If the average picker is anything like me, it's very hard to stroll through a store and not pick up every guitar in the place, "just to see how it sounds". With every new guitar purchase I make, goes a promise to my wife that "this is it, it's the one I've been looking for, I won't need another guitar - ever!". Currently, I have two Blueridge guitars, BG160 and a BR160, a Larivee D9, and a Martin HDC 28 (cedar top). All have great sound in their own respect and on any given day I'd swear that each one of them is "the sound". Then I'll happen to pick up a Gibson Blues King or Hummingbird and think "this is sweet, maybe it's the holy grail I've been searching for! After falling in and out of love with every guitar I've ever owned, I finally realized that it's the search for that perfect sound that makes it so much fun. So I'm just happy to enjoy them all and the quest for the holy grail will go on. - Let me know if you ever find it I'm sure my wife would understand. :)
I'm tellin' ya, if any of you get a chance to try out a Stanford dread (Performer Series), do it. They are really very, very good sounding guitars for a lot less $$$ than Martin and Taylor. Granted, they are not Martins and Taylors, but the construction and finish are very nice and the quality of sound that the Stanfords put out will rival any of the high end instruments. Currently, there are a little over 100 Stanfords in the US. I'm lucky enough to have one, a PSD-21 solid "hog". There is only one dealer that I know of, GypsyJazzGuitars in Friendsville, TN. The owners name is Steve Perry, very nice guy, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Play a bunch of Martins, Collings, Huss & Dalton, & Bourgeois--
Play some Gibsons for a different sound....
ON the Gibsonesque side, the John Walker "Wise River" is a great guitar, an easy player, and sounds akin to and better IMHO than standard Gibsons.
The three guitars I prefer from the first group is the D28 variety--the CW is tops, the D28HD is close by,
The Huss and Dalton TDM ( mahogany) is a great player and top notch Mahog. sound. My overall favorite is the Bourgeois DB Signature Brazilian or the D-150--but there you are getting into major bucks...
Trying out the guitars will be fun. Good luck with your quest. Everyone here will be with you vicariously..
I've got a Martin D-18 GE. On the used market I'm convinced they are the best deal going. Mines a 2004 model I bought back in October and with it being in a slightly used condition with some dings I got it for $1700. I don't play out live but if I did I'd be comfortable taking something I invested under 2 grand in out.
I have 2 Martin Custom D's 1 hog and 1 rosewood, A Gretch Historic Series and I just picked up an Eastman AC320 used for under 500.00 that will take any other dreadnaught made from 200. to 20000. to the edge.