Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #28
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
Martin guitars need no introduction. Like a Gibson and Fender electric, you can hear a Martin acoustic pepper contemporary music throughout the last 50 years. From Dylan to the Eagles, from Clapton to John Mayer, you have definitely heard a Martin acoustic guitar. Nowadays, there are plenty of manufacturers that rival Martin for a slice of that top-end market. Collins, Taylor, Fylde, Lowden to name just a few, will all make you the best guitar you have ever played, but the iconic Martin brand name still carries with it the history and kudos that resonates with so many.
Our review guitar is the D-15m. It's an all mahogany dreadnought with very few appointments. Your average acoustic construction usually consists of rosewood or mahogany back and sides for warmth, and a spruce or maple top to add brightness. It's a perfect combination of tone wood used throughout the industry. Martin has made the D-15m all mahogany in construction which gives a nice variation in tone to what we are used to hearing. Without getting too poetic about describing sound, I can instantly hear the guitar is warmer with a sweet sounding mid-range. It still has the lovely Martin dreadnought big sound but there is some mojo going on with the attack of each note which seems softer, and there is a less pronounced or complex top end than usual, so the all-mahogany construction is definitely working some magic. Check out the video and see what you think.
I really like the tone of this guitar, which would record really well just with a couple of well placed mics. There were no electronics on our version, but it can be optioned with a Fishman. Then again, maybe you don't want a pickup, or just want another brand? Everybody has their own opinion of the best onboard preamp, so on this particular D-15m, the choice is left to you.
If an all-mahogany dreadnought is too big sounding for your taste, you can opt for the smaller mahogany bodied 00 and 000 in the range, which in theory would give you a gentler more articulate sounding guitar. I would love to compare all three body shapes in tone, but I think I would still opt for the dreadnought version.
Saying it is all mahogany, the D15m still has a top A-frame X style bracing pattern made from Sitka spruce, an Indian rosewood bridge and headstock cap. The fretboard is made from a renewable wood called morado which is also known as pau ferro or Bolivian rosewood. It's a little lighter in colour than a dark piece of rosewood, but has very similar tonal properties. The mahogany neck joins the body at the 14th fret and the neck join is a simple dovetail design which the more modern Martins employ. This is done by a CNC machine, rather than being hand carved, which I guess keeps things consistent and because it's less labour intensive, keeps the price down. Playability was superb on this guitar, with a fairly slim-feeling neck which is 43mm across the nut. Some acoustics need you to concentrate to get the best from them, but this guitar plays you, with every note or chord blooming as you play it.
The price of this guitar has gone into making a superb playing and sounding instrument, rather than on fancy inlays or finishes. You get a single rosette around the sound hole, some diamond and square fret markers on the 5th,7th and 9th and that's about it for decoration. The tuners are open geared with 'butterbean' style knobs. The finish is satin all over, with subtle brown burst which blends into the mahogany nicely. It is all very low key and fashionable looking, which helps bring this model in at a very reasonable price for such a prestigious name. If you are really pressed for money, you can pay a little less and get a non-burst version.
I am really pleased I was impressed by the D15m. I would have hated to be disappointed by a name that has resonated with me in much the same way as Fender and Gibson. I've played a number of Martin acoustics over the years, and all but one has been superb. I am glad to report the D-15 is one of the superb ones!