Beautifully focused tones. Vast headroom. Flawless workmanship. Stellar recording instrument.
Traditionalists might not dig the thin neck.
When an instrument manufacturer announces a marriage of vintage and modern, it often means “less expensive to manufacture and almost as good.” Happily, C.F. Martin & Company is an exception to this axiom. In recent years, they’ve been mixing vintage production techniques with innovative new ones—not as cost-cutters, but to expand the range and appeal of their new models. Their recent Modern Deluxe series is a perfect example. It includes four models based on the archetypal D-28, D-18, 000-28 and OM-28 designs. These are high-end instruments with street prices ranging from around four to five grand. We spent some time with the $3,999 OM-28.
Martin for Moderns
The four Modern Deluxe models differ chiefly in body and neck specs. Beyond that, their features are similar. Their necks are slimmer than on traditional models, with an asymmetrically rounded curve, which may make them comfier for players weaned on electric guitar. (No V-shaped necks here!) Truss rods are titanium, while the plate that re-enforces the bridge is carbon fiber. The bridge pins are Liquid metal alloy and decorated with distinctive red dots. The gold-colored frets are 50 percent copper. The braces are carved from relatively stiff Adirondack spruce, which contributes to a tauter top end and more headroom. And their lovely flame maple bindings are a first for a production-line Martin.
But not all is new here. The Modern Deluxe guitars employ traditional protein glue for the bracing. They sport 1930s-style headstock logos inlaid in pearl. They employ retro-looking open-gear Waverly tuners. The look is traditional. If you didn’t catch such details as the red dot pins or maple inlay, you’d probably assume you were seeing a beautiful, if conventionally traditional, Martin.
Guitarists are often unclear on the differences between Martin’s 000 and OM designs, which is understandable given the many outward similarities. Their body sizes are identical. The main distinction is scale length. At 25.4", the Deluxe Modern OM’s fretboard is full scale, give or take a tenth of an inch, while a 000’s scale is 24.9". (Martin now uses a OM-style 1 3/4" nut width for 000 instruments).
There’s not much to say about the build quality, beyond the fact that everything is perfect. There’s not a single flaw or blemish to report. The guitar smells sublime. It feels sleek in the hands, especially once you grasp the shallow 2.25"-width neck. I happen to like V-shaped necks, and the pointier, the better! Yet I quickly grew accustomed to the svelte Modern Deluxe profile. Players who’ve logged more time on electric than acoustic are likely to feel very comfortable, very quickly.
Tight and Bright
Sonically, the guitar embodies “that OM thing.” You get maximum high-end detail and animation, minus the potentially sloppy low end of larger-bodied flattops. But compared to the relatively soft, pliant feel of 000-and-smaller instruments, the response is tight and focused. Meanwhile, Adirondack spruce X-bracing stiffens the top’s response.
The core tone is gorgeous. It’s balanced and bright, and never shrill. But while I appreciated the tone’s focus, I initially found the feel a bit stiff. The guitar sounded beautiful, but I wasn’t sure I could make it gush.
That false impression lasted about 10 minutes. The curve of the guitar’s dynamic response is simply a bit unconventional. That structural stiffness translates into vast headroom. Specifically, you can positively pound on this thing without encountering splatty or papery tones. The more I focused on dynamic subtleties, the more I realized how expressive and responsive this guitar truly is. You can hear that dynamic range in the demo clip, which features both fingerstyle and flatpick playing. (I used an old AKG C426 B mic, a stereo condenser, in mid/side configuration.)
There’s less dynamic compression than on many similarly sized guitars, which may delight precision players who want maximum dynamic range. Having said that, this guitar would also flatter heavy-handed strummers. Even under ham-fisted picking, it’s hard to make it crap out. But while the OM-28 is plenty loud, it doesn’t seem unusually so for its body type. I did not, however, discern the +3-5 dB level increase that Martin attributes to the new alloy bridge pins.
Judging by the Modern Deluxe OM-28, Martin’s “modernized vintage” approach isn’t mere marketing. Unconventional materials and build techniques yield an instrument with superb dynamic response and sky-high headroom. Novel appointments provide a fresh look without resorting to vulgar bling. Between its taut lows, wide dynamic range, and lack of rogue overtones, this guitar is practically made for miking. It’s a terrific recording instrument.
At $4K, a guitar like this may be the biggest instrument investment you ever make, so it’s got to be perfect. We all define that word differently, but if refined, recording-ready tones, understated elegance, and a speedy, electric-like feel are among your must-haves, this could be your ideal match.
Watch the First Look: