Martin SC-13E Special Burst Review

With its well-balanced tone this acoustic-electric sounds as sweet as it looks.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst
(Image: © Martin)

GuitarPlayer Verdict

Considering its overall playability, strong sound and star stage presence, the Martin SC-13E Special Burst earns an Editors’ Pick Award.

Pros

  • +

    Infinitely stage-worthy acoustic-electric with crazy playability

  • +

    Chunky acoustic and amplified tone,

  • +

    Sexy look and hip-hugging body hang

Cons

  • -

    Lacks the soundhole tuner of the original SC-13E

  • -

    Bright white circle inlays on dark ebony neck are a bit of an acquired taste

  • -

    Not available in left-handed version

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In 2020, Martin rolled the dice on a radical new S design, and it paid off by becoming the company’s most popular acoustic-electric. So what next? Double down, of course, or in this case, triple down.

Building on the successful asymmetrical body shape, with its deep cutaway facilitated by a revolutionary linear dovetail neck attachment, Martin has expanded the range to include three new models.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

Joining the original SC-13E are the more affordable SC-10E ($1,299), the slightly upgraded SC-13E Special ($1,799) and the fancier SC-13E Special Burst (opens in new tab), on review here. Like the original, all three new editions belong to the Road Series, meaning they are designed at Martin headquarters in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and built with veneered back and side woods at Martin’s south-of-the-border factory in Mexico.

The Special Burst has stunning back and sides made of a fine ziricote veneer, with amazing dark-brown grains running deep and wide, highlighted by a glossy finish and attached to the top with bright-white binding.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

The top is available with or without a burst. We found the honey/tobacco aesthetic on this one highly complimentary, as is the multi-stripe black-and-white rosette that helps bring the whole color scheme together.

As for the fingerboard inlay, described as “ziricote dot with plastic ivory pattern border,” I could appreciate its vaguely celestial vibe, especially in a darkened room. Others felt the inlay detracted from the Special Burst’s sophisticated look, but everyone agreed that the nickel open-gear tuners with skeleton key buttons are a nice touch.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

I haven’t played many ziricote instruments, but this one sounds as sweet as it looks. I did spend considerable time reviewing the original SC-13E, with koa back and sides. As impressive as that was, this Special Burst looks and sounds a bit richer to my eyes and ears.

The inherent durability makes it less likely to crack under the rigors of the road

There’s heartiness to the tone, and it doesn’t come at any loss of presence. The sound is as deep as it is wide. It’s especially impressive coming from veneered rather than solid back and side woods, and the inherent durability makes it less likely to crack under the rigors of the road.

Martin describes the bracing as “treble side scalloped X with non-scalloped tone bars.” No matter how the physics work, the top is super resonant.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

One of the primary feature upgrades here is the L.R. Baggs Element (opens in new tab) pickup. It has discrete flywheel tone and volume controls on the lip of the sound hole, and it indeed delivers a robust amplified sound, making this model worthy of a working pro.

One thing missing from its predecessor is the onboard sound hole tuner. That was hip, but it’s easy enough to attach a headstock tuner, and in the end, superior tone takes precedence.

Like all S models, the SC-13E Special Burst is built to shred, and the helical nature of its neck profile is key. In lower positions, it’s full and chunky on the bass side. Move up the neck a bit, and the form becomes more evenly balanced to make barre chords a cinch.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

The heel-less nature of the Sure Align neck attachment at the 13th fret facilitates linear licks and stretch chords all the way to the top like no other acoustic guitar, and practically like an electric guitar. Extra-light–gauge strings add to the ease of play.

Interestingly, it seems that a hearty pick, such as the Luxe by Martin (opens in new tab), is the perfect plucking partner. I found the action a little too low for fingerpicking with fake nails.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

For those that prefer heftier strings with more tension, fear not. The Sure Align system is extraordinarily adjustable, so Martin dealers can suit the SC-13E to any style on the spot. 

Aside from the obvious shred ability for the seasoned guitarist, the almost effortless playability of the Special Burst also makes it an excellent instrument for ambitious beginners or folks who simply want a great-sounding guitar that doesn’t fight back and encourages experimentation.

The almost effortless playability of the Special Burst also makes it an excellent instrument for ambitious beginners

I had such a friend over, and he fell in love with the guitar immediately, proclaiming, “I could write a hundred songs on this.”

I’d also recommend any Martin S model to older or injured players that would appreciate an ultra-low-resistance instrument for ergonomic and therapeutic reasons.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

Others may have different ideas of what the “S” implies, but to my eyes the shape of its Grand Auditorium style body with 000 depth is sexy, and the playability is superior. The way it hugs the hips when standing is super comfortable, so the shape not only suggests forward motion, it also makes you want to move around.

The tone is well balanced, and the Baggs Element delivers it with plenty of mojo through a P.A. The Special Burst attracts eyeballs the moment it emerges from its groovy gig bag.

Considering its overall playability, strong sound and star stage presence, the Martin SC-13E Special Burst earns an Editors’ Pick Award.

Martin SC-13E Special Burst

(Image credit: Martin)

Specifications:

  • BUILT: Mexico
  • NUT: White Corian, 1.75” wide
  • NECK: Select hardwood
  • FRETBOARD: Ebony, 25.4” scale 
  • FRETS: 20
  • TUNERS: Nickel open-gear
  • BODY: Ziricote fine veneer back and sides, solid Sitka-spruce top
  • BRIDGE: Ebony with compensated white Tusq saddle
  • ELECTRONICS: L.R. Baggs Element
  • FACTORY STRINGS: Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 Custom Light Phosphor Bronze .011–.052
  • WEIGHT: 4.4 lbs (as tested)

Visit Martin (opens in new tab) for more information.