Whatever your guitar background, you'll find something to love in this radical reinvention of the contemporary acoustic.
- Innovative cavernous cutaway design with singular shape and look.
- Fabulously playable throughout the whole neck.
- Nice price.
- Some pickup compression and quack when played percussively with an aggressive attack.
This Martin is truly special, and to have such a progressive acoustic-electric drop virtually out of the blue from America’s most historic guitar manufacturer is like having a Tesla suddenly roll off the line at Ford.
The SC-13E represents a totally new shape and style, with all sorts of innovative features, including a cavernous cutaway and a revolutionary neck attachment. We've already interviewed Martin instrument design manager Tim Teel on how the S took shape. Here, we put it through its paces.
Martin makes clear that this guitar is different from the get-go. The gig bag’s plush interior is colored a groovy blue hue that also appears in the rosette, the target inlay at the 12th fret and the outline at the edge of its asymmetrical body. The form may appear odd to some, but to my eyes the curvaceous S is sexy, especially when hanging on a player’s body because of how it hugs the hips and suggests forward motion.
The soundhole contains the guitar’s stealth electronics: Volume and tone flywheel controls for the Fishman MX preamp are under the upper lip, and the tuner is below the lower lip. I love the tuner, not only because it’s hidden but also because I’m tired of losing clip-on tuners, and using it automatically mutes the onboard preamp. While I experienced some compression and quack when playing percussively with an aggressive attack, the MX delivers amplified tone adequate for the majority of players.
The Martin S is a shredder’s dream machine. I’ve come across no other acoustic with such fantastic upper-register access. Martin’s Sure Align neck system delivers dovetail security via a heel-less linear attachment, so you can get the fretting-hand thumb all the way up to where the neck joins the body at the 13th fret.
From that anchoring position, I’m able to stretch my pinkie all the way up to the highest fret on the first string while simultaneously hitting the top fret on the sixth string with my ring finger, and my hands are not large. The absence of a “15th fret hump” allows for smooth position transitions up into the short rows.
Right out of the box, the SC-13E offers gratification across the neck’s entire length, and the helical nature of its shapeshifting profile is another essential element in this. In open position, the neck feels full. Martin shaved the bass side slightly to assist thump wraparounds when making cowboy chords. The balance is very even in the middle region, where making barre chords is key.
Heading into the upper register, the profile thins out and feels more like an electric neck. Lead licks flow like water, and all sorts of new avenues open up. For example, I found myself placing a capo much higher than usual and making all kinds of chimey chords and melodies as a result.
The SC-13E comes with a custom set of extra-light strings that contributes to the electric guitar feel. It was a bit too fluffy for my taste, so I restrung it with a normal light set. The action was still great, and I had what I needed under my fingers. The Sure Align system is extraordinarily adjustable, so Martin dealers can optimize the SC-13E on the spot to suit every player’s requirements.
Its groovy looks and über playability wouldn’t mean squat if the SC-13E didn’t have a solid acoustic sound, and there’s the final wow factor. By designing special bracing to accommodate the asymmetrical shape, Martin managed to maintain its bold, time-honored tone on this newfangled beauty.
Fine veneered koa back and sides provide a punch that sounds as good as the wood grain looks, and the solid Sitka spruce top delivers a cozy springboard in complement. Having the neck join the body at the 13th fret allowed Martin to employ a full scale length for plenty of power, pop and projection. Ultimately, the tone is well balanced from low to high, as one would hope from a Grand Auditorium–style body with 000 depth.
Myriad novel ideas come to fruition in this Road Series addition, yet the SC-13E is still very much a Martin. The S is simply a brand-new branch off a tree of grand tradition. Electric players and acoustic adventurists will naturally gravitate to it, and stage performers will find it incredibly comfortable to operate from a standing position. I showed this guitar off to several players within my circle, and they all wanted to buy it on the spot. All said, the Martin SC-13E earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
PRICE $1,499 street
NUT WIDTH 1.75”, white corian
NECK Select hardwood
FRETBOARD Ebony, 25.4” scale
TUNERS Nickel open-gear
BODY Koa fine veneer back and sides, solid Sitka spruce top
BRIDGE Ebony with compensated white Tusq saddle
ELECTRONICS Fishman MX with Sonicore undersaddle piezo pickup and soundhole-mounted tone and volume controls, soundhole tuner
FACTORY STRINGS Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 custom light 92/8 Phosphor Bronze, .011–.052
WEIGHT 4.4 lbs
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