Here from Martin we have two acoustics from opposite ends of the company’s style spectrum. The only shared features are spruce/mahogany bodies – one is an old-looking guitar with hidden modern features, while the other is a modern-looking guitar with hidden vintage features.
I bow to no one in my enthusiasm for slotted headstocks, but I have to admit life is a lot easier with a solid headstock like this one, and the Golden Age open- gear tuners provide vintage looks with modern stability, accuracy and feel.
The slope-shouldered body is resolutely old school, but the neck is slim and truss rod is adjustable. Despite the Dustbowl vibe of the matt finish, absence of grain filler and lack of decorative flourish, the build quality is pin neat, although Martin hasn’t rounded over the fret ends above the body join.
00-17S in use
It’s love at first strum for this guitar hack. The 00-17S has everything I generally look for in a vintage-style Martin, plus a lot of the things I would usually like to hear more of. It has the hair-trigger response of a vintage featherweight, with the airiness and delicately ethereal treble that, for many, are quintessential hallmarks of a small-bodied classic Martin.
While these are laudable qualities, some find the rolled-off lows and underpowered midrange that go along with these models can be a frustrating trade off. However, the 00-17S is distinguished by a nicely full and forward midrange and a low end that retains power and solidity down to drop C.
Maybe it’s the shorter scale length that contributes to the easy playing feel and the large extra helping of warm woodiness, but the 00-17S puts me in mind of the 1930s Gibson L-00 we recently featured. In fact, everything about the look and sound screams vintage – but the feel is quite contemporary. Rather than the fat and clubby neck or even the V profile you might expect, the 00-17S has a relatively slim C-shaped neck. Any initial disappointment was quickly dispelled by the 00-17S’s superb playability.
This isn’t an especially loud guitar, but it sustains for eons and the string-to-string balance is superb. For fingerstyle, it makes life easy because strummed chords and picked notes are at relatively similar volume: it can make some of us sound like we have better technique than is actually the case. Strummed or picked, the 00-17S seems to handle everything with poise. It’s an utterly addictive little guitar that kept me amused for hours as I experimented with capos, slides and various tunings.
There are shades of nylon strings, dobro and parlour that evoke an undeniably retro vibe but, naturally, some players may crave a little more power and upper-fret access. Even so, the 00-17S is what it is, and it’s one of the most distinctive and enjoyable Martins I’ve ever encountered. With the caveat that this guitar arrived with half-dead strings – only after it had been forcibly removed from the sweaty hands of a certain editor – I can’t come up with anything negative to say about it.
Despite appearances, the DC-18E is, like the 00-17S, a mixture of old and new. Lurking under the solid Sitka spruce top is a forward-shifted X brace, with scalloping and Martin has even used vintage 18-spec tortoise binding. The neck’s a decent width, and suits fingerstyle and strumming equally.
A Fishman Aura VT Enhance system is installed with an under- saddle transducer, a body sensor and a single digital dreadnought ‘model’. A volume and mid-scoop control is mounted under the bass side of the soundhole and an ‘enhance’ control on the treble side adds the body sensor to the mix.
DC-18E in use
The DC-18E is a very good dreadnought and although it’s not as exceptional as the 00-17S, I do admire its bold and authoritative tone. The bass is deep, warm and nicely controlled, but not designed for sheer power. The treble rings clear without sounding pingy or brittle and midrange is more full and forward than is often the case with this design. Again, the balance and string-to-string definition is superb and the acoustic tone has all the hallmarks of a pedigree instrument.
It’s also about as far removed from the 00-17S as it could possibly be. Where the 00-17S oozes retro cool, the DC-18E is a more generic and general-purpose workhorse. That much is probably apparent from the cutaway and the onboard electronics. While I would have no compunctions about mic’ing this guitar up in the studio, its onboard electronics mark it out as a stage performer every bit as much as a straightahead acoustic.
The Aura system is very impressive, because output level is high, noise level is vanishingly low and it sounds more like an acoustic guitar than an acoustic guitar with a piezo pickup. The DC-18E is also remarkably feedback resistant for an all-solid guitar.
The tone control acts by scooping the mids, which makes sense for fine tuning a dreadnought model.There is a sense that the highs have been slightly enhanced when the plugged and unplugged tones are compared and even at minimum scoop, some of the midrange is lost. Even so, as plug-in-and-play electro-acoustic tones go, the one offered by the Fishman Aura is a fantastic starting point and, to these ears, just about pips Taylor’s Expression System. It just sounds more authentically ‘acoustic’ in tone in a direct comparison.
If I were operating the mixing desk, or an onstage acoustic amp, I would probably roll off a little of the treble to zone in on the natural tone of the instrument. Of course, you can blend in the body sensor signal and it does add a certain acoustic airiness and natural dynamic response, but a lot of brightness comes along with it.
I found that just a hint was best for enhancing the Aura tone, because as you mix in more of the sensor, there is a sense of some weird phase shifts occurring in the mids. However, it does work well if you employ a more modern style, where the guitar body is used to create percussive sounds.
So here we have two entirely different Martins that very successfully achieve what they were designed to do. The DC-18E impresses, both acoustically and electrically, and I suspect its appeal will be wider. However, I must say that of the two instruments on review, the 00-17S steals the show for me.
• PRICE £1,795
• DESCRIPTION All-solid acoustic guitar, made in the USA
• BUILD Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, glued mahogany neck, scalloped X bracing, ivoroid front binding, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, plastic bridge pins, bone nut and compensated bone saddle
• HARDWARE Golden Age open-gear tuners (aged)
• ELECTRICS n/a
• LEFT-HANDERS Yes
• FINISHES Whiskey Sunset Sunburst and Black Smoke
• SCALE LENGTH 631mm/24 7/8”
• NECK WIdTH 44mm at nut, 54mm at 12th fret
• NECK Depth 18mm at first fret, 21mm at 9th fret
• STRING SPACING 38.5mm at nut, 54mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 1.6kg/3.52lbs
• PRICE £2,765
• DESCRIPTION All-solid electro-acoustic guitar, made in the USA
• BUILD Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, glued mahogany high-performance taper neck, forward-shifted scalloped X bracing, tortoise body binding, ebony fingerboard and bridge, plastic bridge pins, bone nut and compensated Tusq saddle
• HARDWARE Grover open-gear tuners
• ELECTRICS Fishman Aura VT Enhance
• LEFT-HANDERS Yes
• FINISH Gloss body and satin neck
• SCALE LENGTH 644mm/25 3/8”
• NECK WIDTH 44mm at nut, 54mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 20mm at first fret, 22mm at 9th fret
• STRING SPACING 38.5mm at nut, 54.5mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 1.975kg/4.35lbs
• CONTACT Westside Distribution 0141 248 4812 www.martinguitar.com