Review: Martin 000-18E Retro Acoustic-Electric Guitar

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A new addition to Martin’s Retro series this year, the 000-18E Retro is the first short-scale (24.9 inches from nut to saddle) guitar in the line. It’s also a sweet-sounding guitar even when not using the revolutionary Fishman technology that makes the Retro series one of the great guitar innovations of this century so far.

The 000-18E Retro I tried out was really good unplugged, at least for certain applications. It was especially good for both fingerstyle and plectrum blues playing, with a sound that could be ringy and biting on the high end, with great low-end qualities as well. That said, the guitar was a bit on the bright side for rhythm playing with not a lot of bottom volume, and wasn’t very loud overall, not surprising given the smaller 000 auditorium body size. It was very well-balanced, though, and its overall tone did seem like it would help the guitar to cut through above other louder instruments, like banjos and dobros.

This guitar was very easy and fun to play, with nice, uniform action and perfect intonation, as evidenced by the balanced and in-tune harmonics at the 5th, 7th and 12th frets. The neck is a modified low oval profile with performing artist taper, and an ebony fingerboard, my favorite, that played smoothly and evenly. The neck width (1-3/4” at the nut to 2 1/8″ at the 12th fret) was just right for my average-size hands. True to the original pre-war model, it has 14 frets clear of a total of 20, mahogany back and sides, and abalone dot inlay on the fingerboard.

Electronically, like other Retro models, the guitar has the Fishman F1 Aura+ pickup system with several different microphone images, created by recording an actual 1940 000-18 “tone donor”  through vintage mics, then loading the mic images into the electronics to allow for creation of an authentic pre-war amplified sound, a process as 21st century as anything going on in the guitar world today. And considering that the street price for the 000-18E Retro is only a few hundred dollars more than a regular new acoustic 000-18, it makes sense to buy the one with the electronics unless you’re a player who never uses a mic or amplifier.

In the end, this is a cool guitar that’s easy to wield and easy to play. So if you’re looking for a smaller guitar with Martin quality without the dreadnought size, as well as one that will sound great plugged in, check out the 000-18E Retro.

List Price: $3,399

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