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Dear Emily: "What The Shift?" Edition

Posted by cfmartinguitar

Dear Emily,

I'm finally taking the plunge and purchasing a Martin dreadnought! I've heard people talk about forward shifted and rear shifted bracing. Is one better than the other? -- Soon To Be Dreadnought Owner


Custom Shop Administration- Emily

Dear Soon To Be Dreadnought Owner,

Neither is better! It is like asking which is better a D-18 or a D-28? There are die-hard fans for each and they are both very different animals. A present day D-28 has standard brace placement, which means the X falls just under 1 1/2" from the sound hole edge. Standard brace placement should not be overlooked. There's a reason the D-28 is one of the most popular acoustic guitars ever! Many of our dreadnoughts have standard brace placement.

You can manipulate the sound of the guitar by shifting the braces around. When the X brace moves toward the neck, about 1" from the soundhole, that's your forward bracing. Before I get too nerdy about the size of the bridge plate and how the bridge lays on it, let's just say that forward shifted bracing typically adds more "boom" to the guitar and the bass notes become more prominent. To me, forward shifted guitars sound "played in" from the first strum.

The lesser known rear shifted brace is a real sleeper! When you shift the X brace toward the lower bout of the guitar, you get a real clear and powerful sound. The best I can describe it is when you strum a chord, you can pick out every note clearly. The sound is very dynamic no matter what style you play. Bluegrassers have loved rear shifted bracing for years because it can cut through the mix of an upright bass, banjo, dobro, etc. and not get drowned out.

My advice is to try out different dreadnoughts made of the same woods but different brace placement. Standard placement dreadnoughts are easy to find. Examples are the D-28, HD-28, and D-45. Forward shifted guitars include the D-42, HD-28V, and D-45V. Rear shifted guitars are a little hard to find but they are out there! The D-28 Dan Tyminski was always a rear shifted favorite of mine.


Emily has worked at Martin Guitar for 8 years. She has been cross-trained in every aspect of guitar building and currently serves as the Martin Guitar Custom Shop Administrator. Dear Emily is an advice column that will appear bi-monthly on the Martin Guitar Blog.

Topics: Ask Emily

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