Holiday Gear Guide 2012: Martin D18E Retro Acoustic/Electric Guitar

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Martin D18E Retro Acoustic/Electric Guitar

(MSRP $3,399)

It was only a matter of time before Martin figured out how to incorporate a technological advancement that was on the same level of excellence as the company’s legendary guitars. Martin’s D18E Retro features the Fishman F1 Aura + electronics system, which has vintage guitar presets that were created using a vintage 1937 D-18 played through various vintage and boutique microphones. The sounds were created with the input and mic collection of noted Nashville engineer Bil VornDick (Bob Dylan, Alison Krauss).

First of all, in a strictly unplugged setting, the guitar sounds great, as do most Martins. Rarely does this company let anything through the doors that isn’t high quality, with the hope that all their guitars will age wonderfully, and many of them do. With a Sitka spruce top, mahogany back and sides, and ebony fingerboard on a Performing Artist Series neck, the one we tested was a little stiff, but it was right out of the box and needed some exercise. Tone and balance were great, and it was easy and comfortable to play. Again, it’s a Martin.

Electronically, the new system is a great advance, though there’s a learning curve at first, especially for players whose ears might not be all that attuned to differences in timbre and frequency. The guitar features an “Easy Mode,” which offers a choice of three different settings that are based on the sounds of vintage mics. But you can just play with the pickup’s normal sound using the Easy Mode if you prefer. The “Performance Mode” feature, however, allows for more in-depth shaping of the guitar’s tone and takes a little work and patience when trying to dial in what you want to hear. In the end, though, it’s worth the effort if you’re a real tone chaser.

This guitar can be found at a street price of about 25 percent less than its list price of $3,399, which is actually pretty reasonable considering the capabilities of this guitar. Plan to spend some time working with the electronics if you go to a store to check one out, and make sure to find a salesman who really knows what the guitar is about. – RICK MOORE

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