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Acoustic Guitar Notes #6

Scalloped Braces
by Eric Schoenberg

One common question is about scalloped bracing. We've heard it improves the sound of a guitar, but is it commercial hype? What's the story? There definitely is a difference! There isn't any hype whatsoever. Which you prefer, however, is an individual choice.

There are actually three different standards in Martin history: The scalloped brace style, the unscalloped with small bridge-plate which was Martin's only style from 1944 to 1968, and the non-scalloped of 1968 to the present, which has a much-larger-than-traditional bridgeplate . Pre 1944, all Martins were scalloped with small bridgeplates, and now, all new Martin's that are scalloped have the small bridgeplate. Many other builders claim it's not the shape of the brace, it's the size; My friend, Bruce Sexauer, who is a great builder with a strong sense of the sources of tone in a guitar, feels that the scalloped shape is inefficient and adds mass in the wrong places, although he's continually experimenting. I believe that the size of the bridgeplate has more effect on the tone. The difference between scalloped and non-scalloped is very noticeable, but is more a matter of taste. The large bridgeplate, however, tends to dull the response, pulling back on the powerful quickness that is so exciting in a great instrument.

One last thought: in comparing the non-scalloped, small bridgeplate guitars to the scalloped, the scalloped tend to break in much faster while the heavier non-scalloped guitars need to be broken in a whole lot more. In the 1960's, everyone used to say that 50's Martins were no good. Now a good '50's D-28 is prized, not so much because tastes have changed, but because the guitars are now 40+ years old. They have a clarity and punch that the older scalloped guitars often lack. Perhaps 40 years from now we'll (those of us that are still around) find something marvelous in the larger bridgeplate examples.