The C.F. Martin Company has been around longer than any instrument manufacturer. It’s an icon whose guitars have consistently set the standard by which production (and often custom) acoustics are judged. And if you’re into vintage acoustics, you know that few guitars make a collector perk up like an old Martin. It’s that vibe that inspired the company’s D-18VE, featuring the new Fishman/Martin Ellipse Blend pickup system.
The D-18VE is built to vintage specs and boasts magnificently executed vintage-style touches in its bracing, rosette, headstock shape, pickguard, fretboard position markers, neck profile, bridge saddle, and more. The same impeccable workmanship is evident inside; braces are scalloped, and top bracing is forward-shifted to duplicate old-school construction methods.
The D-18VE’s playability is perfect. The smaller frets are extremely comfortable to the touch, and with a nut width of 111/16″, this neck should suit most anybody.
And tone? Well, we certainly weren’t surprised with the D-18VE’s deep, woody sound, loaded with sparkle and punch. It was what we’ve come to expect from Martin. But what did surprise us a bit were the low-end tones, which are easily big enough to please any bluegrass player. And the midrange tones give up nothing, punching with the same authority. Acoustic guitarists often speak very highly of the “golden era” of Martin guitars from the 1930s and early ’40s. But our test D-18VE will go toe-to-toe with an old Martin dread, straight out of the box. It’s an impressive display of what dreadnought tone is all about. And after a few years of playing… well, stand by!
Combined with Martin’s Thinline Goldline Plus bridge pickup is Fishman’s Ellipse Blend system, a new design that uses a condenser microphone attached to a tiny gooseneck that floats inside the body, visible mid-soundhole. The system is controlled by sliders for volume and pickup blend, as well as a small pushbutton for phase, and a mic trim control, all mounted on the upper inside edge of the soundhole. The system is very slick and ergonomic, and its minimal contact with the top ensures no adverse effect on vibration.
In terms of function, the blend slider adjusts output balance between the mic and bridge pickup. The electronics are simple and easy to operate. Sliding the blender control all the way to the “Mic” position reveals a very natural sound, very true to the tone of the guitar. The microphone is very sensitive and will “hear” your every move. The bridge pickup also sounds natural, though it can’t avoid sounding like the piezo that it is. Blending the mic with the bridge pickup, we were able to get a very warm, woody sound that ranks with the best onboard pickups. A more natural sound could perhaps be had with a higher-quality outboard condenser mic, but such a setup certainly has drawbacks this system doesn’t.
The D-18VE is an astoundingly good-sounding guitar, and with the Martin/Fishman Ellipse system, one can amplify a natural tone very accurately. Given its features and tone, the D-18VE is priced right and makes a strong case for the quality of modern Martin instruments.
Features Solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back and sides, ebony fingerboard and bridge, adjustable modified V-shape mahogany neck, vintage forward scalloped X bracing, vintage-style tortoise pickguard and binding, Gotoh vintage-style butterbean tuners, aged gloss finish with aging toner on body, bone nut and bridge saddle, abalone pearl vintage style fingerboard inlays, Fishman/Martin Ellipse Blend pickup system.
Price $3,299 (retail).
Contact Martin & Co., 510 Sycamore St., Nazareth PA 18064, phone (800) 633-2060, www.martinguitar.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.