Martin SC-13E Review: 4 Years On

Published on 16 July 2024

 

(Author’s note: I’ve jumped back to update this blog some four years after it was initially written. Why? Well, I wanted to re-assess the Martin SC style guitar after it had been on the market for a while, and rather than simply write a new piece, I felt there was value in adding some content to my original thoughts and views. There has now been enough time to assess the impact, popularity and overall success of this interesting guitar design, and that is what my additional content is chiefly about.

Below, you’ll see my original blog content, and towards the end - under the heading ‘Four Years On’,  you can read up on my current thoughts on the subject as well as additional news, developments and releases that have occurred to the Martin SC since its release. Read on for everything Martin SC!)

Contents

Martin SC13E

Access

Offset body 

Performer-Designed

Clean, Modern Looks

Final Thoughts (Originally)

Update from July 2024: Four Years On

A New Age of Electro Acoustics

New Models

What I’ve Noticed

What’s Next?

 

What sort of words come to mind when you think of Martin guitars?

Heritage?

Tradition?

Historical?

Those are some of the first words we think of, alongside ‘quality’ and ‘significance’.

It makes sense: of all of the premium acoustic guitar builders out there, Martin have the most visible and storied past. We won’t go into massive detail again, but suffice to say that when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young have all been pictured strumming and picking on your guitar brand, you’re a big part of culture!

So, bearing all this in mind, we tend to expect a certain type of guitar from Martin. When they release a new model, you could say that we kind of know what it’s going to look like, to a certain degree.

Not this time.

 

Martin SC13E

As soon as you lay eyes on the Martin SC13E, you can tell that’s it’s a complete re-drawing of the acoustic guitar. The offset body shape is entirely new, and that’s just the beginning. Join us as we take a look at the ins and outs of Martin’s truly Space-Age new guitar...

 

Access

The real key to this guitar is the access. The focal point of the SC13E is the unparalleled upper fret access granted to the player. Martin’s thinking is that more and more acoustic guitarists are playing in ever-more unorthodox ways, and this often involved the use of higher frets. Also, many predominantly electric players become frustrated which the lack of access to frets on acoustic guitars that are no problem to reach on their electrics. The SC13E is Martin’s response. Joining the body at the 13th fret (which in itself is unusual), every fret is highly available to the playing’s fretting hand.

In order to do this, Martin have designed an entirely new neck joint, known as the Sure Align Neck System. There is still a dovetail neck join, but it is horizontal rather than vertical. Pressure is applied to the join via two screws, which do not pass through the neck into the body: they are merely there to apply the required pressure.

The back of the neck join has been carefully sculpted to allow the player’s left-hand an unobstructed path into the ‘nosebleed’ territory of the neck!

 

Offset body 

Asymmetry is something that is normal for electric guitars, but it’s still quite unusual for acoustic guitars. The Martin SC13E’s body is designed with the performer in mind, and so hangs perfectly from a strap for playing live. The body is made with layered Koa and the top is solid Spruce: a perfect tonewood for strumming, fingerpicking, percussive taps and more!

 

Performer-Designed

The performer-based features are numerous. In addition to the asymmetrical body, the neck itself is a Low-Profile Velocity neck with a tapered profile. It’s thin, string and very easy to navigate! An Ebony fingerboard provides a rich, tight and flat playing surface for all of your dextrous escapades, making the Martin SC13E a delight for guitarists of all styles and genres.

Performers need to plug in, and so Martin have made the SC13E ready to rock straight out of the gig bag by fitting a top-quality Fishman MX-T pickup system. The preamp is located in the soundhole, where discreet volume and tone controls can be accessed.

The guitar’s slightly higher up X-bracing (scalloped on the treble side) and non-scalloped Tone braces ensure that the most is made of the body’s curves: this is a nicely balanced sounding guitar with plenty of low-end response and top end sparkle.

The SC13E was made for live performance, so it’s a loud creature indeed! Thankfully, the body design helps you get a higher volume threshold before feedback creeps in. You won’t have to watch how hard you strum the SC13E on stage: it can handle it all just fine.

 

Clean, Modern Looks

In addition to the quietly futuristic body shape, the Martin SC13E has a few other visual details to further define its unique voice and aesthetic. The rosette is a cool pearlescent blue, described by Martin as an ‘Aperture Design’, and the colouring is also used for the top binding around the body, too. The 12th fret inlay continues the theme with a ‘Celestial Bullseye’. All of this helps define the guitar as separate from more traditional Martin designs, without ‘jumping the shark’ and releasing something unrecognisable. It’s a great balance of what we know and what we don’t. In short: it’s beautiful and modern.

 

Final Thoughts (Originally)

Martin has a huge range of acoustic guitars in their product catalogue. The SC13E successfully sticks out by genuinely offering something new to players who err on the side of modernity but still appreciate heritage and provenance. All of the SC13E’s innovations have been designed and implemented for solid, practical reasons: it isn’t just about trying something different. That’s mainly why we are excited to bring this guitar to you. It’s fresh, it offers you a new playing experience, but doesn’t dictate how or what you should play: it (literally) gets out of your way and lets you concentrate of the important stuff: the notes.

 

Update from July 2024: Four Years On

The Martin SC13 caused quite the worldwide stir when it first debuted 4 years ago. With its thin offset body, it looked distinctly un-Martin-like, considering how much that brand continues to use its legacy. It was a breath of fresh air for sure, but it also caught many of us unawares: we’re used to seeing Martin release new dreadnoughts and OM models, not entirely new shapes!

So, how has the SC13 fared these past four years? Well, something interesting happened across the entire field of electro-acoustic guitars, and it’s not one we massively saw coming…

 

A New Age of Electro Acoustics

Even though this is a blog about a particular Martin, I do need to make a detour towards Fender for a second.

Around the rough time in which the SC13E landed on earth, Fender were heavily promoting their newly resurrected Acoustasonic range. The name ‘Acoustasonic’ had been applied to a number of guitars (and amps) in the past, but this new range proposed a relatively radical re-imagining of an instrument that was essentially an acoustic/electric hybrid that was expressly designed to be plugged in for acoustic tones.

It was a big gamble on Fender's part, but the guitar-playing world has loved it, to the extent that we’ve seen many other brands (Ibanez, Taylor etc) adding their own redrawn hybrids into their offerings too. It was pure coincidence that this all happened around roughly the same sort of time, because that - along with Ed Sheeran’s championing of acoustic looping - meant that large swathes of the guitar buying public were more open to the idea of non-standard acoustic guitars. Offset shapes were looked at now as appealing rather than outlandish, and the whole concept of having a less traditional source for one’s acoustic tones was being swiftly reconsidered.

Martin - whether by design or coincidence - introduced their bold new SC13E at just the right time, and they pitched it more or less correctly in terms of price, too: it wasn’t a cheap model, but came in at a competitive place in the market, particularly for the gigging pro and semi-pro.

Sales-wise, the SC has been particularly successful. Players are intrigued enough to try them out, and impressed enough to buy them. As you’ll see below, there are now a few models available in this shape, and all are doing well, particularly the Road Series. Martin’s gamble paid off! I say ‘gamble’, but I really mean ‘trust’: trust in the guitarists of the world recognising a good thing when they see it.



New Models

Since the introduction of the SC13E - which was part of Martin’s Road series - there have since been a few more SC models released into the wild:

  • Martin Road Series SC-10E: Martin’s Road Series is a collection of Mexican-made instruments designed and built for the hard-working player. Having the SC in this Series tells us directly that Martin see this guitar in the hands of gigging musicians. The SC13E has a solid Spruce top and a body that’s veneered with Koa. You’ll enjoy a bright, focussed sound with this model. You’ll also find some very cool silvery-blue decorative appointments on the rosette, the binding and even the guitar’s 12th fret.

 

  • Martin Road Series SC-10E Sapele: This model is similar to the Spruce-topped model above, with the major difference being the use of Sapele as the major tonewood. Sapele is a economical variant on mahogany, which has similar looks and tonal properties, and it also ties the guitar with Martin’s all-mahogany 15 series guitars. There are no silvery-blue decorations on here, but that also befits the stripped-back look.

 

  • Martin Standard Series SC-18E: Such is the popularity of the SC design, it is now available in the American-made Standard Series. The Sc-18E features spruce and mahogany, and has an ebony fingerboard. A top quality LR Baggs Anthem pickup system makes this a serious bit of kit for the performing guitarist. Of course, the innovative Sure Align neck system is part of the design here, as is the special X brace design.

 

  • Martin Standard Series SC-28E: In keeping with Martin tradition, this US-made 28 series guitar is made with spruce and indian rosewood. It’s a classic Martin combination and is particularly effective here in the SC’s offset form.

 

  • Martin Custom Shop SC-2022: This beauty from Martin’s prestigious Custom Shop in Pennsylvania is a real head-turner! Look at that inlay work! This was a limited edition run from 2022, made in very small numbers and sadly no longer available. The ornate inlay, binding and purfling work is a nod to the famous Martin D-41, 42 and 45 models.

 

What I’ve Noticed

So how has the SC13E (and its siblings) fared from a personal perspective? Well, what I’m most surprised about isn’t that it has been largely accepted, but that it has done so without a huge amount of comment from either the guitar community at large or the Martin aficionados in particular. It seems that both are happy for its existence, given that it isn’t replacing anything for anybody.

Moreover, I’ve seen a lot of intrigued players trying it out and enjoying the shape, which is - let’s face it - the most immediately significant difference. The new neck join and other innovative features only get their moment to shine if the overall guitar is accepted to begin with. This has happened, and that means that the SC-13E has created space in the market for itself to exist.

Who is it for? Well, so far I haven’t seen too many country or blues players going for it, but it’s still early days in that regard. I didn’t expect to see so many Acoustasonics on stages all over the world (and in the arms of some pretty influential people), so there’s an overall change in tide happening. 

 

 

What’s Next?

It seems that the SC shape has certainly caught on and found an audience within Martin’s customer base. It's a good sign, because we all know how difficult it can be for new ideas to ‘land’ with us traditional-minded guitar players: consider the fates of the Gibson Robot technology, the Parker Fly and so on. It’s not an easy thing to escape the long shadow created by those classic guitar designs from yesteryear. I applaud Martin for taking the chance and also for introducing more SC models into their lineup. 


I believe that we’ll see more of this style in the next few years, and from more brands than just Martin. Whilst it’s perhaps a little premature to start calling this a modern classic, I’ll be watching with interest about how this design fares in the coming years.

In the meantime, have you tried one?

Click to Browse our Martin SC guitars

 

 

 

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About the author

Ray

Features Editor

I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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