IYG Acoustic Showdown – Martin / Gibson / Taylor

It’s not often we get three top-tier acoustic repairs in the It’s Your Guitar Workshop at the same time, but it happened this summer. 

A Martin, a Gibson, and a Taylor walk into the It’s Your Guitar Workshop…listen to what happened!

The Martin D1ce

In June 2022, our new friend John brought us a nice, 25-year-old Martin DC-1 to work on. A crack in the soundboard had been previously repaired, but the finish was nearly gone. John said he wasn’t fussy about how we finished the instrument’s top — he just wanted it sealed and safe so he could keep playing it. I could tell by the fretboard wear that John played this guitar a lot over the last 25 years. This was a beloved instrument, and I wanted to do it justice.

So Rocco and I tried our hand(s) at French polishing, an ancient wood finishing technique. French polishing is done on high-end musical instruments like guitars and violins because it does not affect the tone of the wood.

It’s a multi-step process involving shellac, denatured alcohol, and a few drops of oil. (John’s spruce top was treated to some extra virgin olive oil from my wife’s pantry!) And elbow grease…there’s a lot of burnishing and buffing!

John’s terrible top is now smooth as glass, shiny, and durable! French polishing success!

The Gibson Hummingbird Pro 

Rock Star Chris brought us a Gibson Hummingbird Pro that he had borrowed from a friend. Even though the guitar was only ten years old (there was a factory inspection sticker in the case dated 2012), it didn’t age well. The action was so high it was nearly unplayable. We straightened the bowed neck and sanded down the saddle to lower the action. We also repaired/replaced the battery pack, which had come loose and was floating around the interior of the guitar. Once it was repaired, cleaned, and restrung, this Gibson sounded great — nice and beefy!

The Taylor 214 Koa

Rock Star Jordan dropped off a Taylor 214 Koa for a set-up. The action looks a little high on this guitar too. Maybe these “affordable” high-end guitar models use greener wood which makes them age strangely. Who knows? 

The Test

I plugged all three of these instruments directly into my USB mixer into Logic Pro. I know acoustics sound better recorded with a microphone, but my home studio was a bit noisy so I used the onboard electronics, making this more of a showdown between Gibson/Martin/Taylor piezo pickups. In that case, the Taylor wins big!

The Verdict

The best overall playing and sounding instrument was the Martin D1. It simply had a great broken-in feel and a pure tone. 

The Taylor was a close second. The Taylor uses an interesting bridge setup with three piezo pickups behind the saddle rather than a piezo bar magnet beneath the saddle, like on the Martin and Gibson. As a result, the Taylor had the best plugged-in sound of the three guitars, and it was a pleasure to record. 

The Gibson Hummingbird Pro has a thick, rich tone and a chunky neck — almost like an acoustic version of a Les Paul. While the instrument was great for producing that lush “Gibson sound,” it wasn’t as nuanced as the Martin or Taylor. 

Listen below and see for yourself!

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