There are certain acoustic brands players aspire to own because of their lofty reputations, and if they can own them for less, all the better.
Clearly Martin and Taylor are sensitive to this and have made moves to woo potential customers perusing the mid-priced £500 market and convince them to scrape together some more cash for their entry-level offerings. No, they’re not going to give you the same thrill as a full-fat ‘genuine’ D-28 or 814CE but that doesn’t always mean they’re paler imitations either.
In the case of Martin’s X-Series, a distinct experience is offered along with the expectation of the Nazareth brand’s attention to QC and playability. This time with a head-turning finish. This dreadnought Macassar Burst first caught our wandering eye on the Martin stand at the NAMM show earlier this year. The sunburst says vintage but the satin finish and simple appointments gives it a contemporary slant.
And now we have it up close and personal it doesn’t disappoint. The X-Series’ striped stratabond birch laminate necks can divide opinion for their aesthetic; we’re not huge fans of the look combined with paler spruce tops, but here with the darker sunburst hues of the spruce and the stripes of the, rather synthetic look of the wood grain printed overlay on the HPL (high pressure laminate) back and sides, the brown version works better.
The feel of this guitar in the hands doesn’t exactly exude the kind of organic woody experience newcomers might expect from a Martin. The HPL has a matte finish and feels plasticky to the touch, while the laminate neck adds noticeable weight.
Tonally, it pleases. There’s a warm low-end and confident projection in the highs that we want from a dread, with the flatter Martin Performing Artist neck shape offering a comfortably spacious platform for most fingerpicking needs.
Martin’s stuck with Fishman’s low-key Sonitone preamp system on its entry models for a while now, but we’d argue it might be time for a change after playing Taylor’s Academy models with their version of the superlative Expression System with tuner. The warm character of this guitar helps round out any harsher higher-end plugged in, which is welcome, and the treble can be further dialled down with the tone control’s roll-off.
We still think the company’s shorter-scale, solid-wood Dreadnought Junior is the entry-level model to buy; for the money this doesn’t quite deliver compared - especially with no gigbag included. Nevertheless, the beguiling top finish here will be a selling point for some.