From the neck down, the Modern Deluxe instruments introduced by Martin this year are endlessly interesting and mark a major step forward for America’s oldest acoustic guitar manufacturer. They’re loaded with forward-minded features, such as torrified tops, titanium truss rods, Liquidmetal bridge pins and carbon-fiber-composite bridge plates, plus copious sophisticated appointments and a standout neck modeled after one from a 1930 Martin Museum piece.
Martin did away with the Vintage Series when it introduced the Modern Deluxe Series, which now resides above the Standard Series (which was “re-imagined” in 2018) and the Authentic Series with its spot-on recreations of classics. The Modern Deluxe is currently offered in four styles: D-18, 000-28 and the OM-28 and D-28 models on review.
The guitars sport several eye-catching elements. The first one likely to make you look twice is a set of Liquidmetal bridge pins. Colored white with a red acrylic dot in the middle, they appear to be looking right back at you, which is either creepy or cool, depending on your point of view. Red eyes don’t bug me a bit. Elegant appointments include a script logo of inlaid abalone on the headstock, as well as abalone side dots and fancy fretboard inlays, golden open-gear tuners and frets, and lovely wooden top-and-bottom bindings the likes of which Martin hasn’t done on production models since way back in the ’20s and ’30s.
The first thing you might notice when you pick up a Modern Deluxe is the weight, or lack thereof. Contributing factors include the titanium truss rod, open-gear tuners and absence of optional onboard electronics on these review units. In any case, the Modern Deluxe feels downright sprightly. When you wrap a hand around a Modern Deluxe neck, it’s noticeably different and somewhat asymmetrical, due to its distinct origin. When a few of us GP editors had the honor of playing some artifacts in the Martin Museum earlier this year, the one that knocked me out most was a 1930 OM-45 Deluxe. It had tone to die for and a neck to live for. According to Martin VP of product Fred Greene, many others have felt the same magic.
“We were working on an Authentic recreation of that OM-45 Deluxe,” Greene says, “and everybody kept commenting on how much they loved that neck profile. We wanted the neck on the Modern Deluxe to be, well, deluxe, so we took another look at the neck from the guitar in the museum and realized that it had a funky design. Whoever the dude was that carved that neck in 1930 sanded a bit more off the treble side than the bass side, so it has its own weird vibe. We wound up using that whole neck profile for the Modern Deluxe Series, so it was a good way of tying together a guitar that’s very modern with one of the original deluxe Martins.”
I took the D-28 along with me when I interviewed Bruce Cockburn. Once he picked it up, he could hardly put it down thanks to the neck’s excellent playability. “I give it an A-plus!” he eventually declared.
The Modern Deluxe has a high-fidelity tonal quality, with more edge, attack and vivaciousness than a traditional Martin. It’s highly responsive, quite loud, has gobs of headroom and sustains for days. The OM-28 has a bold snappiness that’s uncommon for an instrument of its body size, while the D-28 has an even, balanced tone that is generally associated with smaller-bodied instruments.
The OM has a superior singing quality in the upper regions of the treble strings, while the dreadnought delivers more boom in the bass, but not an overabundance. These two Modern Deluxes truly sound like siblings from a distinct series, so it’s fair to assume that the triple 0 and D-18 do as well, being that they are of the same body sizes. The triple 0 has a slightly shorter scale length, and the D-18 has bolder-sounding mahogany back and sides, rather than rosewood like the others.
All feature Adirondack spruce bracing applied with protein glue, and Vintage Tone System Sitka spruce tops that are torrified - heated up and dried out to achieve the tone of a top that’s been around since the 1930s. Evaluating that is an interesting challenge due to so many of the aforementioned modern features working in combination. I’ll simply say that, to my ears, they sound exceptional for being brand new, and it’s impossible to speculate on how pre-aged wood will actually age over the long haul.
The Modern Deluxe is something of a paradox - a fresh take that maintains the essence of Martin’s hallmark sound. Modern players seeking a more percussive instrument, and who may have eschewed the very notion of owning a Martin, must now reconsider. And anyone considering a Modern Deluxe compared to, say, a Martin Standard must evaluate whether they are willing to drop an additional grand or so on an MD.
GP gave the Standards we reviewed Editors’ Pick awards. We stand by that, of course, but we must also give these Modern Deluxes the same honor. The neck alone is a must-play, and the MDs’ tones are fabulous. It’s simply a matter of whether you want that modern edge on your Martin or a more stylized look, and which body type fits your playing style. They are definitely worth auditioning, and it’s particularly interesting to compare the Standard Series models directly to the new Modern Deluxes. An enjoyable experience is guaranteed!
Modern Deluxe OM-28 and D-28
PRICE $3,999 street each
NUT WIDTH 1 3/4", bone
NECK Genuine mahogany
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.4" scale
FRETS 20, copper-infused
TUNERS Waverly, gold open-gear
BODY East Indian rosewood back and sides with European flamed maple binding, VTS Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated bone saddle
ELECTRONICS Optional, but not included on review model
FACTORY STRINGS Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 (MA540T Light 92/8 Phosphor Bronze .012–.054 on OM-28; MA550T Medium .013–.056 on D-28)
WEIGHT 4 lbs
KUDOS Killer neck. Lightweight, vibrant, and loud. Fancy appearance. Impeccable craftsmanship