Martin Modern Deluxe OM-28 Review
It’s new school. It’s old school. Medium school, maybe?
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:
Taylor 618e Review
The re-voiced flagship of Taylor’s maple-backed line delivers dazzling versatility and big bass tones.
Taylor is one of the biggest guitar companies in the world, but also one of the most individual. Tradition-minded players and midcentury/antique acoustic purists may not be fans of Taylor’s approach to tone or construction, but the company’s never-say-retro, North American-made instruments tend to feel, play, and sound like, well, Taylors. In an age when reverse engineering, CNC, and improved overseas production have narrowed the quality and individuality gaps, few brands can manage that feat.
The Taylor 618e—the biggest and baddest instrument in the maple-and-spruce-based 600 line re-imagined by Taylor design maestro Andy Powers—has that unmistakable Taylor feel. It’s super-playable, with strong midrange and a lively, immediate response—all Taylor hallmarks. Yet it’s also an unusual-sounding guitar for its size, with a unique tone palette and a dynamic range that fingerstylists in particular will find ripe for exploration.
Built To Blast
The 618e is a pretty big guitar. At 16 3/4", the Grand Orchestra-style body is just 1/4" narrower than a Gibson J-200, while the 5" depth is a quarter-inch greater than on the Gibson. Still, the Taylor feels smartly proportioned, balanced, and even a bit smaller than it really is. That said, smaller players should spend time with the guitar before buying to determine whether its depth is likely to cause fatigue. (If so, consider the smaller maple-and-spruce 612e, among other models.)
As with most Taylors—especially in this price range—it’s nearly impossible to find fault with the build quality. From the kerfing and bracing to the binding, neck joint, and headstock overlay, every seam and cut is flawless. Upmarket touches like the stylized, ivoroid “wing” inlays seem a bit flash, at odds with the 618e’s otherwise organic, old-world personality. Others are tasteful, even exquisite, especially the gorgeous ebony pickguard and backstrap, which lend a bespoke touch.
Taylor made maple backs and sides the foundation of the 600 series in part because of the company’s laudable focus on sustainability—it’s a relatively plentiful tonewood from carefully managed North American forests. It’s also a widely underestimated tonewood, at least relative to mahogany and rosewood. For the new 600s, designer Powers experimented extensively with back thicknesses and bracing shapes and patterns to discover what worked best with maple’s bright, responsive tones. As we’ll see, his efforts yielded captivating—and often surprising—sonic dividends.
The maple back and sides make the 618e look simultaneously striking and traditional. Powers opted for an ultra-thin polyester finish over a hand-rubbed stain called “Brown Sugar.” While the molasses-hued finish makes the stripey maple grain pop a little less than it might have under a less opaque treatment, it gives the 618e an almost antique elegance that invites comparisons to cellos, violins, and old Gibson archtops. The brown sugar stain also complements the toasty-looking Sitka spruce top, which is quite literally toasted though the process of torrefaction.
Unique maple-and-spruce tones. Super playable. Flawless construction. Excellent fingerstyle dynamics. Huge bass tones.
Boxy midrange when strummed hard.
Most fingerstylists like the balance and dynamics of smaller bodies like 00s and OMs. But the big 618e excels as a fingerstyle instrument, especially with open tunings in the C and D range. Bass notes in open C sound absolutely huge, ringing almost endlessly with piano-like sustain.
Yet as big as the 618e can sound, it reacts beautifully to a light touch. The combination of maple and spruce lends treble notes a bell-like brightness that contrasts beautifully with the deeply resonant bass notes. The guitar is incredibly responsive to fingerpicking dynamics. Between its wide-ranging dynamics and elastic playability in C and D tunings, the 618e is crazily expressive—a perfect vehicle for everything from complex chord melodies to ringing sitar-like bends over bassy drones.
The 618e’s string-to-string balance works beautifully for flatpicked leads. Strumming with a flatpick summons a more contemporary sound, though this is the least flattering application of the guitar voice. Heavily strummed eighth-note rhythms can emphasize maple’s propensity for fast note decay in the mid and upper-mid ranges. As a consequence, midrange can sound boxy and compressed relative to the more resonant bass. (Strumming with a thinner pick and lighter touch creates a more harmonically complex sound picture.) Syncopated, stabbing rhythm parts—especially ones voiced well up the neck—benefit from the fast decay and midrange punch. Ever wondered why Pete Townshend loves maple-backed Gibson Jumbos? Have a bash at “Pinball Wizard” on the 618e and you’ll get it.
Jumbo-sized flattops aren’t generally praised for their versatility—they’re usually favored by songwriters, rockers, and strumming country singers. But the 618e shatters that notion. It’s an exceptionally expressive and dynamic fingerstyle instrument that sounds richly detailed when played with a delicate touch. The Expression 2 electronics are a great match for the resonant bass tones and bright maple voice. The 618e’s extreme playability makes it feel like less of an armful than it otherwise might. At around $2,800, it’s a big-ticket item, but this virtually flawless guitar seems likely to last about as long as an acoustic instrument can.
The 618e isn’t without limitations. It’s a less-than ideal strumming guitar for heavy-handed rhythm players. But the tradeoffs are numerous and surprising, resulting in a flattop with a truly unique voice.
Watch the Review Demo: