Martin’s most radical design is its hottest acoustic-electric, the SC. The line recently received four new models, topped by the stylish Custom Shop SC-2022, which I’m looking at this month. It bolsters the revolutionary form of the S body substantially with all solid-wood construction, heightens functionality via dual-element Fishman electronics and adds dazzling appointments. With only 300 in the limited-edition run, I was honored to receive one for review.
You can sometimes tell an instrument is exceptional just by its case, and that was true with the SC-2022. The molded hardshell silver chariot for this Custom Shop collector’s item looks like an aluminum Airstream RV. Take it into any venue and everyone will know you’re packing something extraordinary.
The SC-2022 is essentially a cross between an SC and Martin’s other most forward-thinking line, the Modern Deluxe. In addition to its signature S shape, the SC’s primary features are its Sure Align neck attachment system built with an innovative linear (parallel) dovetail joint, and a glacial cutaway. Primary Modern Deluxe features include solid woods (SCs typically have veneered woods) gold frets and tuners, Liquidmetal bridge pins and torrified tops. The SC-2022 has all that, plus a Vintage Tone System (VTS) Sitka spruce top designed to age the tone and an asymmetrical partial soundboard re-curve designed to add bass.
Cutting chops on the SC-2022 feels as easy as driving a hot knife through butter. A light touch is all that’s needed to set the flexible top in motion. Interestingly, light strings (.012–.054) are recommended for this SC rather than the custom lights (.011–.052) advised for the others. I always found those to be too light and would restring with .012s anyway. This is a beefier beast, with solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, so it all makes sense.
The best thing about the singular SC neck is how its helical profile morphs as the fretboard ascends and eventually gravitates toward electric neck territory. It feels voluptuous in open position, with a meaty treble side and a bit of the bass side shaved down for easy thumb wrapping. It starts to even out around the fifth position, when you want the thumb more in the middle for making barre chords, and thins out toward the top to accommodate the natural twist of the wrist when shooting the moon into the short rows.
Given the unprecedented access provided by the heel-less neck attachment, the entire upper fretboard is fair play on all of the strings. As designer Tim Teel explains, “We figured if we could keep the neck itself completely under the fingerboard instead of having the typical tongue expansion that gets glued onto the top, it would make for a straight, easy-playing neck, without the hump that traditionally occurs around the 15th fret.”
As a result, your third- and fifth-position licks can be echoed a full octave higher, adding a top-tier layer of fretted frosting to whatever musical cake you bake. The intonation remains pretty accurate way up there. The SC might not be my first choice Martin for fingerpicking, or for country cowboy-chord strumming, but it’s a real jack-of-all-trades, providing exceptional playability for practically anything, and the shred factor is off the chart.
The SC-2022 sounds a lot like a Modern Deluxe: in other words, a more high-fidelity take on the traditional Martin tone. It’s heartier and more complex than other SCs, though not quite as hearty or high-projection as some other body styles. It has the balance of a triple 0 with a bit more snap in the strings from a full 25.4-inch scale length, like an OM. That said. the SC’s body is actually based on Martin’s Grand Performer: It’s slightly longer than a triple 0, the neck joins the body at the 13th fret on the upper bout, and the extensive cutaway joins at the 17th fret, so the resulting sound is also as unique as its asymmetrical body. As Tim Teel notes, “A 13th-fret position neck joint with a full scale length delivers short-scale playability with long-scale tone.” Solid woods, unique bracing and American craftsmanship from the Nazareth Custom Shop for the first time on an SC clearly make major sonic contributions to its supple acoustic sound.
The onboard Fishman Aura VT Blend pickup and preamp system brought over from the Modern Deluxe line is a significant upgrade, and it captures this SC’s sonic spectrum quite capably. Under the lip in the bass side of the sound hole lies a volume wheel, an all-in-one style scooped EQ and a switch for a flat or a bass-boosted sound. I appreciated the latter.
The Blend control under the treble side facilitates quick thumb adjustments to blend in an appropriate amount of mic. A smidgen of mic magic is about all the average rock-band configuration will allow before feedback becomes an issue onstage. But just a touch is fine, as the pickup sounds natural enough to hold its own in a band mix. Bringing more mic mojo in a solo setting sounds glorious.
The Custom Shop SC-2022 may be the ultimate pro stage axe, as it delivers the playability of an electric guitar with the percussive wood tone only achievable with an excellent acoustic guitar. The easy feel under the fingers, the shoot-the-moon fingerboard, the quality pickup, the hip body hang, the sexy S factor with all that seashell bling – it all adds up to an awesome performance partner.
My main concern is how those opulent cosmetic touches might put the price past most working pros. As Martin VP Fred Greene explains, “We had requests for an all-solid American SC from the moment we introduced the first model. The issue is that the tool-and-die machinery for making an SC is very specific, and it’s all in our Mexican facility. So we created this limited edition with features a pro player would appreciate, and an elegant aesthetic that appeals to collectors. When these move, it will make a stronger case for the machinery needed in Nazareth to manufacture more models that will appeal to more players at all levels up and down the line.”
So there you go. If you’ve been waiting for an even more sophisticated version of the SC, let Martin know. These 300 will surely sell fast to well-heeled pros and collectors alike, after which we will hopefully get larger runs of more-workmanlike American SCs, and the collectors will win as well when the creativity keeps flowing. The SC-2022 is the current coup de grâce, and it’s going to be like pulling teeth to make my hands put this precious prototype back in that fancy silver case, let alone the shipping box.
Visit Martin for more information.
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