By Jim Fusco:
A little over two weeks ago, I got the urge. On a chance visit to Guitar Center in Manchester, CT (while my wife shopped at the Christmas Tree Shop), I began getting that familiar, “I really wanna buy a guitar” feeling. I started to think about my fellow “Traveling Acai Berries” member, Steve, who has a beautiful (and beautiful-sounding) Martin D16-RGT acoustic guitar. I remember playing it and noticing how well it sounded. Every fret was in tune. I didn’t have to try so hard to make it sound great. Plus, it had some nice volume without having to strum very hard.
So, I thought about the idea of actually purchasing a Martin guitar. I mean, I was always a nay-sayer. I remember countless conversations with my brother, saying, “Oh, Martins are overpriced- there’s no way they can sound THAT good to justify being over a thousand dollars!”
Then, I played Steve’s guitar. It was magical. I knew I had to have one someday. Little did I know that day would be now!
So, the bug was in my mind. I began doing some research and honed-in on a few models. I decided right off the bat that I wanted an all solid wood guitar. To me, there’s no other way. I actually didn’t even want Steve’s same model because of its Micarta (synthetic) fretboard. Not to say that it’s a bad thing- I mean, it’ll NEVER wear down- but, to me, I really wanted an instrument I could hand down for generations.
You see, Martin guitars have been around since 1833 and have been produced (the all-wood ones, at least) in Nazareth, PA for over 175 years. That’s pretty incredible, especially considering that, after all this time, it’s STILL a family-run business! When you buy a high-quality Martin, you keep it for life (it has a lifetime warranty, too) and it only gets better (and even more valuable) with age.
So, my search brought up a few potential models, including the DSR, the D-15 Mahogany, and the DSM. These guitars are all “custom” because they were made for major guitar retailer Guitar Center. So, they’re not the standard Martin models, but they do offer a significant savings.
Which brings me to my next point: Yes, I gave myself a budget on this, but I really didn’t want to limit myself budget-wise. I mean, I set out to buy the best acoustic guitar I could possibly purchase- one that sounded great. I wanted the best acoustic money could buy. But, I ended up saving a lot of money only because “the best” to me didn’t include a ton of pearl inlays and fancy appointments. I think it’s true that, with Martins, they stop sounding better at a certain point…and then just start looking better. Sure, I could’ve gotten one with the perfect cut of wood on the top (no “bear claws”, as they say), but that doesn’t make the sound any better now, does it?
So, I went to a couple stores to try things out. I played the highest of the high end Martins, including the famed HD-28 and the Eric Clapton signature edition, which actually contained his signature inside the guitar! But, I didn’t love the sound. They sounded too muted to me. They certainly didn’t have the booming, yet sparklingly clear, tones that Steve’s model had.
So, I had to do more research. I learned that I was looking for a guitar with a spruce top and rosewood back and sides for the tone I liked. But, I wanted to get a mahogany neck, because I simply can’t resist that intoxicating mahogany smell. I also decided that I wanted a guitar with an ebony fretboard, because it was the kind of fretboard they used on the highest-end Martins.
I ended up finding the Martin DSR, which had everything I wanted except for the fretboard. I could’ve lived with that. But, the guitar had a satin finish to it. It looked okay (other than the tacky white binding) and was LOUD- a big plus. I came to the conclusion that the glossy coat was what was holding the other guitars back from being as loud as they could be. Then, I started thinking about the fact that I want this instrument to be the be-all end-all acoustic guitar. Am I really going to hand-down a guitar that didn’t have full-body gloss and that had a lower-end fretboard? I mean, the guitar was about $1000, but I still felt that I would be taking the low road.
So, I got pretty disheartened and kept searching. I spoke to my brother Mike, who then told me to expand my horizons. Martin isn’t the only high-end acoustic guitar company, you know. So, I seriously considered Taylor (so many famous people play them) and Larivee (a Canadian company that Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies uses). But, stores around here don’t sell Larivee and I’ve never heard or played one in person. And, I tried a couple of Taylors that were around $1,000 and they didn’t trill me. To me, they played like every other guitar I’ve tried.
And then, in my search through literally hundreds of pages of online forums and articles, I came across one post that mentioned the Martin MMV. It’s a model, originally made in 2005 (thus “MMV”) for Guitar Center. It featured EVERYTHING I wanted in the guitar: glossy, Sitka spruce top, East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and the elusive ebony wood fretboard! It had that same white binding, but I felt a lot better when I realize that the famed HD-28 had the same binding and looked very nice when glossy. I was so excited, but realized that I would have to buy this sight-unseen.
So, I did as much research on the guitar as I could. I literally read every webpage I could find about it. I wanted to buy it on eBay, but really wanted that Martin Lifetime (yes, LIFETIME) warranty, so I decided to buy it new. I finally found a 15% off coupon from a reputable site, which was good because this model (at Guitar Center, at least) was a full $500 more than the other models I was looking at.
Let me just say how much I love and appreciate my supportive wife, Becky, for understanding that I need such comfort items as these after working all day and night for the past year and a half!
Back to the story: I even got the guy to throw in six sets of Martin strings!
The guitar came in on Tuesday and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s LOUD and sounds amazing. It also smells wonderful. It came with a hard shell case, too. I realize that even higher-end Martins use “choice woods” and other classy appointments, but I truly believe that this model sounded better in my ears. It’s not the flashiest guitar, but I think it’s the highest quality and best sounding Martin before you just start paying for visual upgrades. I will be proud of this guitar for the rest of my life and will be proud to hand it down someday. But, they may have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. 🙂
I hope this guitar will further excite me to play music and inspire me to continue writing new songs. I look forward to playing it all the time now and feel like I finally have an acoustic guitar that brings me to the next level. I’m glad to be a Martin owner, too. I join some pretty good company there.
So, again, this may not be the perfect overall guitar, but to me, it certainly is. The sound, the look, the prestige- they all fit me like a glove. I hope it will be the last acoustic guitar I’ll ever need to buy. Of course, that just leaves me more room for my growing electric guitar collection!
Stay tuned- next week I bust-out the Martin MMV for my first Laptop Session acoustic cover song music video! See you then.