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Martin began building 12-strings at the height of the folk boom in 1962, meaning the company has nearly as much experience with this instrument type as, well, just about anybody. Traditionally, most Martin 12-strings were built on the 12-fret dreadnought platform with a short scale, but our review D12X1AE uses the more contemporary 14-fret dreadnought design and Martin’s longer 25.4" scale.
What’s more unusual about the instrument (at least with respect to its Martin heritage) is its construction: Like all X-series guitars, the D12X1AE uses back and sides of high pressure laminate (HPL), a material derived from wood fibers and synthetic resin, and covered with a wood-like finish, which, in the case of the D12X1AE, is made to look like mahogany.
The guitar’s neck is made out of Stratabond, which consists of multiple thin layers of wood that are laminated to form a solid and extremely stable material (a real plus given the added tension of a 12-string). The guitar’s fretboard and bridge are made from black Richlite, which again is a wood fiber and resin combination that’s finished under pressure and high heat. Traditionalists may have already stopped reading, but if you’re still with me, please note that the top—the heart of any acoustic guitar—is made from solid Sitka spruce and features Martin’s A-frame/X hybrid bracing pattern.
The Martin has an austere appearance. There’s no inlay in the fretboard (but there are position dots on the side of the fretboard), no binding, and a simple rosette. The guitar includes a Fishman Sonitone electronics system, which consists of an under-saddle pickup, a small module with volume and tone controls mounted inside the edge of the soundhole, and a 9V battery mounted inside the body.
The Martin’s craftsmanship was meticulous inside and out, and while the look of the Stratabond neck may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the D12X1AE’s back and sides look a lot like high-quality mahogany. The Sitka spruce top was nicely bookmatched too.
Picking up the guitar to play, I was greeted with typical Martin dreadnought feel. Even though the neck is wider than a 6-string’s (1 7/8" at the nut), the D12X1AE’s neck felt a lot like other contemporary Martins that feature the company’s “low profile” shape. Our review guitar was set up with medium action, and while this required a bit more effort, it’s basically a very playable guitar.
Tonally, the Martin has a lovely, dark-ish voice. It takes a bit of attack to coax out its best qualities, but it possesses a nice warmth in fingerstyle situations when you use a slightly heavier approach. Strummed with a pick, the instrument sounded great. A solid stream of loud, fat, balanced tones emanated from the guitar’s top, and I’ll bet the Martin would surpass many pricier 12-strings in terms of volume and color in strumming situations.
I was pleased to discover that the guitar’s Fishman electronics faithfully communicated these qualities through my AER Compact 60. The system’s simple tone control enabled me to easily fine-tune the guitar’s high-end response to suit the strength of my attack. And in general, plugging the guitar in reinforced my impression that the D12X1AE could be a stage workhorse—especially for strummers.