Believe it or not, there are days as a gear reviewer where you’ll scream if you have to tweak another knob, dial in another tone, split another coil, troubleshoot mystery hiss, or fret over some immaculate nitrocellulose finish that dinged when you looked at it wrong. These are the days when a guitar like the Martin 000-15SM looks like a pearl from the heavens.
The Mahogany 000-15, and its almost equally spartan cousin the 000-17, have been fixtures in the Martin lineup off and on since the Great Depression. At the time of their birth they were exercises in minimalism designed to address the realities of an austere age. The thing is, they sounded great—and often amazing. And in the years since, Martin’s all-mahogany 000s and 00s became one of the flattops for folkies, fingerstylists, country blues pickers, and studio pros who savor this model’s sonic warmth and balance.
The 000-15SM isn’t a forward-looking interpretation of Martin’s mid-sized, all mahogany marvel. In fact, it differentiates itself from the standard 000-15 by gazing backward—incorporating a 12-fret, slotted headstock design that’s not only a staple of early 20th century Martin design, but which sonically transforms the 000-15 voice in some very cool ways.
Steady as an Old Tree
With a design that dates to the dawn of the 20th century, the Martin 000 is about as venerable as a guitar gets. And the 000- 15SM in particular looks as natural and timeless as a centuries-old evergreen. Apart from five diamond inlays at the 5th, 7th, and 9th frets, a pinstripe rosette, and a dark tortoise pickguard that blends beautifully into the chocolate-colored mahogany top, the SM is gorgeously free of adornment. And with the exception of the hardware, ebony bridge pins, and East Indian rosewood fretboard, bridge, and headstock veneer, the guitar’s exterior is entirely mahogany. The visual simplicity highlights the just-about-perfect proportions of the 000 silhouette. But even casual Martin spotters may notice the body’s elongation that results from joining to the neck at the 12th fret. This design gives the guitar an almost Spanish classical profile.
The 000-15SM is flawlessly built inside and out. The spruce bracing and kerfing are super tidy and precise. And no matter how deep you look into the recesses of the body, you won’t find a hint of cutting corners.
The most significant visual difference between the 000-15SM and a standard 000 (apart from the elongated body) is the slotted headstock, which adds another touch of European classicism, while evoking the earliest incarnations of the 000. It’s a feature that many flattop connoisseurs consider the ticket to optimum resonance. It also accounts for perhaps the only elements of glitz on the guitar—polished nickel open-gear tuners, that for all their shining elegance are practically invisible as you view the guitar from the front.
Cultured and Down Home
Few guitars can simultaneously conjure airs of refined civility and down-home simplicity quite like a mahogany Martin 000. This version is no different. The overall sense of balance in this instrument begins with how it feels—compact, yet substantial enough to respond to a dynamic touch and a little neck-flexing body language. With 1 3/4" string spacing at the nut and 2 1/4" string spacing at the bridge, the neck feels more spacious than a standard 000—which will please hardcore fingerstylists and OM players looking for those shadier mahogany tones. But the neck also feels a little slimmer and flatter than most contemporary Martin 000s and 00s. It’s a great feel for bend- and hammer on-heavy country blues picking and fingerstyle moves in the Graham/Renbourn/Jansch vein, but a little less comfortable and quick for flatpicked Byrds/R.E.M.-style arpeggios.
Sonically speaking, the 000-15SM seems born for fingerstyle too, whether you play with or without fingerpicks. Exhibiting a glow and detail that’s typical of mahogany, as well as sweet touch sensitivity, the 000- 15SM is an able vehicle for fingerstyle explorations. It also has an unmistakable low-end richness and resonance that you can chalk up in some percentage to the 12-fret design, which moves the bridge closer to the center of the soundboard, drives the top more efficiently, and makes you feel like you did some overnight refinement to your thumb technique.
The additional bass resonance does not necessarily translate to volume. This is still a small-bodied guitar when stacked up against a dreadnought or jumbo, and you won’t be overpowering any D-28s around the campfire. But you do get enhanced sustain that actually works better for being quieter and lends a lot of expressive potential without sacrificing balance. That recipe is ideal for dropped tunings and compositions that rely on drones and ringing doubles and octaves. And when you apply the darker mahogany voice to Celtic and Eastern tunings and styles, the 000-15SM takes on a smoky, mysterious character that you won’t hear from a livelier spruce top or a more booming dread.
Those same dark and husky qualities and enhanced bass resonance make the 000-15SM a country blues picker’s dream. Picking a I-IV-V progression in standard tuning will transport you right to the cabin porch, and the concise, even tones of the Martin are a perfect match for alternating bass and percussive right-hand work. Open G’s stew of doubles, octaves, and harmonic interplay suits the 000-15SM sonorous American accent even better and betrays the 000-15SM’s secret strength as a slide guitar. And the combination of midrange bark, the flatter fretboard radius, and wider string spacing make this little Martin a blast to attack with a bottleneck.
Timeless design and a truly vocal character make the 000-15SM feel like an old friend. If you’re accustomed to 14-fret necks and the narrower, more electric guitar-like string spacing of most modern acoustics, you may need a few sessions to acclimate yourself to the 000-15SM’s more fingerstyle-friendly feel. But once you do, you’ll find that the extra acreage opens up opportunities to explore more dramatic hammer-ons, pull-offs, slide work, and other elements of fingerstyle and country blues picking.
The mellow but present mahogany tones respond beautifully to both delicate fingerstyle and more percussive variations on the form. And this Martin’s hearty and rugged-but-civilized personality makes it a perfect recording guitar too. On top of everything else, it has an air of subdued artistry and rigorous craft that inspires. That’s something Martin has been doing for nearly 180 years, and in its own understated but colorful way, the 000-15SM carries the torch with élan.
you’re a fingerstylist, country blues picker, or studio player who savors the subdued, but rich tone of mahogany.
you’re mostly a flatpicker, need the brawn and bellow of a sprucetopped dread, or need brighter tones for your fingerstyle work.