Martin and Taylor: Which is Right for Me?

Published on 22 September 2023

If you’re looking for a quality new acoustic guitar, it’s likely that you’ve sized up the two main names on the market: Martin and Taylor. Are you puzzled about which may be for you? Read through this quick blog and I’ll point out what makes these titans of tone different from each other, and how one brand may well suit you more than the other.

I’ll start things off by briefly sketching out a background of each company, and then I’ll look at the differences between each brand, as well as highlighting some of each’s most notable players. Finally, I’ll compare a few broadly similar models and talk about my findings and favourites.

Hopefully this will mean that you can make a more informed decision about which direction you want to go in for your own guitar purchase. Sound good? Then let us continue…

Contents

 

Taylor vs Martin: At a Glance

In broad strokes, the main differences between Taylor and Martin relate to heritage and perception. Martin are generally looked at as being a very traditional brand, one of the real originators of acoustic guitars as we know them today. Martin has defined what an acoustic guitar sounds like to most people, certainly in the past. ‘Classic’ is the go-to word for Martin.

Taylor guitars, on the other hand, are recognised for their modernity. Fresh designs, clean lines and a bright sound that is distinctly different from the traditional warmth of a Martin; these are all hallmarks of Taylor guitars.

Both brands are known as high quality, professional guitar brands with top-tier build quality, playability and sound.

Martin History

C.F. Martin & Co, as they are properly called, are one of the longest-running acoustic guitar makers in history. Since 1833, they’ve designed and built guitars in the USA, and their headquarters are currently in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Martin are responsible for many of the most popular acoustic guitar designs in the world, from the dreadnought (easily the world’s most popular acoustic shape) to the ‘Orchestral’ model and so on. Several iconic musicians, from Johnny Cash to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, have made prominent use of Martin guitars, lending them historical and cultural significance. Martin guitar designs have been hugely copied by other brands, making them perhaps the most influential guitar makers in the world.

Martin have a custom shop in their Nazareth facility and also make more affordable guitars in Mexico. This means that Martin meet the majority of price points with guitars bearing their famous name.

Taylor History

Taylor hail from California, and have been around since 1974. Characterised by innovations and original designs, Taylor are often considered a ‘modern’ brand compared to Martin’s more ‘traditional’ reputation. Some of Taylor’s notable advances include the GS Mini guitar and the Expression System pickup, though there are many more.

Whilst Taylor do use widely accepted guitar shapes such as the dreadnought, they are better known for their own styles like the Grand Auditorium and Grand Pacific. This lends the brand a strongly unique identity in the guitar market.

Like Martin, Taylor build their guitars in both the US and Mexico, with more affordable models coming from south of the border. Many top artists also play Taylor guitars, including Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.

Differences Between Martin and Taylor

As mentioned earlier, there is a considerably different ethos between Taylor and Martin guitars.

Martin invented many of the shapes and features that we now take for granted across the board when it comes to acoustic guitars: overall shapes, inner bracing (the wood patterns built into the inside of a guitar which help to colour and focus the sound), neck joins and wood combinations. For example, a dreadnought shape made with a spruce top and a rosewood body (otherwise spoken of as ‘back & sides’) is very much a classic guitar design, and very much a Martin guitar design.

Taylor, then, make their mark by choosing other styles and methods. Whilst you definitely can buy a Taylor dreadnought with a spruce top and rosewood body, the brand are far better known for their other shapes such as the famous Grand Auditorium style. Taylor have created several of their own styles of bracing, too, and have altered the way they generally attach their necks, so their build process can differ quite significantly from Martin.

Both brands utilise a combination of hand-building and machine/computer processing to achieve their aims, but it’s fair to say that Taylor do more of this, particularly in their inlay work.

Taylor have also developed their own acoustic pickup system - the Expression system - which is influential in its own right. Now in its second iteration, the Expression System was considered a game changer when it was first released. Martin, by comparison, collaborate with third parties such as Fishman to create their acoustic pickup systems.

Let’s sum the differences between Martin and Taylor:

  • Body Shapes: Martin have invested the most-copied guitar body shapes in existence; Taylor have created a number of their own popular styles that are unique
  • Bracing: Martin’s X bracing has been adopted by most acoustic builders; Taylor have advanced their own V-Class bracing, as well as making use of X-bracing on certain models.
  • Sounds: each brand makes lots of different sounding guitars, but generally speaking, Martin have a classic, traditional tone and Taylor have a brighter, more modern sound.
  • Decorative Elements: Both brands offer a choice of models with increasingly ornate decoration, but overall, Taylor can be thought to have slightly more decorative elements on their guitars. Martin are often referred to as ‘understated’.

 

Notable Taylor Guitar Players

Taylor are used by a number of top artists, including the following:

  • Taylor Swift
  • The Edge
  • Katy Perry
  • Peter Buck (R.E.M.)

 

Notable Martin Guitar Players

As an older brand, Martin have had longer to accrue their artist list, and it’s an impressive one:

  • Bob Dylan
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton
  • John Mayer
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash
  • Johnny Cash

 

Taylor vs Martin: My Favourites

During my own years of selling acoustic guitars on the guitarguitar shop floor, I definitely encountered models from both companies that have become favourites. I’ll share a few here, drawing any comparisons that may be appropriate.

 

Martin D-28

As classic as it gets, the Martin D-28 is the brand’s trademark and flagship. I think the dreadnought is the most popular acoustic guitar shape for a reason: it is capable of loud, rhythmic projection and intimate subtlety quite equally. I’ve also found that the time-honoured combo of spruce and rosewood are amongst the most rewarding sounds that an acoustic guitar can make.

Martin are perhaps a little plain looking for my tastes, but the D-28 is a workhorse and a life-long musical partner. It feels great, sounds incredible and has that century-long association with era upon era of great artists to call upon, too. Pretty special stuff!

Taylor 814ce

In Taylor terms, the wonder 814ce is perhaps their answer to the Martin D-28. Why? Well, it’s their quintessential shape, it’s from a comparable price point (so the indication is for comparable quality) and it’s made with the same timber combo: spruce and rosewood. I think of this model as Taylor’s calling card, because it shows off many of their innovations such as the shoulder bevel, the tasteful inlay work, the V-Class bracing and the Expression System 2 pickup. There is a liveliness to the sound that I think encourages your best playing, and the whole experience of using one feels luxurious and special.

Like a good dreadnought, this Grand Auditorium shape handles every style and approach well, with a particularly modern vibe that I find really refreshing.

Martin Road Series 00012 Koa

My other Martin choice is a recent one from their Road Series. The Martin 00012E Koa uses the brand’s 000 (triple-oh) body size, which is slightly smaller and shallower than a dreadnought, with a slightly more ‘pinched waist’ in the overall shape. I’ve always been keen on the 000: this type of guitar is great for playing fingerstyle parts, flying through some acoustic jazz and laying down some retro blue licks. This model keeps things relatively affordable (for a Martin, which are never really ‘cheap’, I’d say) by using layered woods for the back and sides, and then adding a veneer of lovely Hawaiian Koa on top for good measure. The solid spruce top does the tonal talking here, and I reckon most serious and semi-pro players on a budget will love this guitar.

A Fishman pickup rounds off the spec, so those looking for a gigging companion will definitely want to check this one out!

Taylor GS Mini

My last choice of personal favourites today needs to be the Taylor GS Mini. This guitar design - a scaled down version of their Grand Symphony style - came out of nowhere and immediately changed the whole acoustic guitar buying market. It’s still Taylor’s most popular guitar, and it is not hard for me to understand why.

Small enough to be quite significantly more portable than a large dreadnought/jumbo/whatever, but still somehow big enough to feel more or less like a full-size guitar, the GS Mini has pulled off that difficult trick of being most things for most people without feeling like a bland compromise. Quite the opposite, in fact: I know of at least a few guitarists whose only acoustic is a GS Mini because it just satisfies all of their needs.

The Taylor GS Mini has been available in a variety of timber combos since its release, so this recommendation is for the general style. I happen to like the GS Mini Rosewood model (that spruce/rosewood combination again!) but I also LOVE the new Limited Edition model in Carbon Burst, mainly for its ‘wow’ looks, but also because the one I’ve tried had that unputdownable moreish factor that cannot be ignored!

 

Martin or Taylor: Which is Right for You?

So, this is us at the end of our comparison. How do you feel about each brand? Does one leap out to you more than the other? We suspect you’ll only really know after you choose some models and play them in person, but I hope that my shared experience has helped guide you towards a result that works best for you. 

In my own opinion, I tend to feel that Taylor often have the edge in the lower prices. Their guitars at every price point have that rightness - that life - in them that I find missing from some of the less expensive Martin guitars. That said, I had my hands on several of the new Road Series guitars only a few weeks ago and I was very pleasantly impressed by the quality, the feel and the sound. Could it be that Martin are upping their game here to beat their rival?

Best Taylor Guitars

Best Martin Guitars

In the more expensive regions, it’s far harder to voice objective opinions. I’d say that a top end Martin is a pretty astonishing thing to behold, but I’d also reiterate my opinion that Taylor are putting out wonderful guitars at every level. If famous name associations are important to you, then Martin have a heritage that cannot be beaten. If you like a forward-thinking company who seem quite willing to change how they approach everything in the name of progress, then Taylor will probably be the brand for you!

Have fun trying as many as you can, and remember that our staff are all fully trained experts, so get them involved in your journey! It’s fun and they’ll know stuff that will genuinely help you. Enjoy!

Browse our Selection of Taylor Guitars

Browse our Selection of Martin Guitars

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About the author

Ray

Features Editor, Warehouse

I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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