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This article was originally published in issue #68
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Beautiful, understated good looks.
Incredible tone at this price.
Very good playability.
No electronics/preamp option.
Mahogany Neck, Back & Sides
East Indian Rosewood Fingerboard
The Martin 000-15M continues the rich heritage of Martin's Mahogany series, which began as far back as the early 1920s and set a trend for small, lightweight and versatile guitars that helped to pave the way for Bluegrass music in the pre-war era. Tom Quayle tells us more about the modern take on a classic.
All mahogany acoustics are all the rage at the moment, particularly those with a back to basics approach to visual design, and can be seen adorning stages all over the place where singer-songwriters and guitarists accompanying singers can be found. Martin has been in the all mahogany game since the 1920s however, when these guitars became very popular with the Blues players, thanks to their lower price point and unique sound. The 000-15m is Martin’s latest take on this design and it sticks firmly to this aesthetically understated approach, with just the visual bare essentials but a tonal palette that is anything but basic.
The 000-15m is from the classic ‘000 14-fret body size’ that Martin has been producing for a long time now. This gives a small body size that is perfect for those with a smaller frame and is one of the most attractive body shapes in the acoustic world for a great many people. You get solid mahogany back and sides, top and neck matched to an East Indian rosewood fretboard and headstock overlay.
The guitar is simplicity personified with no binding, purfling or intricate inlays. You just get a small rosette around the sound hole, the Martin script headstock logo and a tortoiseshell effect pickguard adorning the satin finished mahogany and it looks absolutely fantastic! The mahogany is beautiful, with dark black lines in the grain and a light chocolate colour that looks good enough to take a bite out of. The rosewood bridge, nickel open-gear tuners and bone saddles and nut complete the design of a guitar that is vintage Blues in every respect but very fashionable for the modern player too, where guitar players are seeking out a more discreet, plain look.
The 000-15m is a full fat, US-made Martin and thus features superb build quality with flawless Sitka spruce bracing and a perfectly executed neck joint. All of these guitars are fret dressed using a Plek machine where the frets are finished by a computer under normal playing conditions at normal string tension and tuning. This allows the frets to be perfectly dressed for the optimal playing experience and gives a remarkably consistent experience from guitar to guitar so that you can be comfortable that your 000-15m is just as good as someone else’s. In practice this process and the excellent factory set-up means that the 000-15m is an absolute delight to play and superbly comfortable no matter what playing style you throw at it.
Where the 000-15m really starts to reveal its true strengths is in its exquisite tonal response. The first thing that hits you is just how consistent the guitar is from string to string and up and down its range. The tone is so even all over that you feel a level of confidence playing anywhere on the guitar that is often missing from lesser acoustics. The next thing you notice is the level of clarity and sparkle in the sound. Mahogany acoustics don’t normally exhibit this level of clarity and detail in their tones, but the 000-15m has a level of brightness that is a real pleasure to behold. This allows the guitar to respond equally well to fingerpicking as it does with strumming and single note plectrum work making the guitar very addictive to play. The dynamic range is also very impressive for such a small guitar with a surprisingly loud output that never gets muddy in the bottom end like some larger Dreadnought shapes can. The sound remains tight and crisp with a lovely low end that is akin to moving from a pair of overly flattering hi-fi speakers to a set of accurate, high end studio monitors.
The only downside of the 000-15m is the lack of any on-board preamp or electronics. You can always add your own third party solution as an additional purchase, of course, so it’s worth factoring that into the price of the guitar. Speaking of which, the 000-15m represents something of a bargain for a US made Martin of this build and tonal quality.
Considering that the guitar ships in a good quality hard case this is a very hard guitar to play and then put down, as I found out the hard way (I've been thinking about it ever since!). The 000-15m is one of the cheapest guitars in Martin’s 15m range and gets you a whole lot of tone, great looks and fantastic playability for that money. You owe it to yourself to check one of these out when you are looking for your next acoustic – highly recommended!