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Martin built the very first dreadnought, not to mention the most priceless and collectible specimens of the form. The venerable D-18 and D-28 practically define the model, so it’s barely going out on a limb to say that the crew from Nazareth can probably build a dread in its sleep.
Perhaps the only complaint ever leveled against a classic Martin dread like a D-28 is that they can be a bit pricey. But Martin has always strived to make accessibly priced instruments, too, and the D-1GT reviewed here is the product of the company’s strategy to make an American-made Martin with a solid spruce top and solid back and sides available to working players for less than a thousand bucks. And while Martin makes the D-1GT affordable through use of some nontraditional materials—most notably the Stratabond laminate neck and Richlite fretboard—this is a Martin through and through, in terms of quality, and a truly distinctive one in terms of sound.
While there are more bare-bones dreadnoughts out there—even within Martin’s line—the D-1GT is pretty austere. The D-28-style rosette is its flashiest aspect, but apart from that, the satin-finished sapele back and sides, the black pickguard, and the minimalist black-white-black binding give the guitar a no-nonsense, back-to-basics attitude.
The texture of the Stratabond neck can take some getting used to, though: In some spots the neck feels like a regular satin-finished solidwood neck, there are spots where you can ever-so-slightly feel the texture of the laminate. Over hours of playing these necks can come to feel smoother, but the neck can feel a bit unfinished if you’re accustomed to a glossy-finished neck. That issue aside, the oval-profile neck with its 1 11/16" string spacing (at the nut) feels super comfortable and easy to navigate, and the Richlite fretboard rarely feels significantly different than a hardwood fretboard.
If you were ever confused about the term “piano-like” in the context of a guitar review, the D-1GT can go a long way toward clarifying things. Certainly there are guitars that are much more deep and grand in their pianistic ways than the D-1GT, but this Martin has a touch sensitivity, responsiveness to dynamics, and dry but harmonically resplendent resonance that is most certainly worthy of the term. The sapele back and sides (sapele shares many tone properties with mahogany) may limit the headroom on the D-1GT, and really heavy strumming will yield a hint of harmonic blur on top of essentially strong and clear fundamental tones—a quality that’s not uncommon among sapele- and mahoganybacked instruments. The guitar also tends toward a strong, airy midrange that’s absolutely beautiful in open tunings and capoed voicings that generate droning mid and high-mid content. Bluegrass players and more aggressive fingerstylists that like to generate a little more bottom-end thump, may end up longing for the greater definition you can get from rosewood back and sides. But, that trade-off aside, the D-1GT is superbly balanced and an ideal partner for roots rock, nimble fingerstyle in open tunings, and country blues that benefits from a warm, husky tone.