Mahogany Martin Guitars, the Classics Return
Mention Martin acoustic guitars to most people and it’s more likely than not that their rosewood models first come to mind. The D-28, the classic rosewood dreadnought, has been used by players as disparate as Hank Williams, Michael Hedges and Tony Rice. Eric Clapton’s use of the 000-42 during his Unplugged days helped reignite interest in short scale, smaller bodied guitars even as the longer scale OM-28 became the guitar of choice for fingerstyle guitarists. But those legendary rosewood Martins have always been expensive and during Martin’s “Golden Era” (the 1930s) Americans bought far more Style 18 mahogany models that sold for lower prices. Coming in four sizes, the Dreadnought, the Auditorium (000), the Grand Concert (00) and the Concert (0), these lower cost but still great sounding guitars helped Martin survive the Great Depression.
Martin guitars were lightly built during the 1930s but in those pre-amplified days, players tended to put heavy strings on those delicate guitars to get more volume out of them. Sadly, the heavy strings caused the spruce tops to bow and the bridges to pull up so Martin started gradually increasing the weight of the braces and bridge plates to counteract the extra tension. Fast forward a few decades and the heavier construction that evolved by the late ‘60s really took a toll on the tone and volume of all their models, and in particular the mahogany 18 Series. To make matters worse the company had all but abandoned smaller guitars by the 1980s as the booming bass response of rosewood Dreadnoughts and Jumbos ruled the acoustic guitar scene. When smaller guitars made a comeback in the 1990s Martin focused on their OM-28, another rosewood model.
A few years ago, thanks to the proliferation of acoustic guitar pickups which allowed player to get more volume by turning a knob rather than putting on heavy strings and hitting the guitar harder, Martin began to lighten up the construction on some of their guitars. At first Martin kept these greatly improved Style 18 models as part of their more pricey “Vintage Series.” Then to our delight they recently decided to replace the ‘70s-styled Standard Series mahogany guitars with versions that borrowed the lighter bracing and stylistic touches of the Vintage Series, but at a more affordable price. Let’s see, you get a lighter, better-sounding and cooler-looking Martin Style 18, without a price hike? What’s not to like about that?
The new improved-but-retro D-18 proved so popular Martin quickly used the same formula on the smaller-bodied 000-18. That model was so well received Martin added the 00-18, and then brought back the 0-18, an even smaller model that hadn’t been in the catalog for years.
This quartet of mahogany guitars all have the lighter scalloped bracing, ebony fretboards and tortoiseshell-colored binding of the 1930s-style mahogany guitars but they have slim, modern necks with adjustable truss rods that are very playable. Martin’s current 18 Series of guitars combine the tone and styling of the past with modern functionality. What’s not to love?