It has become a cliché to say that we are living in a golden era of lutherie. Yet, with each passing year, that sentiment rings truer than ever. Guitar makers, both industry giants and boutique artisans, continue to push the boundaries of design and quality. In 2023, just as in recent years, they delivered a diverse array of instruments paying homage to the rich history of the acoustic guitar while propelling it forward. C.F. Martin & Co., for instance, left enthusiasts in awe with their note-perfect replication of the highly sought-after 1937 D-28. Meanwhile, Taylor Guitars sparked contemplation about the future of tonewood resources by incorporating urban ironbark in select models.
In this annual year-in-gear retrospective, we take you on a tour of the exciting new acoustic guitars and accessories introduced in 2023. This selection encompasses instruments tailored to suit a wide spectrum of playing styles, catering to everyone from the budget-conscious to those willing to invest five figures in their passion. But we’re not just here to talk at you. We’ve also gathered reader quotes about some of your best gear scores from last year—all of which offer further evidence of this golden era.
New Offerings from Legacy Makers
It is thrilling, to say the least, to see the lineup that the venerable C.F. Martin & Co. releases each year, and 2023 was no exception. The legacy guitar maker treated its iconic dreadnought to a handful of new models. Available in both D-18 ($2,399 street) and D-28 ($2,799) versions, the StreetLegend dreads look decades old, thanks to the digital microburst printing that mimics the appearance of the soundboards from historic models in the Martin museum. Whatever you make of this technology, the guitars look undeniably cool and deliver the rich and rumbling tones that Martin dreads are prized for.
For instruments with actual physical distressing, Martin introduced the D-18 and D-28 Authentic 1937 Aged ($7,999 and $8,999, respectively, a fraction of the cost of a clean original), each with a lightly antiqued cosmetic treatment, an Adirondack spruce top, and hot hide glue construction. (While the D-18 is built using the historically correct mahogany back and sides, the D-28 swaps out Guatemalan rosewood for the Madagascar that Martin had been using in place of Brazilian on its Authentic models.)
At the lower end of the price spectrum, the sapele 000CJR-10E StreetMaster ($749) also boasts a fashionably distressed treatment, along with a Venetian cutaway and Fishman Sonitone electronics, which make it a great gig-ready option. The same goes for the boldly asymmetric SC-10E ($999), now available in sapele, with its ergonomic neck and body and Fishman MX-T electronics.
Martin usually introduces at least one model each year that is particularly eye-catching or artsy, and for 2023 this included the OM Biosphere ($2,229)—the soundboard of which is emblazoned with a full-color ocean scene by visual artist Robert Goetzl. Made with an FSC-certified Sitka spruce top and sapele back and sides, the guitar is entirely devoid of plastic components and comes in a sustainable hemp gig bag, reflecting Martin’s support of coral reef preservation and of the fight against climate change in general. At the same time, Martin introduced not one but two new 20th-anniversary John Mayer models—the OMJM ($3,999) and OM-45 ($18,499), each featuring a distinctive, charcoal-colored sunburst top.
Taylor Guitars has long built instruments with sustainability in mind, going so far as to buy an ebony mill in Cameroon in 2011, and more recently used wood salvaged from the urban canopies in Southern California for select models. Among many other new offerings, Taylor revamped its 100 series with solid Sitka and layered sapele models ($799 each), and the 500 Series (from $3,299) now includes several guitars made with urban ironbark back and sides and torrefied spruce tops. The company also expanded its relatively affordable, all-solid American Dream series with several sunburst Sitka spruce and walnut models, and others built with mahogany and sapele (all from $1,799).
The 814ce has for many years been Taylor’s flagship guitar, and the model saw two interesting twists for 2023. With a dark opaque finish on its Sitka spruce soundboard, contrasted by maple binding and natural rosewood back and sides, the 814ce Blacktop Special Edition ($4,099) is quite the looker. So too is the new Builder’s Edition 814ce ($4,499), which finds the company exploring subtle changes to the guitar’s basic design in response to dwindling supplies of classic tonewoods. While the two-piece back and the sides are made from the customary Indian rosewood, the Adirondack spruce top is built not from two pieces but four—a design that Taylor thinks will become increasingly common as good-quality spruce of all types becomes more difficult to source in the appropriate widths.
In an opposite direction, revisiting some of its most endearing flattop designs, Gibson introduced the Murphy Lab Acoustic Collection (from $5,499). Comprised of the 1933 L-00, 1942 Banner J-45, 1942 Banner Southern Jumbo, 1957 SJ-200, and 1960 Hummingbird models, all with torrefied tops, the guitars are all built to historic specs in Gibson’s newly expanded factory in Bozeman, Montana. They are then lightly aged by Tom Murphy, well known in the industry for his artful distressing work on Gibson electric guitars.
Gibson also unveiled some eye-catching signature models, like the Miranda Lambert Bluebird ($4,649), an indigo take on the classic Hummingbird, and the Keb’ Mo’ “3.0” 12-Fret J-45 ($4,299)—as the name indicates, a 12-fret version of the classic 14-fret workhorse. Similarly, Gibson’s sibling company Epiphone unveiled the limited-edition, U.S.-made Chris Stapleton Frontier ($4,999), a square-shoulder dreadnought with AA figured maple back and sides, a thermally aged Sitka spruce soundboard, and an elaborate pair of engraved pickguards.
To celebrate its 70th anniversary, another storied American guitar maker, Guild, released versions of the classic D-40, D-50, and F-40 models (from $2,399), built in Oxnard, California. Each guitar sports a Sitka spruce top with scalloped Adirondack braces, as well as a newly formulated, super thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish for a vintage appearance. These models are available in natural and sunburst finishes; a particularly lovely option on the D-40 and F-40 is the Pacific Sunset Burst, which is inspired by the colorful sunsets in Southern California.
Artistry in Sound
As some of the major boutique companies reach the half-century mark, their guitars seem to be getting even richer-sounding, better designed, and more finely crafted than ever. Evidence in support of this anecdotal observation was on display throughout the year, with guitars that showcased the artistry of builders like Bourgeois, Santa Cruz, and Collings at their finest.
At the NAMM show in April, Bourgeois displayed the Commemorative 10,000th OM-45 Style Custom. This ultra-opulent offering was made from master-grade Adirondack spruce and Brazilian rosewood, a figured mahogany neck, and English holly bindings, along with ornate but tasteful 18-karat solid gold purfling and inlays. Bourgeois, which received Maine’s 2023 Manufacturer of the Year award, also continued to make its designs more accessible by adding the Country Boy/TS OM and D ($2,699 each) models to its recently introduced Touchstone line of guitars, which are voiced at the company’s Maine shop and completed by Eastman Guitars in China.
Having debuted a series of striking one-off guitar pairs in 2022, Collings did the same last year. The Austin, Texas–based maker unveiled a custom 0001 12-Fret with a sinker rosewood top and koa back and sides, matched with a SoCo 16 LC baritone thin-line electric ($30,000 for the pair). Collings also came out with a stunning AT-00 archtop and matching C10 flattop ($45,000), both made from exquisitely flamed maple and European spruce and incorporating walnut binding and Madagascar rosewood fretboard, bridge, and headstock veneer, with an elegant, bound Madagascar pickguard on the AT-00.
At the 2023 IBMA Bluegrass Live! Show, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Collings displayed its Builder’s Edition Traditional dreadnought and OM models, and these prototypes have made a splash with pickers like Bob Minner and Jake Workman. While the Builder’s Edition models have yet to make an official debut, they speak to Collings’ ongoing quest to explore new voicings and tonal flavors in its existing lineup.
Meanwhile in California, Santa Cruz Guitar Company’s charismatic leader, Richard Hoover, looked back on his long life in lutherie and set out to make a new series of guitars called the Vault. The name is a reference to opening the private tonewood reserves Hoover has been building up for the last half century—much of it with a special story. Hoover’s most recent find, for instance, was some Brazilian rosewood salvaged from the Bryn Athyn Cathedral, in Pennsylvania. This remarkable wood had been used for adornments on the interior of the church during its construction, between 1913–1919, and a leftover portion had been carefully stored in a stone building in ideal conditions for a century until Hoover recently acquired it.
At press time, Santa Cruz was building a quartet of instruments made from a selection of these prized woods, including a D model featuring the Bryn Athyn Brazilian rosewood back and sides and Fort Ross Chapel redwood top; H13 with ancient kauri back and sides and San Lorenzo purple sinker redwood top; Firefly with micro-flamed walnut sides and back and ancient sinker bald cypress top; and OM with master grade Brazilian rosewood and ancient Sitka spruce top.
All four guitars will feature intricate but tasteful ornamentation, much of it newly designed for the series, including jewels embedded under headstock windows—a diamond on the D, ruby on the H13, emerald on the Firefly, and sapphire on the OM.
Like Santa Cruz and other boutique guitar makers, Breedlove has long placed an emphasis on using sustainable tonewoods, both in the instruments crafted in its Oregon custom shop and in its more affordable imported lines. One of Breedlove’s new U.S.-made offerings, the striking TB Vintage Edition Blues Orange Concertina M1 ($4,999) is inspired by company owner Tom Bedell’s personal guitar. It is built using local Oregon figured myrtlewood for the top, back, and sides—accented with figured maple binding and spalted maple purfling—and is outfitted with an L.R. Baggs M1 soundhole pickup.
Smart and Affordable Guitars
Just as prices for fine guitars reach stratospheric levels, instruments at the lower end of the price spectrum continue to offer more bang for the buck than ever—along with modern enhancements and new, player-friendly designs and features that make both learning and gigging easy.
Fender’s new Highway Series offers an excellent example of this trend. Selling for $999.99 each, the Highway guitar is available in dreadnought or parlor size, with a solid Sitka spruce or mahogany top on a thin and ergonomically sculpted chambered mahogany body, and a Stratocaster-style bolt-on neck. While the guitars are said to have a surprising amount of acoustic resonance for their size, they are equipped with Fishman’s Fluence pickup system, which, working in tandem with floating X bracing, makes for a realistic and feedback-resistant acoustic tone when plugged in.
Cort introduced several acoustics that take inspiration from much costlier boutique designs. The new flagship model is the modern concert–sized Gold-Passion ($1,499), which has a torrefied solid Engelmann spruce top; solid AAA maple back and sides; hard maple, walnut-reinforced neck; smoothly beveled cutaway; gold mother-of-pearl inlay throughout; and L.R. Baggs Anthem electronics.
In a more traditional vein, Eastman introduced steel-strings like the all-solid E10M-Special ($779), a 000 with thermo-cured spruce top and quilted sapele back and sides, also available in dreadnought size (E1D-Special, $799). Sapele is also seen in the new E1OOSS-SB ($579), patterned after Gibson’s L-00 size, which has a solid Sitka spruce soundboard and an even more agreeable price tag.
Amplification and Accessories
While 2023 saw an almost overwhelming number of new guitar designs, there were also some notable new releases of amps, electronics, and accessories.
Boss introduced a new amplifier designed for an immersive experience for acoustic stringed instruments. The AC-22LX ($399.99, see review here) is a compact, two-channel stereo amp that can emulate the sound of twin microphone configurations in studio settings, among many other useful modern features.
L.R. Baggs has long been known for its top-quality acoustic electronics, and the California-based company revealed the Hi-Fi bridge plate system ($199). This noninvasive option can be used on any guitar and includes a pair of peel-and stick bridge plate sensors that are designed to capture a more dynamic and natural image of an acoustic guitar’s sound than soundboard-mounted or undersaddle pickups.
Another electronics giant, Fishman, rolled out the AFX line of mini effects pedals tailored to the acoustic guitar—the Pocket Blender mixer, A/B/Y, and D.I. ($89.95); AcoustiVerb reverb ($119.95); Broken Record looper and sampler ($119); and Pro EQ preamp with graphic equalizer ($119.95). (See a review of all four in the November/December 2023 issue.)
D’Addario, the leading string maker, came out with some thoughtful accessories. The Comfort Leather Auto Lock strap (from $39.99)—available in black, tan, and brown leather, and in two- or three-inch widths—offers a classic look with modern convenience and protection. For changing strings or even performing a setup on the fly, the Universal Neck Rest ($14.99) provides a good and stable place to rest a guitar neck without damaging the finish.
Speaking of maintenance, MusicNomad’s new String Change Tool Kit ($29.99) is a six-piece bundle containing everything from a bridge-pin puller to nut and saddle lubricant to a heavy-duty string cutter.
Taylor Guitars’ Beacon Tuner ($49.95) is a small digital device that clips on the headstock, is easy to read with its relatively large display, and also includes a metronome, timer, clock and a flashlight—which can really save you on a gig.
Your Year in Gear
In an online survey, we asked readers what some of their favorite gear purchases in 2023 were. Here are some of the instruments and other products that stoked inspiration this year.
I stumbled upon a small company called Rosette Guitar Products that offers products and accessories for nylon-string guitars. With the Tie Guard Soundboard Protector, I am more confident when changing strings because I am not concerned about getting dings on the soundboard. —Char Claassen
A Taylor 362ce 12-string. The playability and the warm yet chimey sound fit so well in a band and sonically inspires me. —Ken Green
A Lava Music Blue Lava guitar that has reignited my love for playing. Love this smart guitar! — Jake Jacobs
I love my recently acquired Martin HD-28, which has inspired me to delve into my love of bluegrass! And I have an Emerald [carbon fiber guitar] on order—I like having a guitarsenal of inspiration to choose from each day. —Lahra Marino Svare
A recent Epiphone Inspired by Gibson J-45. I play primarily country music from the mid-1920s through the early 1950s. This guitar provides a solid base for much of that music, especially the Depression-era music. It delivers a rich warmth, while at the same time being able to provide a certain “cheapness” that is authentic as all get-out! —Robert Laplander
My new Taylor 214ce-N is all I’ve played for three months.
—Howard B. Owens III
I just got a new D’Angelico Excel Gramercy, and the sounds are so sweet and tender but still with some punch, plus the guitar looks absolutely stunning. It’s making me want to start writing some songs! —Ruby Leigh
My new PRS SE T55E, which has beautiful flame maple back and sides with Sitka spruce top and lots of abalone inlay. It plays extremely well and with great tone. —Randy Reecer
I got a Furch OM-SR and I absolutely love it. It’s the perfect companion for my Gibson J-45. I hardly ever play any of my other guitars and am getting ready to sell most because I never pick them up anymore. —Jim Ross
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.