When Martin’s Retro series, with Fishman’s F1 Aura Plus electronics system, was unveiled a couple years ago, the event marked the introduction of a major innovation in the acoustic-electric guitar industry. Using 21st century technology to model the finest characteristics of vintage microphones, and then incorporating that technology into guitar electronics to allow a player to sound as if he or she were playing through one of those mics, Martin (with some help from Fishman) trumped everybody. Those mics were modeled by veteran engineer Bil VornDick (Alison Krauss, Charlie Haden), and included ribbon, cardioid, and small and large diaphragm condenser mics for Martin Retros like the HD-28 and 000-18.
The system is also included in the D35E, a dreadnought Retro that comes with a list of the vintage mics that are modeled and a DVD to help to learn how to run the Fishman system. This guitar sounds great either unplugged or using the system, or just being played with the pickup alone and no mic imaging. I tried one out, and, unplugged, the balance was almost startlingly perfect, flawless straight across the sonic spectrum. Dreads are generally noted for the big sound that matches the sizes of their bodies, but the 35E Retro I played wasn’t quite as loud unplugged as I expected it to be. But with a top of European spruce, and the three-piece back and sides of East Indian rosewood, this is a good live guitar both unplugged and not, and probably a better studio guitar than a lot of acoustics that are hard to get an even sound out of when a mic is put in front of them as opposed to plugging in.
The modified low oval profile neck with a Performing Artist taper was excellent, very fast with a smooth ebony fingerboard, satin finish and grained Ivoroid binding, unlike its cousin the D-28, which doesn’t have fretboard binding. It has a bone nut and a Tusq drop-in saddle on an ebony 1930s-style belly bridge. The guitar also comes in a southpaw version at no extra charge; street price is about $3399.
Not every guitar is for every guitar player, as instruments respond differently to each set of fingers and everyone is listening with a unique set of ears. But if you’re in the market for a quality dread, or haven’t had a chance to check out what the Retro system in general sounds like, find yourself a Martin dealer where you can sit down with a D35E retro, both with and without an amp.