I made the trip to Dream Guitars today, so here is a summary. The fact that there are no pictures or links to pictures should be a hint as to the outcome. I did not buy a guitar.
First to just restate the situation, I own a "luthier guitar" (1984 Jesus Marzal - Valencia, Spain - cedar/Indian RW) and my ONLY CG equipment experience is with this guitar and the low end guitar that I started on. The difference between these two is dramatic. I had no idea what the difference between my Marzal and 'add $4K to the value of my Marzal and buy it' might be. So this was both a learning experience for me and a possible purchase.
First a fellow Delcampian most generously offered to accompany me here. I viewed him as my 'Expert Ear' (EE for short). Others had suggested this and they were quite correct - VERY helpful (since he is far more knowledgeable and skilled than am I). Thank you, EE.
So we basically kind of "started working our way up (price-wise)" through their inventory (check the Dream Guitar website) starting at the bottom. It was a "play my guitar then compare to another and repeat" kind of exercise. After working with this for a while a 'performance standard' kind of evolved which was the first 16 measures of Sor's Etude in Bm (Op. 35, No. 22, IIRC) and the first 8 bars of Adelita (which I had added to my pitiful repertoire only 10 days ago). The Bm etude is kind of a 'first 5 frets thing' while Adelita was mostly 'the higher ones'. Certainly other things were played but those two became the performance standards.
We started with their (new) Rameirez R2 (cedar) and it was instantly obvious that this was "less guitar" than what I own. And this is no surprise.
The Loriente Clarita also to my ear less 'less guitar', but not so much less. It is also cedar.
In retrospect the Cedar Rozas was kind of a 'late evaluation' and maybe got short changed. But it didn't (and would not have, I think) make the final cut.
The Ramirez 1a (cedar) is offered at a very attractive price as it has a number of repairs. I still preferred the sound of my Marzal, and to my ear the sounds more different than I would have expected. Maybe the Ramirez was better on the higher frets but (to me) definitely not on the lower frets. But this seemed to me to be more of a taste kind of thing. And I can imagine others preferring the Ramirez over mine (and this might well include EE). This is a very playable guitar, BTW, although fret spacing at 664mm is what it is.
The 2010 Michael Thames guitar was quite nice (spruce, BTW). Nothing in particular stood out but it just did everything you asked of it. It was spruce, not cedar, so there was that of course. This is clearly a nice guitar (and ended up as #3 on the list of what was 'seriously tried out').
The 1983 Bernabe, Sr (spruce) was also quite nice. To me the basses were slightly richer than the Thames. This one ended up #2.
The Jacobson (spruce) was a surprise (to me anyway). This was the only guitar (of what has been discussed so far) that was OBVIOUSLY the equal or even better than mine on the lower frets (the previous two I would say were arguable equal). But head up to fret 7 and beyond and this guitar sang like no other than we played. This WAS NOT subtle. This was OBVIOUS. And it was obvious to everyone (me, the owner of the shop, EE, and Helen Keller had she been there).
So we took my guitar, the Bernabe, and the Jacobson and did a somewhat structured experiment. I first played Sor Bm piece (first 16 bars) on all 3 guitars with EE listening with his back turned (he did not know which guitar I was playing). His final choice (and mine) was my guitar. HOWEVER, this was not an easy decision and I had to repeat playing them a couple times. It was close. I would also offer that (IMHO) short phrases are far better for stuff like this. Note that this is all play on frets #5 or lower.
Then we repeated this exercise using the first 8 bars of Adelita (a few open strings but predominantly frets 7 through 12). The outcome here was SO DIFFERENT. The Jacobson was the obvious choice by the end of the 3rd bar (it was the last guitar played). And this was not subtle - it kind of leaped out at you.
We then repeated this experiment with Paul Heimuller (owner of Dream Guitars) who played a single, somewhat longer piece (one that I did not recognize) that used the entire fretboard. The Jacobson was the clear winner here. No "pause to think about it" required.
I did play a few other guitars more informally (Ruck, Yumachi Imai, and McConnell) just to do it. But at this point my mind was made up. You spend more and (in SOME cases) you will get more. But my guitar is (relatively speaking) a pretty good guitar and there is no reason for me to take several thousand dollars (which I could afford if I were to chose that) and get something better at my current skill level. I am pretty inexperienced and my view may change next year. But I am satisfied with what I have now (at least for now).
And I don't have to change my profile here on Delcamp -:)
ps, As a level set kind of thing if the difference between the sound (to my ear) of the Jacobson and my Marzal had been as big as the difference between my "Garcia No. 1" and my Marzal, I would have negotiated a purchase here. The law of diminishing returns clearly applies in this case. I will also add that the environment here provided by Dream Guitars is very nice and they are most welcoming and tolerant folks WRT activities such as this (NOT a high pressure sales place for sure).
1984 Jesus Marzal cedar CG
1971 Sherry-Brener (Cedar) Garcia No. 1 CG
1975 Gibson ES-175D Achtop Electric
2016 Eastman AR905CE-BD Carved Archtop Electric