C.F. Martin set a benchmark a long time ago for acoustics, and they pretty much own the dreamscape of the aspiring guitarist. My dad bought me a Martin D-28 when I was still in junior high school, whetting the appetite for high-quality guitars that landed me in PG heaven. The other thing about me that’s relevant here is that I have been a passionate tree-hugger for at least as long as I’ve been a connoisseur of things made from them, so when Martin introduced their Sustainable Wood series, I paid attention.
Cherry, Katalox and...Diaperwood...?
The guitar we got to review is an OM, which is a size and shape I love. The neck and back are made of sustainably grown cherry wood, while the fretboard and bridge are made from a recently discovered wood from Central America called katalox. Ranging from brown to dark purple, it’s very dense, and takes a high polish extremely well. Katalox is not hugely abundant, but I like it better than rosewood for a fretboard, so I’m hoping that it gets targeted for more cultivation. The fretboard width is 1.75", which makes this guitar a fingerstyle machine. The top is good old Sitka spruce, but with a twist. The supplier that Martin gets their tops from found a pulp mill that was grinding up Sitka spruce logs to a fine powder and making diapers from them. The supplier taught the company to identify the kind of grain that Martin wants for tops and made arrangements to rescue those logs, which Martin jokingly calls “diaperwood.” According to Dick Boak, Director of Artist and Limited Editions at Martin, it’s not Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified Sitka, but since they’re rescuing it from a fate worse than death, they’ve chosen to include it in their Sustainable Wood Series.
The look of this model is very clean and simple, with gold Gotoh tuners, and cellulose nitrate red tortoise binding and heel cap; the headstock is faced with tortoise with the Martin logo in raised gold. The black molded Martin case is nice and light, and I’m a fan of light. The plush interior is, appropriately enough, forest green.
That Martin Sound
The SWOMGT has the Martin sound, no doubt. There’s an edge to it, so you know this guitar is gonna cut through a mix without any trouble, but the bottom end is a lot less boomy than the typical Martin. It could simply be that this guitar is very new and needs some playing in, or it could be a nod to what seems to be a new convention in acoustic guitar construction— amp-friendly mid-to-high end with the lows quarantined to keep the feedback monsters at bay. I struggled a bit with it at first, finding it too easy to overplay to try to get more red meat out of the sound. I’ve had cherry guitars before that didn’t lack for bottom end, so I have to think it’s intentional. The one time I don’t have a spare pickup laying around… let me just say “argh” and move on.
It records great—as you can clearly hear on the new opening tag for our acoustic videos on premierguitar.com. The SWOMGT doesn’t lack for punch. Strummed, it’s a little cannon, ideal for DADGAD rhythm playing, and capo’d at the fifth fret it holds up extremely well with very little loss in volume or punchiness. But fingerstyle is what this beastie is meant for. I know that you can’t hear how comfortable this guitar is to play, or how nice it is to have that wide fretboard and string spacing, or how sweetly the guitar snuggles into your arms like it was meant to be there—but that’s the OM thing, and this baby’s got it.
The Final Mojo
Honestly, I think the Martin SWOMGT eats the lunch of even other Martins in this price range. Local retailers may need a little encouragement to start stocking them, but once they get into the hands of the players, they won’t need any more encouragement. If you’re looking at buying a guitar of this quality, why not buy one that makes the world a greener place? Your guitar dreams will be sweeter for it.
you're looking for a stage-friendly axe that'll cut through a mix like a katana.
you have to have big dreadnoughty boominess.