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Review by T.S. Phillips

Frank’s great-grandson now runs the family business. Chris Martin has the same visionary flair for innovation as his illustrious forebear while understanding the significance of the Martin legacy. The current Mr. Martin is piloting Martin Guitars through the worst economic down turn since the Depression, without laying anybody off. He has achieved this by reading well the market trends and offering fresh products in tune with the twenty-first century guitarist, embracing technologies unavailable to his predecessors, yet maintaining the integrity of the historic, benchmark models at the heart of the Martin catalog.

After several years of revitalizing their premium vintage models, Martin’s 2011 collection of new guitars was developed with one eye on a promising future, while catering to the budget-minded consumer in today’s ascetic economic climate. Their revolutionary Performing Artist Series has gained some lower-priced models, while their most affordable, solid-wood guitars were upgraded. Even Martin’s ship of the line has been trimmed and refitted; the venerable Dreadnought has a new neck.

After a century of their landmark designs being replicated by the rest of the industry, Martin returned the favor when they offered some models inspired by the archetypal guitars of other, well-regarded manufacturers. This practice resumes with the CEO 6, designed by C.F. Martin IV, himself. And not to be left behind, the Martin Custom Shop has unveiled a revamped website to showcase a new form of limited edition, handmade by the most highly-skilled craftsmen in a marriage of progressive luthiery and timeless tradition.

The 2011 models continue a bold and progressive direction for Martin Guitars that should earn them many new customers, while rewarding the returning faithful with some fine examples of matchless Martin design and customary Martin quality.

Here are my reviews of all the new guitars in the Martin factory sneak preview. Some models were unavailable due to their only completed examples being taken out to the NAMM show. These unseen guitars include the CS-21-11 and CS-35-11, part of a new series built in the Martin Custom Shop with unique and very cool specs. Once we see examples of these instruments for ourselves, we will publish a review.


Road Series


> $700

D-1GT, OM-1GT (Gloss Top)

1 Series


> $800

Performing Artist 4 models

Performing Artist Series


> $1,000

D-28P and D18P (High Performance Neck)

Standard Series


> $2,000/$1,700

Grand J-28LSE (Baritone)

Standard Series


> $2,600


Special Edition


> $2,800

J-12SO Pete Seeger (Baritone)

Custom Artist Series


> $3,500

GPC-42E Amazon Rosewood

NAMM Special


> $6,600

Martin DRS1

List Price: $949 Street Price: Under $700

At the most affordable end of the 2011 Martin line we find the DRS1, the first installment of new Road Series, aimed at the gigging musician on a budget. With its attractive, no-frills style, this acoustic-electric dreadnought offers the most bang for the buck and sounds even better than it looks.

It comes with a Fishman Sonitone pickup system to amplify the lovely acoustic sound resonating from the solid sapele sides, back and top. Sapele is an African hardwood that looks a lot like mahogany, and sounds even drier and brighter. But when you replace the spruce normally used for the top with a hardwood like sapele it warms up the voice and adds a unique quality I refer to as “sweetness.” This guitar is very sweet, indeed.

It has nice resonance in the bass when doing palm-muted thumps and good separation when building up extended picking patterns. But it excelled at the light strumming and chunk-a-chuck rock chords that should inspire many singer-songwriters. The A Frame X bracing pattern is identical to that found on the 15 Series, which has fewer tone bars, so the denser top vibrates freely and responds well to a light touch. The downside of this shows up when doing heavy strumming or fingerpicking with a serious attack, as it can get brappy and gain some harsh edges. This will become less of an issue as the top wood seasons over time. If the new sapele-topped guitars of the Road Series break in like the mahogany-topped 15s, these guitars will be a serious bargain.

As for playing plugged in, the sapele top helps filter out some of the brittle timbre that an electronic pickup exaggerates and unlike most guitars in its price range, the DRS1 has on-board volume and tone dials discretely hidden just inside the sound hole for easy access. The tone dial is a midrange sweep of some kind, but a creative player can use it like flipping the pickup switch on an electric guitar to go from rounder and warmer to a crisper, cutting sound.

In addition, much in the way of usual trim and cosmetics has been left off the DRS1. There is no binding or back strip, purfling, heelcap or endpiece. The fingerboard has small dots and the rosette is a simple set of white rings. All such measures reduce the price tag; yet rather than looking cheap, Martin has embraced the no frills motif and designed a guitar that is truly attractive. Having no inlay or binding to break up the patterns in the sapele puts all focus on the wood, which has a dark toner that brings to mind the vintage 17s, but it remains light enough to show the banding in the wood. People are drawn to the striped, chocolate brown body of the DRS1 and then pleasantly surprised that the least expensive guitar in the collection sounds so pretty and is so effortless to play.

When the shortages of genuine mahogany first hit the guitar market, Martin made their 15 Series guitars out of sapele with a mahogany top. They then surprised us by upgrading the 15s to all-mahogany construction and adding vintage-style appointments. I had a feeling this was laying the groundwork for a new group of sapele Martins. The Road Series appears to be it. With a street price under $600 for an acoustic-electric that looks this nice and sounds this sweet, the DRS1 is a very good start.

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Pros: The all-solid sapele body looks cool, sounds sweet, with on-board electronics at a great price.

Cons: Bare bones cost cutter (lack of) appointments, flimsy tuners, non-wood bridge. Limited bracing reduces attack ceiling.

Bottom Line: This modestly priced alternative to the popular D-15 is truly impressive in looks, tone and playability, with quality electronics thrown in.

Martin D-1GT and OM-1GT

List Price: $1,199 Street Price: Under $800

Martin’s 1 Series guitars have been upgraded with a gloss top and an Indian rosewood fingerboard and bridge. The facelift makes the new 1s look like much more expensive guitars. When seen from across the room even astute Martin fans may mistake them for the loftier 18 Series.

Even with the extra money charged for the upgrades, the 1 Series offers a lot of guitar for relatively little cost. They feature an all-solid wood body with African sapele back and sides under a Sitka spruce top, a maple bridgeplate and Modified Hybrid X bracing similar to that found on the more expensive 16 Series.

A 1 Series guitar features a comfy Modified Low Oval neck of Stratabond, a composite material used as gunstocks and ideal for guitar necks that require strength and stability under a lot of stress. Martin was fortunate to come upon Stratabond when looking for an alternative to rare and exotic tropical woods. Their guitars with Stratabond necks have a unique and charming ring, especially when compared to other guitars in their price range. That might explain why I saw three different people playing Martin 1 Series guitars this past summer on a single afternoon while strolling through a New York City park.

Now that it has an Indian rosewood bridge and fingerboard, the new D-1GT resembles the classic D-18. So, Martin is shifting Style 1 to be a budget version of Style 18. A wise move, as the 1 Series better fits the classic Martin look while making things less confusing for new costumers unfamiliar with the often tangled web of Martin model evolution.

Whether the budget-minded guitarist wants a Martin dreadnought, with its big, bass-heavy voice, or the balance and cutting projection of the auditorium size OM, the D-1GT and OM-1GT have a lot to offer for well under $800.

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Pros: With traditional Martin looks, a competitively priced option for the player ready to move up from a starter instrument and invest in a “real guitar.”

Cons: Skimpy bracing leads to some shrill distortion during hard strumming. Tuners were inconsistent, Stratabond neck may turn some people off.

Bottom Line: When compared to the pricier 16 Series, other than the bracing, the 1 Series Martins cut costs where they matter least while offering all-solid wood bodies that will improve with age, just like their more expensive cousins.

Martin Performing Artist 4 models

List Price: $1,599 Street Price: Under $1,000

Available in three sizes of cutaway bodies, the classic Dreadnought, the traditional Orchestra Model and the mini jumbo Grand Performance, the PA4 guitars are made from solid sapele back and sides in a satin finish, topped with solid Sitka spruce polished to a high gloss. Sapele is an African hardwood that looks a lot like mahogany while sounding somewhat crisper and brighter. North American Sitka is the dominant spruce used for guitar soundboards and its welcomed warmth fattens up the sapele lows nicely. The neck is made from Spanish cedar, which feels smooth and fast.

However, when plugged in, it sounds pretty darn good. The PA Series was made with electrified performance in mind and the M&T necked Martins excel at having a big, clear ring coming through an amp or PA system. In other words, play a PA through a PA and you may think PA stands for Pretty Awesome.

The PA 4 models have the Fishman F1 Analog system. It has the Sonitone pickup, with its volume and midrange sweep controls mounted in the same interface used for the Fishman F1 Aura® on the more-expensive PA models. The interface consists of two flat dials and a readout window, all about the size of a nickel, set into the bass side where a player can adjust them easily.

The F1 Analog won’t sound as “true-life acoustic” as the Aura® version but it does come with the on-board tuner and feedback-killing phase switch, for a street price $1,400 less than the PA1 models. The plugged-in tone of the PA4s is pretty impressive and ranks high among other acoustic-electric tone available in their price range and beyond.

The PA4 models feel and sound like they were born to play the contemporary pop and progressive country hits of the new century. But at this price, many players with traditional tastes will find the sleek neck and Fishman’s F1 Analog pickup system hard to pass up.

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Pro: Performing Artist Series design, High Performance neck and quality electronics, all for under a grand.

Cons: Acoustic tone not as robust as other Martins, non-wood bridge.

Bottom Line: The latest models in the Performance Artist Series bring the new neck, look and sound to dorm rooms and frugal rockers needing a decent acoustic to supplement their electric arsenal.




Martin D-28P and D-18P

List Price: $2,999/$2,599  Street Price: Under $2,000/$1,700

I don’t want to say “I told you so” but, January NAMM has arrived and those models have appeared with a revolutionary new neck. However, instead of the new replacing the old, they are offering both.

Martin’s Standard, 14-fret D-28 and D-18 have changed a lot since they arrived in 1934, but they remain the benchmark of the modern, steel-string, acoustic guitar. Now they are offered with Martin’s first new neck in decades, the High Performance neck, which was introduced a year ago as part of the innovative Performance Artist Series guitars. It is the “P” in D-28P.

As soon as the new neck appeared, guitarists were saying they would love to see it on a traditional Martin model and the company  responded in record time.

These new models are identical to the Standard Series dreadnoughts in every regard, except for the shape of the neck and the corresponding string spacing. Style 28 has a rosewood body and Style 18 is made from mahogany. Both models have a Sitka spruce top. As with all Standard Series Martins, they have a full gloss body and a hand-fitted, dovetail neck joint set in a solid mahogany neck block.

Although the neck’s profile is shallow by Martin standards, what makes the High Performance neck truly new is found in its nearly parallel taper. Compared to Martin’s Standard dreadnought neck, it has a wider nut width of 1-3/4”, but up at the 12th fret it remains the usual 2-1/8”. This provides a bit more room down in the first position, where a player’s wrist is bent at a greater angle, but it keeps the strings closer together as they move farther along the frets.

My hand does not feel like it widens at all as I slide up to the heel. The profile itself is shallow enough that even small hands can easily reach all the way around it. But it has a hint of a V, so the palm does not flatten, as on Martin’s Low Profile neck, yet it neither stabs into the palm like a vintage-style V necks, nor does it interfere with Classical thumb positions. Overall, it is as fast and comfortable as an electric guitar neck.

The string spacing is set to 2-3/16”, which splits the difference between Martin’s Standard Series OMs and the narrower spacing used on their 000s and Dreadnoughts. This combination of neck and string spacing was designed with versatility in mind. Many who need to do strumming, fingerstyle and play leads all on the same axe will find these dreadnoughts are well suited for such triple-duty.

I was surprised to see this neck so soon on a Martin with a traditional, hand-fitted dovetail neck joint and more surprised at Martin’s choice of models, since the Standard dreadnoughts seem to have taken a back seat in recent years to fancier versions. Then I saw the wisdom in this marketing strategy.

The Standard D-28 has a set of appointments, or “style”, which has been imitated for generations. But there is a fine line between “classic” and “out of fashion.” With so many dreadnoughts in the Vintage, Marquis/GE and Authentic series in herringbone trim and ivoroid or tortoise binding, etc. the plain white or black trim of the Standard Series dreads can be seen as staid and unsexy. The D-18 and D-28 are also the only dreadnoughts in Martin's perennial catalog that do not have scalloped braces. As such, they are often passed over for slightly pricier models like the HD-28 or D-18V.

Martin stopped using scalloped braces in the 1940s, so the term became a marketing buzzword when they reappeared on select models in the 1970s and now they are the rule rather than the exception. Scalloping the braces means they carve out extra mass from the braces supporting the soundboard until they end up with peaks and troughs resembling a suspension bridge. This allows the top to vibrate more freely and leads to an increase in resonance, particularly down in the undertone that hums in and around the fundamental notes of the played strings.

Over the years, many people have come to think in terms of scalloped braces being good and straight braces being bad. But that is far from true. It is difficult to browse the classic hits among country, pop and rock music without finding a D-18 or D-28 made in the 50s or 60s, when all Martins came with straight braces.

Scalloped braces bring extra resonance, where sound waves echo up out of the body like a cushion around the fundamentals. Straight braces provide greater definition, with fundamentals that really fire out of the sound hole and stand out, strong and clear from the undertone. You still get resonance, but it doesn’t upstage the top voice. The fundamentals do not wallow in the undertone the way they do in the voice of, say, a D-42.

Popular Martin dealers, like Maury’s Music, have ordered batches of D-28s and D-18s over the years with a 1-3/4” neck – and the Custom Shop surcharge that came with them. Well, after long last Martin has seen fit to offer them with this new, sleek 1-3/4” neck, as a regular model – at no additional charge. Dealers can order the D-28 or the D-28P or both, at the same price. The same goes for the D-18 and D-18P. Browsing shoppers will be able to compare the two necks side by side. I look forward to doing the same myself, soon.


That was the answer I got from a senior Martin employee who has worked in almost every department they have.

And then, after a pause, he said, “Not unless they out-sell the Low Profile version by many hundreds of orders.” And as if he were one word ahead of his own thoughts he added, “Which is what happened when the Low Profile was introduced.”

Martin did not expect to make the Low Profile their standard neck. Customers made it clear; that is what they wanted and Martin went with it. I am not saying the new version will someday replace the venerable Standard D-28. But it is not lost on me that when the Low Profile version first appeared in 1980s it was named the D-28P.

Pros: The roomy but fast High Performance neck on the ship-of-the-line D-28 and D-18 with their pure notes, defined bass and fundamental punch. What’s not to love?

Cons: Plain Jane looks, in some eyes. Non-scalloped braces mean less resonance. Spruce tops of lower grades than the Vintage, Marquis/GE Series.

Bottom Line: The new PA neck could return the Standard D-18 and D-28 to a prominent position in the Martin fleet, where they belong.

Martin Grand J-28LSE [Revised January, 2011]

List Price: $3,899 Street Price: Under $2,500

In the middle of 2010 I met up with Tim Teel, Head of Instrument Design for Martin Guitars. I asked him what was new and interesting. His one leakable tidbit was that they were trying some test marketing for the first time, in the form of Martin’s first true baritone guitar. They were going to make about a dozen examples, in Standard Style 28, give them to some dealers without an official release and see if people liked them. I happened to stop by my local Martin dealer on the way home and some weeks later they just happened to acquire one – the uniquely monstrous GJ-28LSE aka Grand Jumbo (extra) Long Scale Electric in Style 28.

Baritone guitars play like regular acoustic guitars, but are designed to have all six strings tuned down as much as 2-1/2 or even 3-/12 steps. They have always been around but recently have gained in popularity. Martin’s entry into this category uses their largest body, which has a 17” lower bout and a depth of 4” at the end piece, almost 5” at its deepest point. It is attached to a 27.5” scale neck that has 15 frets clear, so a player can still get some high notes out of it without a cutaway.

Unlike most baritones on the market, which use brighter tonewoods like mahogany, Martin has chosen to use Indian rosewood and matched it with a Sitka spruce top to really get the growl out of that big belly. Taylor’s baritone model is also Indian and Sitka, but it has octave strings paired with the 3rd and 4th string to approximate that Taylor shimmer, so that it ends up sounding like a Portuguese guitar. It has nowhere near the sheer depth of this long-neck behemoth.

There were other baritones in the shop that day, by Santa Cruz and Goodall. Both were mahogany and quite different from the Martin. The Santa Cruz Bob Brozman is a 12-fret guitar with an elongated body. The Goodall had the traditional 12-fret body but a 14-fret neck. Both were much brighter and the focus seemed to be all on the strings and high harmonics. By comparison, the Martin had a deep body resonance, murky and almost subsonic in the lows.

The response to the guitar was good enough that Martin officially released it among the new 2011 collection for the January NAMM show. I played a second example when I went to the Martin factory for a sneak preview of the collection. The new Limited Edition Pete Seeger 6-string model is really the same instrument, only with special trim, a blank fretboard and the soundhole shape and pickguards unique to Pete’s guitars. He tunes his to C so the baritone I played at the factory was tuned thus. When you get these Martins up to C they get pretty tight in the strings, a bit more than medium gauge on a normal guitar. I would think tuning to B would get better play into them.

Pros: Deep down, round sound with rich, dark power, duel source electronics, cool looks

Cons: The extra long scale is a challenge for those with short fingers. May sound too somber for some who are used to bright guitars.

Bottom Line: Martin’s first baritone guitar takes their Grand Jumbo size to its true potential, it has a huge sound and opens a window onto a rich, alternative tonal landscape.

Martin CEO-6 and CEO-6 Sunburst

List Price: $4,199 Street Price: Under $2,700

Martin Guitar's CEO models are designed by the CEO himself, C.F. Martin IV. The sixth rendition embodies his appreciation of sloped shoulder guitars, his belief in the virtues of modern technology and even his wry sense of humor, since it looks more than a little like another maker’s famous model, the Gibson J-45. At least, at first glance. As a musical instrument it is still very much a Martin.

It seems different Martins prefer different Martins. Frank Martin felt the little, 12-fret 00 was ideal because it can fill up a room while maintaining perfect balance across the strings. His son Fred, C.F. Martin III, also loved string-to-string balance; only super-sized. He preferred the big, sloped shoulder dreadnoughts that the company had been making since, well, since the original “Dreadnaught” was built at a Martin workbench in 1916. Today, Chris Martin takes after his grandfather in more than just looks as half of his own designs have been made with sloped shoulders, including this latest edition.

The CEO-6 has a back and sides made from Indian rosewood and the top is Adirondack spruce that comes in natural or with a dark sunburst. It is a combination of woods that will give any guitar a solid chime, with a dark and woody undertone. This guitar provides a nice combination of both. When flatpicked it sounds brassy, with snappy notes that pop out of a G run until the final strum ends with an articulate ring. Fingerpicking patterns also ring loudly and build up some undertone wash, as notes sustain while new ones are struck.

The guitar’s motif seems to answer the question “What if Martin had made a 14-fret sloped dread in the old days?” as it has wood fiber inlay, grained ivoroid bindings and solid, jet black ebony for the fingerboard and bridge, all very nice, traditional dressing. But its meat and potatoes are still quite modern.

In keeping with the custom of using a CEO model to debut new features or showcase a change in technology, the CEO-6 has the Mortise and Tenon neck joint seen on all the CEO models and the hybrid A frame bracing required to hold it in place. But it also has the new High Performance neck and Fishman F-1 Aura® pickup system, both originally designed for the Performance Artist Series guitars that debuted this time last year.

The neck is super comfortable, with a 1-3/4” width at the nut, but only 2-1/8 at the 12th fret. Matched with a new profile, where the wood behind the fingerboard is carved shallow, but with a subtle V, it all makes for one fast, easy to play guitar. I must admit, it is difficult to describe how they feel. When I play these new necks I forget all about them in a matter of seconds – they are effortless and allow me to think about the music I am playing, not the neck.

They come with 2-3/16” string spacing, half way between Martin's typical spacing on strumming and fingerstyle guitars. They are designed to accommodate both and a lot more. From Gypsy Jazz to Swing to Hard Rock barre chords, the new High Performance neck can serve very well for any such playing.

The Fishman F-1 Aura® has a typical under saddle pickup leading to atypical tone controls that replicate the sound of the specific model as recorded with several famous microphones. But the controls are housed in discrete dials on the bass side of the guitar that are easy to operate and have an LED readout to see the settings even when the stage lights dim out. The F1 includes an on-board tuner and phase switch to combat feedback. And, just as cool, they have a new configuration for plugging in, where the 1/4" cord jack is separate from the strap button. The plug has a pop-out battery, so the player does not have to go through the soundhole and the strap button is set near the top for improved instrument balance when hanging from a strap.

And now for the hoopla. It appears as if they have gone and made a Martin copy of a Gibson J-45, or so the howling on the guitar forums will proclaim. Ironic, since I never hear anyone calling Gibson’s square shouldered dreadnoughts their copy of a Martin.

For all the sweet Gibson Girl looks, the CEO-6 still sounds like a 14-fret Martin dreadnought. Sure, it has snappy fundamentals and a peppy ring when you whip through the treble strings. The new, stiff Adirondack spruce is enough to account for that alone. Yes, perhaps the fundamental notes off the strings stand out, with less of an undertone and have a faster decay than other Martins. The Martins made with the M&T neck joint usually do, but it still has Martin resonance and undertone. The fundamentals come out with a lot of pop, but not in the same kind of pop that comes out of a Gibson.

I loved the cha-lang ring off a G chord, like a sunny wake up call and yes, it made me think of an Advanced Jumbo, compared to an HD-28, maybe. But really, when I came home and sought out some Gibsons, they sound nothing like this guitar. Gibson J models are designed to have a bass note with a loud “thunk” that drops off with almost instant decay, promoting an open midrange and putting the focus on the thin, chiming trebles that are pretty much all that sustain. This CEO-6 has a lot of beef in the bass that spills over into the other registers, thanks to the sustain that wells up out of the body. It may not have the complexity under the strings that you get from some other Martins, but compared to a Gibson, it has loads of the stuff. If your ears long for the Gibson sound, you will likely think this CEO-6 sounds too muddy with too many overtones. On the other hand, if you always loved the look of the J-45 but wished it produced more sustaining overtones, your long wait may just be over.

When it comes down to it, the CEO-6 doesn’t play or sound like a Gibson any more than the HD-16R Adirondack model. For me the Gibson copy thing is a paper tiger. The real question is why does it have such a high price tag?

I am not questioning putting the M&T neck joint on this model. They work very well with fancy pickup systems because they do not have the same feedback issues that come with the more-resonant dovetail Martins. And this model comes with perhaps the best pickup system available today. The guitar is clearly designed for pro-stage performance and carefree plug-and-play gear brings peace of mind. The point is, the sole reason the M&T neck joint exists is to cut costs. This guitar would cost even more with the dovetail neck joint.

Now, to be fair, cosmetics and aesthetics matter. This is a handsome guitar with various, little extras, like wood fiber purfling instead of plastic, a vintage style bridge and a Style 45 backstrip. But the sloped shoulders and Gibson-like appearance seem to come at a premium I find hard to justify once I close my eyes and play the thing.

One other mystery remains for me. The guitar felt like it had a shorter scale, which would be in line with the J-45 style. The official spec sheets say it has the 25.4" long-scale of the Martin dreads. Maybe the baritone guitars I played that day made it seem short-scale. Or maybe it was the new, fast neck. Whatever it was, I liked it.

Pros: Great looking, easy playing. An Adi-topped slope dread with state of the art electronics and some appealing novelty.

Cons: The sticker price. Seems a lot for what are essentially bells and whistles.

Bottom Line: An attractive and successful design, at a price. When it comes down to it, the CEO-6 is an M&T Martin listing over $4K. If a pretty face isn’t so important to you, the GPCPA2 or DCPA3 of the Performing Artist Series offer similar specs for less.



Martin J12SO! Sing Out 60th Anniversary Model – Pete Seeger

List Price: $5,249 Street Price: Under $3,500

The new Martin J12SO! is a 12-string baritone guitar that honors two major milestones, the 60th Anniversary of Sing Out! Magazine, along with one of its most-storied subjects, the living milestone that is folk music legend Pete Seeger. It comes with the triangular soundhole and abbreviated double pickguard seen on Seeger’s guitars since he had one built that way in England in 1959.

A baritone guitar is designed to use the same chord shapes as a normal guitar, but has its strings tuned to a lower register. Tune it so the outside strings are A and what looks like a G chord is actually C, an A shape is D and so on. To accomplish this they usually have a longer neck and a larger body to resonate those deep notes. Baritones have grown in popularity over recent years and now Martin offers some baritone guitars of their own, including this magnificent beast of a guitar.

Martin has created a 12-string baritone with a giant voice befitting a giant of American music. Writer of such iconic lines as “Where have all the flowers gone?” and “If I had a hammer”, Seeger was the spiritual leader of the Weavers in the 1950s, the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s and a borderless ambassador of peace and goodwill ever after. As much as I appreciate Sing Out! and admire Mr. Seeger for his many contributions to music, this could be the Mad Magazine - Pee Wee Herman model and I would love it just as much. It is a beautifully sonorous Howitzer of a 12-string.

Many baritones are made from brighter tonewoods like mahogany to accentuate the harmonic chimes and help brighten up the voice. This new Martin is made of Indian rosewood, with its deep, rich complexity and fat fundamental notes. A room filler and banjo killer, this is a thundering, rumbling guitar with murky depths in its bottom, strong, steely highs and the solid midrange punch of a heavyweight prizefighter. It is genuinely dark and somber in tone, but the octave strings keep it from getting too woofy. The designers of this new Martin must pay homage to some classic Guild 12-strings. But even when tuned down, the Guilds will never wallow in the hallow like this true baritone.

Sitka is the ideal spruce to accentuate the warm, rich Indian rosewood tone coming from the cavernous, Grand Jumbo body, which measures 17” across the lower bout and has the same depth as Martin dreadnoughts. They employ 5/16” braces and “progressively scalloped tone bars” carved to withstand the 12-string tension but keep the top as freely moving as possible. And, boy, does that top move. It is a guitar neither for the timid nor the small of hand.

The string scale measures 27.5” and the neck has 15 frets clear from the body – good for tuning down to C, like Seeger does, or even lower. Many baritone guitars can be tuned anywhere from A to C#, with a B low note being most common these days. Martin says you can put normal, mediums on it if you want to tune it to Standard tuning. I am not alone in feeling that would be a wasted opportunity. As Leo Kottke once told me, 12-strings should be tuned down below concert pitch for a reason. “If you are going to play a 12-string in standard [tuning] you should really be playing a mandolin. You miss out on the most interesting harmonies if you don’t tune it down.”

I have never owned a 12-string, but this one could change that. It takes a capo well enough when going for higher keys and is so powerful you gotta wonder where the gas tank is. However, even when tuned to C with a Bb bass string, I found considerable tension in the strings and the wide stretches required by the extra-long-scale neck quickly became fatiguing. I assume I would build up stamina for that over time and tuning down to B should also help.

One nice feature is the narrower width at nut, compared to traditional Martin 12-strings. I forgot to measure it, but my guess is 1-13/16”. Even then, my fretting hand was worn out after spending a day playing these baritones. They made normal, long-scale Martins feel like short-scale 00s.

In any case, this guitar would add an extra dimension to ensemble playing and exploring alternate tunings should be a blast for the soloist. The average player will discover whole new vistas of tonal opportunity, while baritone veterans will find it gutsy and much bassier than the competition.

It also comes in a six-string version, for about $150 less. It is basically the same guitar as their recent Grand J-28LSE model, only with the special Sing Out – Pete Seeger inlay, soundhole and pickguard.

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Pros: Mammoth sound - dark, muscled and lush, the baritone for those who want to delve into the darker side of 12-strings.

Cons: 27.5” scale brings a degree of difficulty for playing all but the most basic chords, may prove too dark and murky for some.

Bottom Line: Martins first true baritone 12-string goes all out for the lovers of smoky Indian/Sitka tone and should satisfy their needs very well.

 GPC-42E Amazon Rosewood - Martin NAMM Special 

List Price: $9,999 Street Price: Under $6,600

Martin’s GPC-42E is this year’s NAMM Special, a limited edition available only through dealers who visited the Martin pavilion at the 2011 trade show in Anaheim, California. Like the 2010 OM Figured Koa, this year’s trade show special is among the most memorable.

The name stands for Grand Performance size with a Cutaway, in luxurious Style 42 and on-board Electronics. This is the first Martin in the new Grand Performance body size matched with a traditional, dovetail neck joint, hand-fitted into a solid mahogany neck block. It also has the new High Performance neck that has put a smile on many faces and created considerable buzz since it debuted last year on the guitars in Martin’s Performing Artist Series.

The back and sides of this lovely musical instrument are made from bookmatched Amazon rosewood (Dalbergia spruceana) and the top is a high-grade of Adirondack spruce. Abalone heart pearl is used to inlay the soundhole rosette and the top purfling that gives Style 42 its refined appearance. Heart pearl tends to have more variance in color, with azure blue and emerald green glinting among the usual silvers and purples. The headstock has the ornate Alternate Torch design, also in heart pearl and over the top is an over-the-top version of the C.F. Martin & Co. script logo, inlaid with the same colorful shell.

The fingerboard designs carry the same ornamental theme from the rosette to the headstock with an unusual combination of cat’s eyes, notched diamonds and squares, as well as some unique and graceful fleurs that relate nicely to the torch at the top. The fret markers stop at the 3rd position rather than the 1st like Style 45, or the 5th as they do on Vintage Style 42, adding to the exclusive image of this new limited edition. But the nicest thing about this guitar is that is sounds and plays even better than it looks.

I cannot think of another tonewood that has a bottomless pit of openness under the bass this similar to Brazilian. But Amazon's lows head toward the opaque - murkier, with less light getting down there. The mids are not as open and airy and the trebles are as meaty as the densest Brazilian. Amazon still has more crayons in the box than other tonewoods, but they tend toward the darker, richer hues.

The lush Amazon rosewood on this guitar is complimented by the crisp, chiming properties of Adirondack spruce. This is a great choice for the topwood, as it accentuates the fat string ring but is otherwise transparent and helps open a clear window into the bass, accentuating the definition in the shadowy Amazon undertone as it rises up to cushion the individual notes coming off the strings.

A traditional neckjoint Martin has notes with the purity of a master built violin. The massive dovetail joint and solid mahogany neckblock allow the body and neck to exchange vibration that results in optimal resonance of the top and from the sound chamber. With this configuration on a guitar built from ultra-complex tonewood like Amazon rosewood, there is no need for soundboards that add in extra color and warmth. The reflective resonance of Adirondack spruce brings the Amazon undertone into detailed focus, while conveying a sparkling clarity in the harmonic angels ringing over the fundamentals. The new Grand Performance body shape further promotes this complex yet clear voice in a balanced and projecting manner.

The Grand Performance is Martin’s latest addition to their classic body sizes. It is rounder and bit wider than an OM and the depth is nearer that of a Martin dreadnought. It reminds me of the mini jumbos championed by Jim Olson and George Lowden and emulated by many others. The Martin GPs have better string to string balance than a 14-fret dread, fatter notes than an M and more bass response than an OM, yet they are smaller and easier to wield than a true Jumbo. They were made to accommodate a wide variety of playing styles and manage to do that with great success.

Since the GP was unveiled at NAMM 2010 I have wanted to see it on a guitar built with high-end woods and a traditional dovetail neckjoint. This is a marvelous first example. It has all the pure notes, resonance and harmonic complexity I could hope for. The bass is beefy and the low E string stands out in fingerpicking better than an OM, while the articulation during flatpicking is matched by sheer, punchy power during heavy-duty strumming that stays balanced, but still lets the bass notes out during pick and strum playing. And does it project? I happened to be capturing some video of this model as various Martin employees came out on their lunch break to check out the new models. The voice of this GPC-42E cut right through the conversations, clear as a bell.

All GP models come with the new High Performance neck that has an OM width at the nut, but is slimmer up the frets and less cheeky behind the fretboard. The 2-3/16” string spacing is unique to this neck and splits the difference between the standard Martin OM and Dreadnought spacing. Players of traditional wide-necked Martins may find the spacing a tad narrow for the picking hand, but those used to standard Martin necks will find it roomy yet still easy to play.

“I could totally get used to this!” said an enthusiastic Boo Reiners after spending a few minutes with the guitar. He is a heavy hitter in New York City’s Country Music scene who happened to stop in with a vintage Martin in need of repairs and stayed to check out the new models. Equally proficient in Bluegrass flatpicking and Tele-style fingerpicking, Reiners was quickly getting lots of spanky twang out of the new Adi top by over-attacking the strings, set up ultra low to show off the electric guitar feeling to the neck. We are both heavy-handed players and would have preferred higher action, but when laying back and letting the guitar guide the player to the sweet spot, it already sounds warm and woody but clear and chimey at the same time. Having broken in four new Adi tops in five years I can go to Vegas on the fact this guitar will sound as magnificent as a king’s ransom in two years time.

If this guitar weren’t impressive enough, it also has the new F1-Aura® sound system built right in. With discrete on-board controls, including a tuner and phase switch, the Aura® offers several EQ “images” that replicate the sound of this particular model as recorded through various, high-priced microphones set at different distances. I did not get to plug it in. I just had too many guitars to get through. But it is worth every penny it costs even if it didn’t have the on-board Aura®. With it, I feel the GPC-42E NAMM Special really is just too good to pass up if one is a gigging guitarist who wants a premium level instrument of the truest virtue and versatility, even if it is not quite like any Martin that came before it.

Pros: Warm, woody, wonderful rosewood under clear as a bell Red spruce in as versatile an acoustic guitar as one could hope for, with sumptuous appointments and state of the art amplification on board.

Cons: Neck and strings are narrower than dedicated fingerstyle guitars. The combination of the frilliest torch and pearl script logo may strike some as gaudy, limited to no more than 25 orders.

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