Martin Guitars: Beyond the Dreadnought
Published on 04 March 2020
Martin invented the dreadnought.
This is something many of us know, but it’s easy to forget sometimes, especially considering how ubiquitous the shape has become. Indeed, the Martin dreadnought, not the Fender Stratocaster, is the most copied guitar design in the world.
It’s a funny one to imagine that before 1916, there was no such guitar as the dreadnought: acoustic guitars were parlour, jumbo, concert, and a host of other designs, but not the dreadnought. It’s instant success as a jack-of-all-trades quickly put it to the front of the queue of course, and that’s largely how it’s been since.
Today, we’d like to spend a little time with these other shapes. We’ve all gotten to know the dreadnought pretty well over the years, whether a Martin one or not, but the world is too vast and multi-faceted a place for us to just stick to the one design. Dreadnoughts are great for everyone but maybe not perfect for lots of people! Let’s aim for perfection!
Keeping our sights on Martin guitars, we’ll take a look today at some examples of the other beautiful models they offer. There are actually loads of slightly different body sizes and shapes, so we’ll zoom our microscope of a few select choices. We’ll look into how they are different, and also why they are different. This isn’t so much exhaustive as illustrative, so if you are unsure about some of the many Martin model names and styles, you might find this article to be a handy, casual primer. If you’re already a Martin aficionado, you’ll be wanting us to get to the guitars! Okay, we’re going!
‘00’ or Grand Concert
Martin 00, ‘double oh’, as we call it, is a compact, symmetrical shape with a narrow waist and a relatively shallow depth compared to a dreadnought. As you’ll find with all ‘oh’ guitars, this means that they lose some low-end tone but gain clarity and projection. Martin guitars are typically available with a 12 or 14 fret join, which changes the player’s feel quite significantly. The extra length added (or taken away) to the guitar’s neck due to the difference of these two frets can mean a more strident or intimate playing style. You’ll likely prefer one over the other, so we suggest trying both.
Martin 000, ‘triple oh’, or Orchestral model, is a slight size up from the 00. It’s kind of a half-way point between a smaller-bodied parlour guitar and a dreadnought. Much like the 00, the 000/OM guitars are great fingerpicking instruments, perfect for musicians who like to sit down, get close to their guitars and play groups of notes and single note runs over chordal strumming.
So, are Martin 000 guitars the same as Martin OM models? No, there are a couple of subtle differences. The bodies are the same size and shape, but the neck width and scale length differ. Put simply, the OM guitars have a slightly longer scale length (25.4”) and a wider neck (1 ¾”) than the 000, which traditionally has a smaller 24.9” scale length and a 1 11/16th” fingerboard width.
Now, things get a little complicated here, since some modern Martin 000 models have the longer scale length too! Yes, the spec does become a little blurred depending on which models you compare, but to speak generally, the OM is somewhat louder than the 000, and the 000 has a ‘faster’ note response. Those are our observations, anyway!
Martin 00030 Authentic 1919 VTS
This historic reissue is a wonderful example of a 000 guitar. It’s a 12-fret model (the neck joins the body at fret 12) and it has an authentic slotted headstock. This all adds to the heritage, and in fact affects the tension and feel of the strings due to the increased downward pull.
Martin fans will take in the snowflake inlays and multi-stripe binding. An Ebony fingerboard with a 16” radius is used here, and the Adirondack Spruce top is Torrefied (Martin call this VTS- Vintage Tone System, and it refers to baking all of the moisture out of the top for a truly exceptional vintage tone) and finished with a gloss coat. Torrefaction has come around in a big way recently, mainly because guitarists want access to instruments that sound like century-old Martins! It’s only fair that they get involved too!
The Martin 00030 Authentic 1919 VTS is a wonderful guitar, with a bright, responsive voice and acres of playability.
Martin OM-28 Modern Deluxe
Turning our attentions to the OM style, we’ve found this lovely example of what happens when Martin add some modernity to their historical models.
At a close glance, this is pretty heritage-looking! Look again: gold hardware, Flame Maple binding, Martin’s Liquidmetal bridge pins (check out the red dots!) and a bridge made of carbon fibre! This bridge is used to add volume without weight, and it’s a fantastic addition to a guitar that is already bristling with life.
The Martin OM-28 Modern Deluxe’s top is made from Adirondack Spruce. This has been Torrefied, just like the 000 we looked at previously. The torrefied top adds a really strident, confident voice each guitar, in a way that’s hard to get without paying tens of thousands for a pre-war original!
GP Grand Performance
Martin’s Grand Performance body shape is a more contemporary style than what we’ve so far seen today. Known by other manufacturers as ‘Grand Auditorium’, this guitar is comparable in overall size to a dreadnought, though its dimensions make it somewhat less boxy. This type of guitar is like an update of what the dreadnought was originally designed to do, which was to provide an effective all-rounder for guitarists who wanted to strum chords and fingerpick on one instrument.
To be blunt, you can do those things on any acoustic guitar. Of course you can! But we’re talking about specifics here. Every element of a guitar plays a part in the resulting tone, and with acoustic guitars, body size is as significant as the wood choice. The dimensions determine who physically ‘big’ the resulting sound is, as well as projection, body, and EQ characteristics.
The Martin Grand Performance is slightly larger than what we’ve looked at today, but has a similarly drawn-in waist. In practical terms, that means we can expect to hear a sound that has more lower EQ frequencies and a similar midrange scoop. The bottom end helps chords gel together into a satisfying strum, whilst the slight scooping is good for blending in vocals. This, like the dreadnought, makes the Grand Performance shape a great choice for singer songwriters.
The Martin GPC-18E is one of those guitars that is perfectly suited to its task. This is a cutaway model, which in our industry normally denotes and electro model designed for gigging. We don’t quite know why that came to be a normal thing (surely you either want the cutaway or you don’t, and gigging is neither here nor there?) but it is, so we can happily go with it. Either way, Venetian cutaways like the one found here can be really handy, plus they don’t really do much to rob the guitar of any tone, so we’re good.
This lovely guitar uses Mahogany for its back and sides. Mahogany is known for supplying plenty of midrange, so this is fact balances out the slight scooping of the body’s shape. This means that you get not only a very comfortable, ergonomic guitar, you get one that’s very well balanced, sonically!
Looks-wise this guitar build’s on Martin’s traditional vibe with an Aged Toner finish and an ebony fingerboard. The binding is a subtle black, and the pickguard is the classic faux-tortoise style. It’s understated and ready to get put to work!
We’ve looked at a handful of Martin guitar shapes today, all of which lie beyond the standard Dreadnought design. As you’ve seen, they can be very traditional or comparatively contemporary. All of them adhere to the overall Martin aesthetic, making them appeal to most guitarists in search of a ‘quality’ acoustic guitar.
Different players have different needs and preferences. A slot-headed 12 fret 000 will never feel, handle or sound anything like a dreadnought or jumbo, and that is the whole point! If you’ve only ever strummed a dreadnought and figured that it didn’t really matter about the body shape, you are massively missing out! Come in from the cold! We’re here for you, with an amazing selection of Martin guitars to try out and fall in love with.
Thanks for reading