It’s impossible to discuss the best acoustic guitar brands out there without mentioning Martin and Taylor. These two manufacturers boast a rich history of producing acoustic guitars to the highest standard consistently.
Choosing between Martin and Taylor acoustic guitars is like choosing between Fender and Gibson electric guitars – a very difficult task!
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take a close look at the various qualities of Martin and Taylor acoustic guitars so that you can make the best choice for your playing style and sonic needs.
Martin - Overview
Martin’s roots stretch way back to the early 1800s. Their founder, C.F Martin was well known as an expert builder of musical instruments in his German hometown. He eventually relocated to Vienna, Austria, where he perfected his skills.
In 1950, Martin was credited with inventing the X-bracing system which became the norm for acoustic guitars and other instruments throughout Europe.
Fast forward to the 1900s, and Martin was well established as one of the world’s leading innovators in the acoustic instrument field. They battled through the Great Depression of the 1920s and continued to develop their acoustic guitars.
In the modern era, Martin’s acoustic guitars are highly sought after by musicians. Along with Taylor, they’re seen as the gold standard for acoustic guitars worldwide.
Taylor - Overview
Taylor’s story began in 1974 when a young Bob Taylor paired with Kurt Listug to form the now iconic brand. They quickly became known for producing high-quality acoustic guitars but were hit with financial difficulties in 1981.
The company recovered in the decades which followed and began to experiment with exotic tonewoods. This led to them creating several innovative acoustic guitars which influenced the whole market.
Today, Taylor has two large factories based in California and Mexico, with hundreds of employees. Their acoustic guitars have been used by many legendary musicians, and they continue to go from strength to strength.
Martin vs Taylor
The sheer volume of brilliant acoustic guitars produced by Martin and Taylor is incredible. They certainly share the quality of excellence, but there are many differences between their instruments that we need to explore.
At the very top of Martin and Taylor’s ranges, you’ll find some of the best acoustic guitars on the market. These instruments use quality tonewood blends and boast remarkably smooth playability and sound.
There are no flaws in either of these instruments, so all that I can do is compare their strengths! The D-28 is the result of decades of innovations by Martin. It features a classic dreadnought body style and produces a particularly powerful bass tone.
By comparison, the 914ce is an example of expert craftsmanship. With a luxurious blend of tonewoods including a West African Ebony fretboard and a solid Sitka spruce top, it produces a detailed tone with sparkling highs.
The key difference between these two flagship acoustic guitars is that Taylor’s 914ce includes onboard electronics, while Martin’s D-28 is purely acoustic.
Taylor’s focus on including electronics on their top-tier guitars makes them more versatile, but some would argue that leaving them out allows Martin to focus solely on the acoustic sound of their instrument.
The most abundant section of Martin and Taylor’s acoustic guitar catalogs is their intermediate or mid-range offerings. These instruments allow you to experience the impeccable feel and tone without needing to spend a small fortune.
Again, there’s very little separating these two manufacturers in this price range. Martin is perhaps slightly more experimental with their designs than Taylor, using unique designs such as the Road Series SC-13E’s offset S-shaped body for added comfort.
Taylor produces some brilliant acoustic guitars with the resonant Grand Auditorium body style. The 224ce-K DLX is a fine example of this, with its crisp treble output and bulky construction.
In terms of materials, Taylor heavily uses the distinctive tonewood, koa for many of their mid-range acoustic guitars This is a great choice if you enjoy a classy aesthetical finish and a particularly warm tone.
Martin’s Road Series, which is arguably their most popular intermediate line, commonly employs a tonewood blend of solid Sitka spruce with exotic materials such as mutenye to create balanced tonality.
The Grand Performance body style is often used by Martin for this range of guitars. The GPX-13E, for example, benefits from the smooth frequency output of this body shape, making it ideal for fingerstyle or energetic strumming.
Interestingly, Taylor intentionally designs some of their acoustic guitars to have minor visual imperfections, to embody the workhorse ethos of their brand. The American Dream series is filled with appealing guitars, like the AD17e Blacktop.
Although Martin and Taylor are classed as premium quality acoustic guitar manufacturers, that doesn’t mean that all of their instruments come with a hefty price tag. They both produce many guitars ideally suited to beginners.
In terms of materials, Martin tends to stick to the reliable combination of solid Sitka spruce tops with Sapele backs and sides. This affordable choice enhances the warmth and resonance of their entry-level acoustic guitars.
Taylor, on the other hand, also uses Sitka Spruce and Sapele. However, the key difference is that they employ a tone-enhancing varnish finish on instruments like the Academy 10.
It’s more likely that you’ll find electronics installed on a budget Taylor guitar than a Martin offering in this price range. The 150e by Taylor is an example of this, with its Expression System 2 pickups.
It is possible to get your hands on an entry-level Martin guitar with decent onboard electronics too. The D-X2E is a capable dreadnought with Fishman MX electronics installed for amplification purposes.
Overall, the entry-level range of Martin seems more extensive than Taylor’s. Nevertheless, both offer a wide range of instruments for beginners that are much better than your average affordable acoustic guitar.
Another area that we can directly compare Martin and Taylor is their reduced-sized acoustic guitars, of which both produce a vast amount. These smaller guitars are popular amongst traveling musicians and are filled with rich tonal character and tremendous playability.
Martin’s predominant range of smaller-sized guitars is called the Little Martin. Taylor’s Mini series is the direct equivalent. The LX1E from the Little Martin range is designed for ultimate mobility without compromising on tone or power.
It uses a similar tonewood blend to Martin’s top-of-the-line models and includes a Fishman Sonitone pickup for amplification. The guitars in the Little Martin range are surprisingly full-bodied in tone.
The GS Mini-e produces a stronger bass than the aforementioned Martin, due to its slightly larger size. Its resonance is incredibly rich for a small instrument, and it comes with a renowned ES-B pickup system.
Another smaller Taylor guitar that deserves a mention is the Big Baby Taylor. This affordable guitar is highly popular amongst buskers and singer-songwriters. A 15/16-sized dreadnought, it sounds powerfully unplugged or amplified.
It’s hard to choose between the smaller-sized guitars that Martin and Taylor offer, but it could be summarized that Martin’s are better for treble-heavy genres, which Taylor’s are more powerful sounding.
A good way to gauge the differences between Martin and Taylor guitars is by comparing the most notable artists who choose to use their instruments. As you’d expect, both manufacturers are highly popular amongst professional musicians.
The star-studded list of Martin guitarists includes icons such as Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and the late Chris Cornell. There are also modern singer-songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, who has his signature Martin model.
Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin is also known to be a huge fan of Martin’s dreadnought acoustic guitars, along with country legend Hank Williams, and the ‘King’ of rock n’ roll, Elvis Presley.
Taylor’s list of acoustic guitarists is perhaps not quite as impressive as Martin’s but there are still some noteworthy artists who use their instruments. One of the best known is Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath fame.
The brilliant Grammy-winning guitarist, Zac Brown also uses Taylor acoustic guitars, as does Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz. They’re very popular amongst singer-songwriters in Europe and the US.
The key difference between Martin and Taylor guitars is as follows – Martin acoustic guitars tend to sound more traditional and classical, while Taylor’s are more modern and crisp sounding.
Both manufacturers share the fact that their catalog is extremely extensive, and no one can deny that they both pay attention to every detail of their acoustic guitars.
If you predominantly play classical guitar and need sweet-sounding tones, then Martin will suffice. If you’re a singer-songwriter who plays a variety of styles, you might be better with a Taylor.