Martin HD Elliot Easton Custom Edition

April 12, 2007

A major part of this new signature model’s raison d’etre resides in its namesake’s desire to give a little respect to mahogany as an acoustic body wood. Rosewood-bodied flat-tops have traditionally gotten all the accolades, in the sense that Martin has generally reserved upgraded appointments such as herringbone trim and diamond position markers, or abalone rosettes and purfling for its rosewood Style

28 and 45 (or 41), respectively, while the mahogany Style 18 and below wore simple, understated black or tortoise bindings and dot position markers. Aside from the trimmings, Martin justifies the nearly $5k price tag on this guitar with the superior cuts of solid quilted mahogany used for the back and sides, which exhibit the finest and most luminous grain I have seen in a long time in this variety of timber. In tonal terms, mahogany is a little brighter and more tightly defined than rosewood, if lacking in rosewood’s bountiful, blooming bass response. In a dreadnought, however, the balance of sparkle over boom is perhaps not a bad thing, as the body size and depth already cater to a full low-end response.

The HD Elliot Easton wears a top of solid Adirondack spruce, and a particularly juicy piece of this increasingly rare wood it is, with a rich, straight grain beneath what appears to be a fairly thin and not over-buffed gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish. A fine herringbone rosette is matched by herringbone purfling bound in grained ivoroid—all of which is offset nicely by a beveled, faux-tortoiseshell pickguard. The back’s center stripe features Martin’s HD zigzag pattern, which complements the herringbone beautifully.

Another choice cut of mahogany forms the guitar’s neck—which has a gentle “V” profile, as per Mr. Easton’s specifications—with a diamond volute behind the nut, a grained ivoroid heel cap, and a factory installed neck-heel strap button. Its bound fretboard also features Martin’s elegant abalone diamonds and squares position markers. The appeal of different neck profiles can be subjective, but this subtle shape fits the hand extremely well. Its thickness of slightly less than an inch at the first fret combines well with the 1h" width at the nut to yield a neck that’s easy for most hands to wrap around for rhythm playing, while still offering enough real estate for flatpicked lead runs, or bass/melody work in the Travis-picking style. The test model arrived beautifully set up and playable right out of the (included) form-fitting hardshell case, with a medium-low action that made for easy fretting all the way up the neck, while still permitting buzz-free slide work.

A journey through the soundhole revealed extremely tidy kerfing work with nary a drop of excess glue evident, and smoothly scalloped Adirondack spruce braces in the top’s X-bracing. The black ebony bridge carries a compensated bone saddle and white pins with tortoise dots, and a bone nut forms the anchor point at the opposite end (the guitar carries a Tusq saddle when fitted with the optional Fishman Ellipse Aura electronics system).

Attacked with a pick, the HD Elliot Easton has enough guts and punch to be the rhythm cannon that many players seek in a Martin dreadnought, while possessing the clarity and definition required for lead work. Strum it with some force, and chords boom out with loads of ring, and a long, balanced decay. Individually picked strings in transitional runs and bass lines have enough clarity and sparkle to stand out amid sustained chords. You can whack the strings mighty hard before even a hint of significant compression or top distortion creeps in, yet the HD lends itself to fingerstyle playing surprisingly well for a large-bodied acoustic, and it doesn’t seem to require much muscle to elicit sweet, round tones. It doesn’t have quite the bovine richness in the lows and lower mids that you hear in some great rosewood-bodied dreadnoughts, but such guitars often risk being too boomy in certain applications anyway. This great mahogany creation offers a smooth, rounded, balanced, and yet attention-grabbing voice that should prove extremely versatile.

From tip to tail, the HD Elliot Easton Custom Edition exhibits considerable attention to detail, along with a subtly thoughtful redraw of traditional mahogany dreadnought design. This modern classic oozes Martin tradition while embodying some effective new twists, and it is everything a proud owner would hope to acquire in a guitar from this storied American maker. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun to play, and it sounds extremely good. Like most fine acoustic guitars made from solid tonewoods, the HD Elliot Easton should blossom and mature over the years, but as it stands right off the line, it’s already an enormous pleasure for the ears and the fingers.

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