear
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Saddle and nut: Bone
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: United States

Which Guitar do you Prefer?

Martin 2018 Redesign

The new vintage toner on the spruce soundboards from the 2018 Martin redesigns are nice, and to go along with that, the binding went from a white color previously, to a cream color with the redesign. The purpose of these two things is to make a brand new Martin look like one which is 30 or more years old.

Some people find things like that extremely cool. The whole "relic" guitar fashion statement is sort of what is going on here, however, I'm very glad to see Martin isn't installing factory scuff marks, like they'll do over at Gibson. Myself, I find these minor things like the color of the binding and toner on the top to be pretty trivial. You may not feel that way. It is all about desired aesthetics.

The forward shifting on the D-35 Standard, as per the 2018 redesign is a major thing, and when you are a major tone hound and acoustic lover, you just can't underestimate how big a deal this bit of information is. Is it an improvement? To my way of thinking, it absolutely is.

The low oval tapered performance neck is also a huge design upgrade. Martin has gone out of the way here to make the neck as high performance as possible. This doesn't absolutely mean it is better than previous neck designs, but what it does mean is it will likely feel more comfortable to more people. Everyone's hands are different, and these necks are aimed at persons who possibly weren't as pleased as they could have been with the previous designs.

Final Thoughts

Simply put, the Martin D-35 Standard is a more balanced and focused guitar. The HD-35 is more powerful, and more expensive, but for the player with less control of his or her picking and strumming hand, the additional power could cause the playing to sound not better, but possibly worse.

I'm no jedi guitarist, but I started over thirty years ago, and so I know I can prevent my right hand attack from causing the bass and mids on an HD-35 from overpowering the treble. A less experienced player may not have that kind of control, and so the D-35 Standard would likely be the better choice for them.

Everyone is different. People all have their quirks, and when it comes to playing a musical instrument, some quirks will surely appear. So why would someone prefer a D-35 of either variety over the more famous and less expensive D-28s?

Well, either D-35 model gives you a leg up on the D-28 if you are a person who just doesn't exert a lot of power through your picking hand. You get more volume with the 35s at lower levels of effort. As I've previously mentioned, the 35s, with more bass and mid-range responsiveness, may be more suited to the baritone and bass vocalists.

Either of these guitars are available with pickups and electronic controls. I felt like there was enough information to digest concerning the purely acoustic models, that the acoustic-electric models would warrant another discussion entirely. C.F. Martin & Company will likely forever be more of a purely acoustic manufacturer, as they are very into traditions, and their traditions are some of the finest in the world of musical instruments.

Happy picking and thanks for reading.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Wesman Todd Shaw

Comments

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 24, 2020:

If my memory serves me correctly, I believe Roy lived next door to Johnny Cash, and his house burned down with his wife and children inside.

Which is pretty awful.

Do you know the punk and metal guy, Glenn Danzig? He does lots of screaming, but he can, in fact, sing very well when he wants to.

I remember someone asking him had he been a huge fan of Elvis, because he could sure do that voice. Danzig said, something like, "Oh you're very mistaken. I sometimes try to sing like Roy Orbison."

I think this creating webpages thing is about the extent of my creative ability, but I may be selling myself short some.

So far as views on webpages go-it can take 6 months before Google or other search engines decide a page is a good page about whatever the topic of the page is.

Then they change up how their search engines work all the time. It's pretty maddening.

Politude on June 24, 2020:

I totally agree.

To me lyrics and composition are like the lottery it takes the right numbers to win.

When a song gets to be a hit, we see the result of that lottery.

It seems that out of a very large number of possible combinations these artists came up with this one.

Consider also that it has to be timely and the right vocalist has to perform it.

I found a video DVD about Roy Orbison and I played it in my car DVD player. It would only give me the audio, something about the video distracting the driver.

Any way,

I thought he had a great range and pleasant voice. But his story was fascinating. He had a tragic life but endured and wrote and played his music which was non standard.

Anyone who can play an instrument or carry a tune is gifted in my book. So, I assume he was a great guitar player.

I hope that you are at least getting some views on this article.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 24, 2020:

LOL

Well there is another thing I can't do. I can't seem to compose tunes, lyrics for tunes, or fiction, for that matter.

All I really can do on guitar, or mandolin (or any other musical instrument I could learn) - is learn someone else's stuff, and then maybe from there I could customize it to my liking, or abilities.

I enjoy doing that, but I don't delude myself into thinking I've created something.

Free Speech Left on June 24, 2020:

Wesman Todd Shaw

Interesting, if you play the goon, a guitar across your head will stay in tune while stopping you real soon.

I also failed in lyrics 101:)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 24, 2020:

Well thank you very much, Free Speech Left.

That fragility thing concerns acoustics, and not electrics.

Keith Richards once famously bashed a guy across the head with his Fender Telecaster, the man was running up on stage, and who knows what his intentions were - the Tele didn't even get knocked out of tune.

Free Speech Left on June 24, 2020:

Wesman

A hubber that writes hubs, a rare treat on hubpages.

I hope that you get some real comments from the musically and guitar inclined people here.

I have your sung in a bucket that you mention and also in that bucket not a single musical instrument. I have tried piano, and guitar but do no better than my singing or lack of it.

I did read your hub entirely and learned something about the construction of the guitars mentioned in it. It was interesting, and I like the part, " The truth of the matter is the finer the guitar, the more fragile it will be, and this is because getting the most volume and tone out of the wood requires bracing and other structural considerations to be delicate."

While that seems almost intuitive, it escaped my previous thoughts about guitars. So thanks for that gem.