TESTED BY MICHAEL ROSS
IN EARLY 2010, MARTIN MADE A play for a larger share of the working musician market with its Performing Artist Series, the stated goal of which was to offer instruments that retain the Martin tone and styling while providing enhanced playability and onstage performance capability.
One of the first three models offered was the Grand Performance GPCPA1 featured here. Though the headstock shape remains pure Martin, the pickguard and arrow design inlays on the Grand Performance bear a passing resemblance to another manufacturer’s upscale acoustic guitars. That said, with its ebony headplate, solid Ovangkol binding, and the blue paua and wood fiber inlaid rosette that borders its soundhole, this is one beautiful instrument.
The patented Martin construction remains as well, evidenced by the solid rosewood back and sides, solid Sitka spruce soundboard with hybrid scalloped bracing, and Martin’s classic mortise and tenon neck joint. Martin has always had beauty and build; what was needed was enhanced playability and sonic versatility. Fortunately the Grand Performance has both in spades. I tested it through a Fishman Loudbox Mini amplifier, and direct into an M-Audio 1814 Firewire interface that allowed me to record it using Ableton Live on my iMac.
The Performing Artist Series neck profile is more parallel than the usual Martin, with a slimmer taper at the 12th fret. As primarily an electric player, I can attest that this will help those used to low action and light strings feel right at home on an “unplugged” gig. The cutaway also provides a lead guitarist with easy access to the upper reaches of the fretboard.
Of course, we all know said gigs are far from unplugged, and it is here that the Grand Performance really shines. I admit to some reservations about the ability of an onboard electronic device to “replicate the sound of nine different high-quality studio microphones,” but the Fishman Aura won me over. Whether or not the settings sound exactly like miking the guitar with an AKG C414-B or a Shure SM57 is moot; the sounds that the system offers add measurably to the tone of the instrument when plugged in, and isn’t that what really matters?
The manual (and trust me, you will need it) recommends that you blend in less of the Aura when using an amp and more when recording. My own experience bore this out: the Martin’s Gold Plus under-saddle pickup sounded great through the Fishman Loudbox Mini with just a bit of Aura added. When recording, using more Aura than saddle pickup added a definite “air” to the sound and reduced piezo attack—all with no noise, thanks to the preamp’s high-grade components, 32-bit internal processing, and 24-bit audio conversion. Which mic setting you choose, whether for live or recording, will be a matter of taste, but every one of them sounded musical to my ears.
With its electric-like playability, onboard tuner and compressor, effective feedback suppressor, and the sonic versatility afforded by the Aura system, the Grand Performance GPCPA1 and its series siblings are well equipped for a lot of onstage action everywhere from cafes to concert halls.
CONTACT Martin Guitars, (610) 759-2837; martinguitar.com
PRICE $2,999 street
NUT WIDTH 1 3/4"
NECK Select hardwood
FRETBOARD Solid black ebony, 25.4" scale
TUNERS Gold-plated die-cast
BODY Solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, solid Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Solid black ebony
ELECTRONICS Fishman F1 Aura, Martin Gold Plus under-saddle pickup
CONTROLS Two multi-purpose knobs
FACTORY STRINGS Martin Studio Performance Phosphor Bronze, Light Gauge (MSP4100)
KUDOS Rich, even acoustic tone. Easy to play. Pickup combination sounds great through amps and P.A. or recording boards.