Blueridge BR-180 vs. Martin D-45
The Blueridge BR-180 is one handsome acoustic guitar with a powerful voice. The gorgeous tonewoods are inlayed with high-color abalone pearl, making this stunning stallion stand out from the herd, as the top-of-the-line dreadnought in the Historic Series.
The body shape, tonewoods and trim are inspired by another top-of-the-line dreadnought, the Martin D-45, flagship of C. F. Martin’s Standard Series, setting the standard for professional-level acoustic guitars. In this blog post we will compare and contrast these two exceptional examples of modern luthiery.
Both instruments feature solid tonewoods of the highest quality. Each has exotic East Indian back and sides and a North American Sitka spruce soundboard. They also have a bridge of solid ebony, matched with the solid ebony fingerboard on a neck made from solid mahogany that provides dense stability. The traditional, hand-fitted dovetail neck joint insures maximum transference of the kinetic energy passing through the neck from the strings, via the nut, which gets injected into the tonewood body, just like the energy entering at the bridge near the sound hole.
Those spruce tops are supported by traditional forward-shifted, scalloped bracing, carved by hand. Martin developed scalloped bracing in the 1830s and the bracing pattern dates from the mid-1930s, when Martin first invented the 14-fret dreadnought.
Scalloping removes wood from each brace and tone bar, allowing greater flexibility to maximize the top’s resonant properties. The forward-shifted X brace, with its center placed about one inch below the sound hole, enlivens the spruce across the wide lower bout, for extra volume and increased bass response that roars out of the sound hole during vigorous strumming, from the large dreadnought sound chamber. During fingerpicking and finessed flatpicking, the meaty bass purrs with lovely reverberation, as the treble sings with complex rosewood overtones, harmonizing all the while.
Each guitar is festooned with brilliant colors naturally occurring in the abalone shell used for the mitered trim. The Martin D-45 has abalone shell inlaid around the edge of the top and fretboard extension. It also gets extra abalone inlaid around the edge of the back, and all edges of the sides, with strips of abalone inlaid on either side of the neck heel! It is absolutely exquisite.
The Blueridge BR-180 has virtually identical abalone inlay on every edge of the top, sides, back, and neck heel, and a similar back strip of multi-colored wood fiber, inlaid down the center of the top-shelf East Indian rosewood. Words cannot capture how awesome this pearl work looks in person and how perfect the craftsmanship is, which took countess hours to achieve.
The combination of the highest grades of spruce, rosewood, and ebony makes both of these luxurious models a mouthwatering option for the most discerning lovers of fine tonewoods. Just like the D-45, the rosewood chosen for the BR-180 has high-contrast grain so that the darkest shades, mid-tones, and lighter hues play off of one another, providing depth and character that is easy discerned from across the room, or when seen from the audience while in concert. Being able to admire exclusive guitars of this quality is one of the finer things in life.
The Martin D-45
Today’s D-45 has aesthetic design elements from more than one era of Martin guitar making. This comes from the upgrades brought to the entire Standard Series in 2018, introducing features from the retired Vintage Series.
The instantly recognizable abalone hexagon markers on the fingerboard and the corresponding abalone “C Martin F” headstock logo come from the Woodstock Era, when the D-45 was reintroduced into the Martin line in 1968. They were borrowed from the last “pre-war” D-45s made in 1942. The Antique White binding, dark tortoise pattern pickguard, and ageing toner on the spruce, give the body the look of a Martin from the 1950s; except for the fact Martin wasn’t using abalone trim during that time. The open back tuning machines harken back to the 1930s, when the first D-45 made its celebrated debut.
The Blueridge BR-180 takes its aesthetic inspiration almost entirely from those original D-45s constructed up through 1938. Instead of large hexagons of abalone, we find glittering abalone diamonds, snowflakes, and cats eyes that are sprinkled down full length of the ebony fingerboard. This ornate fret marker pattern graced Style 45 Martins years before the first dreadnought appeared for sale under the Martin brand. And the flawless white bindings on the body, neck, and headstock evoke even older 45s from the days when solid ivory was used to embellish the fanciest guitars.
That fret marker pattern can be seen today on Martin’s D-42, OM-42, and 000-42, which all look like 1930s Style 45 Martins from the front, but have no abalone inlays on the back and sides. On must step up to Martin’s Authentic Series to acquire a D-45 with the pre-war snowflake pattern, but the BR-180 makes such classic styling easily in reach by even modest budgets.
Where the spruce soundboard on a Standard Series Martin has aging top toner that has the visual appearance of a guitar from the 1950 or ‘60s, Blueridge gave their BR-180 a darker, mellow toner that is identical to many Martin tops that have seasoned since the 1930s. And the tuning machines are also appropriate to that period as well, but with modern engineering that guarantees easy, accurate adjustments.
The Blueridge Historic Series pickguard is a departure from traditional looks. It is the leopard pattern that was made famous by the 1935 D-28 belonging to the late, great Tony Rice, who acquired it after the even later Clarence White wasn’t around to play it. It certainly is distinctive. As is the unique Blueridge headstock artwork. In the case of the high-end BR-180, it has a super-fancy torch pattern in gem-quality abalone of emerald green and azure blue, all tied together with pure white mother-of-pearl ribbons that reflect with holograms of pink and sky blue, like little rainbows whenever the light strikes them just right.
The Blueridge BR-180
The neck on each guitar is designed for comfort and speed. Martin’s High Performance neck has a wider nut, being 1-3/4” vs. 1-11/16” on the BR-180. But the High Performance Taper on the Martin fingerboard narrows quicker than on traditional boards, so the two fingerboards basically have the same width by the time one reaches the 5th fret or so. However, the Blueridge strings do not reach as close to the edge of the frets as the strings on the Martin, but here we are talking about very subtle stuff. At the saddle on the bridge, the difference in string spacing is literally the width of a .12 E string.
For all the graceful beauty to be seen in such show-piece guitars, they are first and foremost musical instruments. Both of them have voices that can make pleasing and inspiring music. Each puts forth into the world a stellar example of their brand’s signature sound.
We made some attempts to describe the complex and wonderful voices of these two similar rosewood dreadnoughts. But we are no Spoon Phillips of One Man’s Guitar. We could do neither of them justice.
Instead, we shall let them sing for themselves in the video Maury created so you can hear them one after the other, as many times as you wish. We will suggest you visit the model page of both of these wonderful, professional-level acoustic guitars – the Blueridge BR-180 and the Martin D-45 – to compare the specs and photos while you listen to our comparison video, and see which guitar will soon be making music live and in person in your living room. That is, if we still have them in stock. For all of their exclusivity, each model is extremely popular and sells very well.
What do you like best about the tone of each guitar? We would love to hear your opinion!
That Blueridge, for the price, is remarkable! If only it wasn't made in China...
Hope all's well,
p.s. we oved to Missouri, so I'm a bit closer to you. I'll have to drop by in the near future.