Westside Distribution was appointed as Martin Guitars' UK distributor in 2003. Far from being merely a box-shifter, Westside works closely with Martin in a relationship more resembling a partnership and, as a result, recent years have seen Westside launch special UK-only artist models.
In the beginning of 2010, Westside and Martin began discussions about a special range of guitars to augment the current production range, the majority of which would come through Martin's custom shop.
This was the result of feedback from enthusiasts and retailers who, along with Westside, wanted to satisfy the often-uttered phrase, "This is a great guitar, but I wish it had…"
Martin production guitars serve as the foundation for the new models, but Westside is keen to stress the purpose, thought and effort driving each example. "Nothing is for the sake of it, or simply because we can," Westside told us.
One of the trickiest problems confronting the project was naming each model. Using the alphabet would obviously cause confusion when arriving at D, M and O. Numbers were also out of the question for similar reasons.
To complicate the issue, Martin operates a strict policy stating that only guitars issuing from its official production run can bear the legendary Martin codes, any non-production guitars must be designated as 'Custom'.
So, with Martin's blessing and agreement, Roman numerals were seen as the best way forward for what would be called the 'Westside Custom Edition' guitars.
The range currently consists of 13 models denoted as Styles I through XIII. Styles I through to VI are produced in Martin's facility in Mexico. Styles VII through to XIII are products of Martin's Nazareth-based custom shop.
Every model bears an internal custom label, with the custom shop models having been personally signed by company CEO, CF Martin.
Further models are currently in production and expected to be in shops by the end of the summer, though as yet no details have been supplied as to what they will be like.
The Westside Custom Edition Style XIII is an OM-28 Deluxe model. Taking the classic D-28neck profile that gives the guitar a familiar, more mainstream feel.
The mature look of the Style as an appointment template,
Westside has again added some upgrades and tweaks in an effort to offer UK consumers something not available elsewhere in the world.
These upgrades are butterbean open-geared tuners, Martin's old-style headstock decal and a polished and bevelled teardrop pickguard.
The Style XIII is made from a bookmatched solid Sitka spruce top and solid East Indian rosewood two-piece back and sides. The centre parquetry, which divides the back's two pieces, is a 5mm wide block- pattern as seen on many of Martin's high-end guitars.
The unbound fingerboard and standard belly bridge are shaped from solid ebony. The bracing pattern selected for the Style XIII is interesting in that has 6.35mm (1/4-inch) scalloped bracing; the same as that used for the HD-35. This modified bracing is generally more noticeable, tonally speaking, offering you enhanced bottom end and better responsiveness.
Perhaps learning from the success of the Performing Artist Series, Westside has spec'd a modified low oval profile for the mahogany neck and this one comes in a super-snug-fitting retro-style moulded deluxe hard case.
In terms of its looks, finish and dimensions, the Style XIII is virtually a Clapton Signature model without the autograph and the premium that brings. The feel of the guitar leans more towards professional than royal.
Unfortunately, our review sample needs a few set-up tweaks. The action is a smidgen too low and consequently suffers from a lot of fretbuzz - perhaps due to the time spent with our Mr Courier. This niggle is obviously easily remedied, but it does have an impact on the guitar's performance.
That said, our evaluations reveal a clean, bright, punchy tone that's quite mid-heavy. When pushed, the Style XIII delivers a real raspy snap, full of zing, and as such would be well suited to a duo guitar setting.
As expected, the Style XIII is very responsive and we particularly like the overall clarity, which becomes more evident with a capo placed high on the neck - often a tough test for acoustics to pass.
When played back to back with a Martin OM-28, the 'regular' OM offers a warmer bass though not as much volume. As it matures, we'd expect the tone of the Style XIII to mellow and soften and, if it does, the sound will thicken and be more rounded as a result.
Some sceptics might ask if these 13 models are necessary considering the extensive range of Martins already on offer. We'd argue that they do have a place in today's market. The alterations and tweaks to 'regular' models are viable modifications and each has a justifiable purpose for being made.
Yes, less expensive comparable Martins are available, but they don't come sporting a custom shop label.
Westside should find that these custom editions will be popular, not least because they're only available in the UK and provide Martin enthusiasts with the opportunity of owning a really unique piece of the company's production.