April 03, 2020 12 min read
C.F. Martin and Co. is known for producing exquisite, hand crafted guitars and other acoustic instruments that represent the industry standard for quality, tone and playability. Going back to their founding in 1833, Martin has continually crafted instruments with the signature ‘Martin tone,’ reliability, quality and incredible attention to detail.
Martin produces a wide variety of guitars in a number of different series. Each series has its own set of special characteristics that make them uniquely well suited to musicians working in a variety of styles. The specific tonewoods, specs and construction styles and methods determine the price range for each series, but you can be sure that, no matter what series you are interested in, they all sound and play like a Martin.
With an acoustic guitar, every single component contributes to the quality of the sound. Martin guitars are known for their rich, full tone and silky feel which comes from combining high quality components with next level craftsmanship. However, at Martin guitars there is also a history of quality and innovation that sets them apart from other manufacturers.
The style numbers Martin puts into the names of their guitars are used to indicate the construction materials and appointments of the guitar. Here is a brief overview of Martin’s Style designations:
Most Martin models feature their tried and true construction methods based on those invented and developed by C.F. Martin back in the 19th century. These innovative construction methods include the dovetail neck joint, scalloped X-bracing under the top to improve projecting power, and the cutaway for easy playability above the 14th fret. Today, Martin’s talented and innovative designers and luthiers are still refining their guitars with features like the high performance neck taper and performing artist neck profile that allows for vintage look and sound with modern feel and playability.
The ban on the use of Brazillian Rosewood led manufacturers like Martin to explore the sonic capabilities of new and exotic tonewoods including Ovangkol and Sapele, and other environmentally friendly composite materials like Stratabond, HPL laminates and FC Richlite. Whether they are used as tonewoods, in necks and headstocks, or as fingerboards, these environmentally sustainable materials have been developed by Martin not only to work as replacements for Rosewood, but to actually take advantage of each material's intrinsic characteristics.
Laminates such as HPL are produced with wood fibers and resin to have the appearance and as much of the sonic characteristics of solid wood as possible, with increased resiliency. Laminates and resin based products like Stratabond, HPL and FSC Richlite are less sensitive to heat and changes in moisture than solid wood is, but don’t generally deliver the richness, sparkle and sonic characteristics of solid wood. However, these products do tend to keep the prices of these models down, making the models crafted with these materials a great value especially when used for gigging or when used in recreational playing.
We think of the finish as being a cosmetic treatment, but in an acoustic guitar every detail of the guitar contributes to the tone. The nitrocellulose finishes, whether in a high gloss as in the Standard Series, or a satin finish, featured on a variety of Martin models and series, is the icing on the cake to get that incredible Martin signature tone. More than just a superficial treatment, the finish on a Martin is applied in a series of layers, applied and then sanded in, then applied again, and sanded again. This painstaking process is just another example of the attention to detail that sets Martin guitars apart, giving them that signature Martin tone and a reputation for quality that has traversed almost two centuries. Watch below as Diane Ponzio of Martin Guitars explains how the finish contributes to the signature Martin tone.
The Effect of Finish on Tone
Martin produces a wide array of acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars in a number of different series. Each Martin series appeals to guitarists and musicians in its own way, each offering a specific set of specs, price ranges, and unique characteristics suited to a wide range of musicians. While every Martin series has its own unique appeal, they all share the same signature Martin tone with excellent bass response, balanced mids and a bright treble register.
To put it simply, there are no bad sounding Martin guitars. Even the least expensive Martin guitars deliver that signature Martin tone and silky playability that is the stuff of musical legend. There isn’t a single Martin guitar that you can buy that won’t work well for recording or performing, but many of the series are designed with specific features that make them better suited to certain musical situations. In this overview, we’ll take a look at what gives each Martin series its unique appeal to musicians.
Body Shapes and Styles
The Martin X Series focuses on the use of traditional tonewoods in responsible ways, as well as employing alternative woods and materials. In the X Series, Martin employs materials like Stratabond, Richlite and High-Pressure Laminates (HPLs) to create durable, resilient, yet affordable guitars.
The X-Series is among the most affordable of Martin’s series featuring solid Sitka Spruce tops as well as tops made with spruce-or-mahogany-grained high pressure laminates (HPL) with Mahogany, Koa or Rosewood-grained HPL backs and sides. X-series guitars also feature Stratabond necks with Richlite fingerboards, creating great-sounding guitars in an extremely resilient package.
While it is true that X Series models do not deliver quite the same Martin tone as solid wood models, what they lack in tone they certainly make up for in resiliency and affordability. These entry-level or ‘gateway-drug’ Martins are crafted in Martin’s facility in Mexico, and are priced for guitarists of all experience levels. With their onboard Fishman Sonitone electronics, X-Series guitars provide an affordable and great-sounding option for working musicians who don’t want to gig with a more expensive or collectible instrument.
The Road Series represents a step up from the X-Series, offering Martin’s least expensive guitars featuring solid-wood construction. The Road Series are designed for gigging musicians looking for the handcrafted details of a higher end Martin at a more affordable price point. Like the X-Series, Road Series guitars are crafted in Mexico, making them less expensive to produce than the solid-wood guitars crafted in Nazareth, PA.
Featuring solid tops, backs, and sides, Road Series guitars also employ many of the same responsibly sourced materials as the X-Series, including FSC Richlite fingerboards and Richlite bridges, allowing them to be offered at a much more affordable price point than other Martin solid-wood guitars. Road Series guitars are reliable, built to deliver the legendary Martin tone night after night, in a variety of settings. You probably don’t want to drag a $3,000 Dreadnought into clubs and bars while touring, but the Road Series models give you a comparable sound and feel at less than half the price.
Road Series guitars are built for the rigors of touring and gigging and are outfitted with Fishman MXT electronics and come with a specially designed, padded soft case, making all Road Series models ready to accompany you on all of your touring adventures. Road Series guitars deliver Martin tone in no-frills designs at price points that most working musicians can afford.
If you are looking for a small scale acoustic guitar for vacations and travel, there is no better solution than a Little Martin LX Series or Junior Series guitar. Like the X and Road Series, these Little Martins are unique in their price and size category for their full and robust sound. Extremely portable and super comfortable to play, Martin LX and Junior series guitars combine the responsibly sourced materials of the X- and Road Series to create resilient and highly durable, portable instruments that you can take anywhere. If you’re looking for a small campfire guitar that sounds like a full size guitar, Martin’s Little and Junior Series will be perfect for you!
For more on Martin’s Little and Junior guitars,read this article.
Martin 15 Series guitars faithfully take traditional Martin design specs to a new and unprecedented level. Made for traditionalists looking for an authentic take on Golden-Era acoustics, Martin’s 15 Series deliver vintage Martin tone with a special sweetness coming from their solid Mahogany construction.
With vintage aesthetics, solid Mahogany tops, backs and sides, A-frame X-bracing, Rosewood fingerboards and bridges, 15 Series guitars are sure to appeal to old-school players looking for that real-deal vintage vibe in a moderate price range.
Martin’s 16 Series Guitars are designed for player comfort with classic Martin bass response with added sustain and mid-range punch. 16 Series Martins feature premium tonewoods with 000 body depths, high performance neck tapers and top flight electronics, making them super comfortable to play whether you are performing or recording.
Like 15 Series guitars, the 16 Series guitars deliver vintage Martin tone and solid-wood construction without all of the lavish appointments of higher priced models, keeping the prices well within the reach of most working musicians. With Fishman Matrix VT electronics, premium hardware appointments, and a high performance neck taper, Martin 16 Series guitars come ready for studio or stage.
Martin 17 Series guitars have a rich and varied history dating back to the early 1900‘s. 17 Series guitars pair Mahogany back and sides with solid Sitka Spruce tops. Featuring clean and unadorned vintage styling, 17 Series models produce the classic Martin bass response with well balanced mids and treble voices, mellowed and sweetened by the Mahogany back and sides. Modern appointments like Fishman VT Matrix Enhance electronics and a high performance neck taper marry vintage styling with modern design features that make 17 Series guitars ideal for recording and live performance
The Standard Series includes many of Martin’s most iconic and longest running models, delivering all of what Martin does best. The Standard Series is basically the heart of Martin’s esteemed legacy, including the best known and most sought-after acoustic guitars in music history, including the D-28, D-35 and OM-28.
Standard Series guitars feature all of Martin’s best. The best tonewoods, the most brilliant bracing and scalloping, the most luxurious appointments and the most sumptuous finishes. All of Martin’s best construction methods, best materials and highest quality craftsmanship go into each and every Standard Series guitar. Whether you are looking for a legendary workhorse guitar that will sound better and better every time you play it, or a lavishly appointed legacy guitar built to last a lifetime, the Standard Series is where you go.
The way a Standard Series guitar sounds when you buy it is the worst it will ever sound, which means that, as your Standard Series guitar ages or ‘seasons’ it will sound noticeably better every year you own it. This is why Martin Standard Series guitars, when properly cared for, increase in value year after year, consistently setting records for the amounts they bring at auction, and are routinely included in museum exhibits.
The price tags on the Standard Series guitars may seem high, but when you compare them to comparable guitars by other manufacturers -- of which there really aren’t very many -- and their resale value, Standard Series guitars are actually worth every cent.
Martin is known for adherence to traditional design features and innovations that go back to the 1830's, but with the Modern Deluxe Series Martin engineers flex their creative muscles, using space age materials and unprecedented processes in a variety of innovative ways to take that traditional Martin tone into the 21st century.
A Walk Through the Modern Deluxe Series
All Martin Modern Deluxe models feature Sitka spruce tops treated with Martin’s innovative Vintage Tone System (VTS) and Vintage Deluxe High Performance Taper neck shape. VTS employs a unique recipe that is based on the historic torrefaction system. Martin’s VTS system speeds up the effects of time, acting like a time machine, allowing the R&D team at Martin to reproduce tonewood tops and braces from a specific era, giving them period authentic tone and appearance.
Other groundbreaking appointments that you will find on Martin Modern Deluxe guitars include a titanium truss rod, Liquidmetal bridge pins, and a composite carbon fiber bridge plate that boosts the volume without adding weight. Martin has also created a new Vintage Taper neck shape for the Modern Deluxe Series that is slightly asymmetrical, providing maximum hand comfort as you move up and down the fretboard. With the Martin Modern Deluxe Series there is a refined sense of sophistication and performance designed to bring the legendary Martin sound into the new century.
In creating the Authentic Series, the Martin R&D department used exciting technology to analyze some of their most iconic guitars. Because these iconic guitars were priceless museum pieces, Martin engineers had to get creative in their reverse engineering process. To see what was going on inside these priceless guitars, MRI scans and other medical imaging equipment were used, and the iconic instruments were digitally dissected to reveal the finest details of their construction.
For most of us, owning a Martin Authentic Series guitar is the closest we will ever get to owning an actual, rare Martin Golden Era acoustic. Introduced in 2013, the Martin Authentic Series gives collectors and players the chance to own a handcrafted replica of a Golden Era Martin, an exact copy down to the tiniest detail, at a fraction of the price.
The accuracy of each Martin Authentic Series replica means that when you buy a Martin Authentic Series guitar you will be getting the closest thing possible to an actual Golden Era Martin, including the exact design features, tonewoods and even the aging of the timbers. Martin’s unique Torrefaction (VTS) process ages the tonewoods used to build these incredible replicas giving them the distinct feel and sound of a 70-80 year old guitar, but with the warranty you get with a brand new Martin.
We’ve posted a more in depth Martin Authentic Series article which you can read at our blog.
With this guide we hope to have introduced you into the family of Martin instruments in a way that helps you find the perfect Martin guitar to accompany you on your musical journey. Whether you are just starting out and looking for a reliable acoustic guitar, or you are a seasoned professional musician looking for an iconic or collectible instrument from one of the world’s finest guitar manufacturers, there is a Martin guitar that will give you exactly what you are looking for. Browse our collection of fine Martin guitars and feel free tocontact us with any questions that you may have.
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