The D-18 Modern Deluxe from Martin Guitars is a new take on a true Vintage. Packed with custom features and modern technology, including a titanium truss rod, Liquidmetal bridge pins, and a composite carbon fibre bridge plate that boosts volume without adding weight—this guitar is anything but standard. Here's Tom Quayle with the full breakdown.
Tinkering with a beloved, classic design will, more often than not, land you in hot water with the guitar community. Just utter the words' Robotic Tuners' to any guitar aficionado, and you'll see them recoil in horror. It takes a great deal of courage, care and thought to alter or (shock horror) 'modernise' any classic guitar design but, with their Modern Deluxe series Martin has done just that. Tom Quayle checks out their D-18 Modern Deluxe to discover how much it respects tradition and just how modern things get!
Tradition is important, and guitars become classics for a good reason. The D-18 is a tried and tested design and vintage D-18's sell for truly eye-watering prices. For the Modern Deluxe, D-18 Martin has kept to tradition where it counts. You get a Sitka Spruce top, Mahogany back and sides, dovetail neck joint and protein glue construction to match a classic 1930's D-18. One of the attractions of a real vintage D-18 is the 'worn-in' or aged sound that can only be achieved through years of playing as the wood's age and mature and the guitar is passed down or sold from player to player. For the Modern Deluxe series, Martin has employed their Vintage Tone System, (a form of heat treatment) designed to artificially age the top to match the tonal and visual qualities of a real vintage guitar, offering the tonal experience of a vintage D-18 at a (slightly!) more realistic price point.
This first modern touch is accompanied by some other additions that really make this new take on the D-18 very appealing. The first thing you notice upon pulling the guitar from its beautiful deluxe hard case is how lightweight it is. This is thanks to the inclusion of a titanium truss rod as opposed to the more traditional steel ones. Titanium is lighter and stronger than steel and really makes a marked difference to the weight of the guitar. This is combined with the use of a composite carbon fibre bridge plate, further reducing weight and boosting volume, without sacrificing the traditional looks of the D-18. Further modern appointments include Liquid Metal bridge pins, designed to reflect vibrations as opposed to absorbing them and the use of Gold (copper alloy) coloured frets that offer the wear-resistant properties of Stainless-Steel frets without the tonal brightness often associated with them. They also look fantastic and match the gold tuners beautifully.
The D-18 has never been the best-looking Martin on the block, but this Modern Deluxe is really something special to look at thanks to the gorgeous Abalone 1930's script logo adorning the headstock, open-gear gold tuners and East Indian Rosewood binding. The VTS aged top has taken on the slightly yellowed hues of a vintage D-18, giving the guitar a more authentic old school look and feel that offsets the modern appointments very well indeed. The modern elements are well hidden and don't detract from the classic design and aesthetic at all, unlike those Robotic Tuners mentioned earlier! Martin has struck a wonderful balance between tradition and forward-thinking design here and should be applauded for it.
Playability and tone are exceptional, of course, as they should be at this price point. The neck has been given a slightly asymmetrical carve that is supremely comfortable in the hand across the guitar's range, and the satin finish feels smooth for position shifts and faster single note playing. The weight improvements over a standard D-18 are very welcome, offering excellent comfort for long gigs or playing sessions whether sitting or standing.
Tonally the D-18 is everything you'd want from a high-end Martin guitar but with bags of volume and dynamic range to spare. Whatever you feel about those modern appointments on a classic guitar like this, it's hard not to be impressed by the sheer projection and dynamic control this guitar offers the player who's able to control it well. Across the entire tonal spectrum, the Modern Deluxe D-18 sings with authority and harmonic complexity, being incredibly rewarding to play and listen to. It's the kind of guitar that makes you the most musical version of yourself, elevating you to play and listen in more detail than with less inspiring guitars.
Of course, all of this comes with a hefty price tag and the D-18 Modern Deluxe will be out of the price range of most people reading this. However, it costs a lot for a good reason and represents the best way to modernise a classic, retaining everything that people love about the original and improving only the elements that make it tangibly better. We do not have innovation for the sake of innovation here – it is only used to improve the already great design.
If you have the available budget, the D-18 Modern Deluxe from Martin is a fantastic buy and will last you a lifetime, probably becoming the desirable vintage Martin of the future!
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