The ideal “voicing” for a guitar is highly subjective. The wood and the luthier fall into a deep conversation with the end goal of mutual self-expression. The scalloping of the braces on the top is often emphasized as one of the most important steps in defining an instruments sound. That said, sometimes the braces aren’t scalloped, but left “straight”, and in my opinion, the results can be just as satisfying.
The guitars built during Martin’s “golden era” inspired many of the common features of contemporary high-end steel strings. One of these features is the deeply scalloped X-brace. By scalloping away extra wood on this pivotal portion of the guitar’s anatomy, luthiers in the 30s were able to increase the bass, volume, and overall responsiveness of their instruments. In the mid-1940s, most likely in response to increased demand, Martin switched to non scalloped, “straight” braces on all their guitars. It wasn’t until the late 70s that the scallop was reintroduced.
My main guitar is a 1967 00-18 Martin that my mother bought new at Manny’s music and eventually bequeathed to me. It is straight braced. When I was younger, I honestly didn’t think too much of it. My ears were pulled towards bigger, more harmonically rich guitars. The warm, even voice of my mother’s small, short-scale mahogany acoustic didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to be caught in a rosewood snow globe of overtones.
Somewhere along the line my tastes changed. I found myself gravitating towards more fundamental, intimate tones. More earthy, less ethereal. I started to bond with the 00-18. I began to appreciate how balanced and immediate it sounded. I had to work for those harmonic shivers, but when they came, they were somehow more rewarding. There’s something honest and iconic about the tone of a straight-braced, mahogany guitar. It’s beautifully simple. As my bandmate and engineer is fond of saying when we listen back to takes, “It’s a guitar guitar.”
I’m not the only one who is drawn to this particular voicing. The Collings C10-35 and CJ-35 both feature non-scalloped Adirondack bracing. Respectively 00 and Dreadnought sized, these are two of my favorite models in the Collings line. They are exceptionally balanced and clear no matter how complex the chord progression or aggressive the right hand. They can articulate and they can snarl. They put every note in the spotlight and compel you to perfect your phrasing. As rhythm guitars, they sound like you’re spinning an old 45 record.
I love all sorts of guitars and I definitely own more than one, but there’s something about the sound of my steady, straight-braced Martin 00 that’s deeply inspiring. At some point or another, every guitarist embarks on a quest for the perfect tone; that perfect sonic vehicle of self-expression. Along the way, I recommend spending some time with the more plain spoken instruments you may find. Sometimes simplicity is the perfect fit.