The Instruments


Pictured here is a Blueridge BR-160C. A somewhat unconventional choice for a primarily Bluegrass oriented flatpick guitarist, but certainly the right instrument for me. It is essentially a dreadnaught with a cutaway.

Modeled after the Martin D-28V (which retails for about 3k), it has a select solid Sitka Spruce top, Honduran mahogany neck, East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and rosewood fingerboard. The bracing is hand carved parabolic X style, and it has a traditional dove-tailed joint. It is light as a feather, and yet quite loud and rich in tonal output. It is made in China (OK, Booooo) and it's cost when purchased was $700. As the former owner of two Martin D-28's, all voluminously played (2000+ hours on each), I can tell you without reservation, it is a better instrument than either of them (and was so, out of the box). I'm a fan of the CF Martin company, and all for "Made in America", but please, do I want to spend $3000 for a fine instrument, or $700 for one which is better than fine? Hey, I don't sell Blueridge guitars, I just play one!

How Many Guitars Will You Own?

If you look at what the players who are setting the standards in flatpicking today are playing you will find that most of them played a Martin in their careers, and many still do. It is certainly a great instrument to work with as you are learning and/or improving your skills, and well beyond.

As players develop a distinctive style, and it becomes part of their musical identity, they often realize a particular brand and model instrument may suit that style better that whatever they're currently playing. Or, as one's proficiency increases, they may realize they've outgrown their rig, and that it's holding them back from moving forward technically. Last, guitars are made of a very finicky and somewhat vulnerable material. Wood can crack or warp, joints can separate, bridges can become unglued, and so on. When facing a major repair, many players seek a new instrument rather than spending big bucks on a major repair, which may or may not restore the piece to it's former state.

Better with age?  

Yes, and no! Far and away, most guitars will improve with time and play, assuming they are treated carefully and with respect. A high quality proper fitting case is a must for protection during transport, but humidity and temperature control are the keys to keeping your instrument in the condition it needs to be in order to age with grace.
Some care advice:
http://www.pawless.com/care.html   http://www.acousticfingerstyle.com/CareAndFeeding.htm

You can be fairly certain those 1930 -50 era Martins selling for 20-30K today were not treated too shabbily. And that note naturally flows into the next area of relevance regarding the care of your instrument, who will maintain and repair it for you?

Your Luthier


If you own a quality instrument (or three), and you want it to become one of those in the "better with age" category, you will eventually need someone to maintain or repair it. This is inevitable if you play enough for two reasons, first, they are made of wood, and second, stuff happens.
Sadly, great luthiers are few and far between. If you've found one, don't piss him or her off. At Christmas buy their favorite brand of liquor, and personally present it to them. If they become ill be the first to send a get well card (no, two!) If they move, move with them!
OK, so you say you don't have a luthier, and you need to find one. This is not someone you want to pick out of the Yellow Pages, or Google...Next time you're at a jam, approach every player of note and seek their opinions of the local wood-working talent. If you find a consensus of opinion points to a single individual, go for it.

Brands, and Trying, and Trying, and...


I love my Blueridge, it's right for my style, as I flatpick swing and jazz as well as Bluegrass, thus needing a cutaway for upper register accessibility. I also love the volume and tonal quality it produces. If I were just playing bluegrass, I might still consider a Blueridge but a different model such as the BR280 which is the equivalent of a Martin D-45 for less than half the price. I would recommend  trying the Blueridge brand (any model B160 or higher) to any serious player considering the purchase of a new acoustic guitar.

Other brands I have owned which I recommend trying are Martin, Collings, Taylor, and Larrivee.

The most important aspect of purchasing a new instrument is taking your time, and testing whatever you are considering buying. Don't purchase on impulse - play each of the instruments you are considering as extensively as your time allows - and then go home, and come back and play them again the next day. When you have decided on a brand and model, go to different vendors and play as many of that same model as are available in your area. There can be a decided difference from one instrument to another of the same brand and model. Take the time to pick the best of the lot. Your patience and effort will be worth the trouble.