A survey of current
Martin Top Braces
© Frank Ford, 11/16/98; Photos by FF, 9/14/98

In September our Martin sales rep, Joe McNamara, paid us a visit and showed off some sample tops he had the factory make up to demonstrate top bracing patterns. I liked them so much I laid 'em out on the floor and took some pictures to post on FRETS.COM.

These are regular dreadnought tops just as they are used in making Martin instruments. The little "love handles" at the waist are for alignment during the manufacturing process, as are the two little holes at the top.

Here's the standard, non-scalloped bracing as used in a regular D-28 or D-18:

This bracing has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction in late 1944.

At a slight angle, you can see the profile of the braces a little better:

The "scalloped" brace top is a reissue of the bracing style Martin used before the introduction of the heavier straight braces near the end of World War II:

Viewed from an angle, the scalloped areas are clearly visible "below" the intersection of the two main cross braces:

That's why you can't see the difference by simply looking into the soundhole.

The lower priced "1-series" guitars, such as D-1 and DM, have a simpler "A-frame" bracing system, which is different in every respect except for the main truss, the ubiquitous "cross brace" that Martin developed before the Civil War:

Notice that there are fewer braces and the cross braces are tapered quite thin at the ends for good flexibility at the edges of the top. This lightweight bracing pattern gives the 1-series a terrific bass response, but because there are no diagonal braces, slightly less complexity of tone, especially in the treble range.

Let's take a look at the real innovation here:

This is the A-frame part of the system. The upper part of the "A" keys into special slots in the neck block to give extra support and rigidity to the neck block. The idea is to increase stability of neck support. Sounds like a good idea. Let's give it a couple of generations to see how this works out!

The 16-series (D-16, D-16TR, etc.) uses a "hybrid" system which combines elements of both the A-frame and scalloped bracing styles:

Fewer braces than the original scalloped system, but most of the original functional elements are still here. Will the hybrid system be the new bracing for future production of D-18s and D-28s? I guess we'll have to wait to find out. It could be that this system will afford the tonal complexity of the original with the added strength and stability of the A-frame design.

Martin's current production of the DXM, with top, back and sides of high pressure phenolic countertop material, proves the company is willing to experiment and take some risks. Maybe that means they are continuing to work on the bracing systems for their regular wood guitars, too.

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