C.F. Martin is one of the most respected guitar manufacturers in the world. They offer a wide lineup of guitars from low-end to high-end, but with every model, you can expect superior quality and incredible sound. Knowing that everyone has different personal preferences and budgets, there was no possible way for us to choose just one and say, "this it the best Martin guitar for everyone." Instead, we broke things down by common price ranges and chose three Martins that we believe offer the best quality and performance in their respective range: under $1,000, under $750, and under $500. Article Summary
Martin is one of the oldest and best known acoustic guitar manufacturers around. That, however, isn’t even what makes them so special in the grand scheme of things. If you look at the market of acoustic guitars today, you will see that a very large portion of these instruments belongs to the Dreadnought type. Martin is the brand that invented this style, which has made a huge impact on the way we understand acoustic guitars today.
However, pushing the envelope is not all that Martin has done. One of the reasons why they are at the very top of the ladder is because of their policies regarding quality and sound. Since their founding, Martin has adamantly refused to scale up production of their instruments in order to maintain a superior level of quality. If you look at their history, Martin has been a relatively small shop for a long time, only entering serial production when their conditions were met.
Today, getting a Martin acoustic guitar is a guarantee of quality and outstanding sound. They are still the favorite of many professionals and legendary guitar players around the world. We have written this guide in order to get you familiar with this brand as well as to show you what kind of guitars you can find in their current lineup. As one could expect, there’s a lot to be seen here. We will start things off by introducing the best Martin guitars in three different price ranges, while the second part of the guide will focus more on the story of C.F. Martin and how to choose one of their guitars. First, let’s compare our three top picks side by side.
The best Martin guitar under $1,000
In terms of their overall offerings, Martin’s DRS2 sits right in the mid-range segment. This guitar is solid in all the right places, which is why it has established such a reputation over the years. Those looking for a versatile yet reliable stage guitar should look no further. On top of having a very refined tone, Martin has fitted the DRS2 with a set of Fishman Sonitone electronics. Going with Fishman was a sound decision, seeing how it takes a good preamp to properly render the natural acoustics of a guitar like this one.
Looking at the guitar, the first thing you will notice is that the DRS2 belongs to the Dreadnought category. Martin has kept it pretty simple with this one, going with a solid Sitka spruce top on a Sapele back and sides. Naturally, the body is made of solid pieces of wood, as you would expect from a proper mid-range model. What really separates the DRS2 from other models in its segment is the A-Frame X-1 bracing from Martin. It really holds everything together in a way that allows you to extract every ounce of performance out of this guitar.
The neck is a select hardwood piece joined to the body using a Mortise & Tenon neck joint. Interestingly enough, the fretboard is not made out of rosewood as you might think. Instead, they went with FSC Certified Richlite. This is also what they have used as the bridge material. This might irk some of the more conservative guitar players, but thankfully their decision to substitute traditional materials for synthetic ones for most of the hardware had no negative impact on the performance.
When it comes to performance, things are more or less standard for Martin. You will often hear of what many refer to as a ‘Martin tone’. To an outsider, that might come across as classic fanboy talk, but that is definitely not the case. Both Martin’s and Taylor’s guitars have a tone that is specific to their respective brands. You might not hear it in their lower end stuff, but mid-range and top tier guitars like the DRS2 definitely show this. In general terms, the tone is balanced, strong and full of color. There is a lot of projection with a great response in every part of the frequency range. It packs plenty of warmth, but also a good amount of brightness. With a good set of strings (which the stock ones definitely are), you will absolutely enjoy this acoustic guitar.
When it is time to plug the guitar into a PA system or an amp, Fishman takes over and kicks things into a higher gear. The built in pre-amp offers a lot of versatility in terms of tone shaping, but the absolute best thing is how accurately it amplifies the natural tone of the guitar. This is pretty hard to accomplish and you’ll often find the tone of most guitars changing somewhat when plugged in, but not with this one.
At the end of the day, the Martin DRS2 is a well-rounded acoustic guitar that offers phenomenal performance at a very reasonable price. Unlike many other brands, you’re not just paying for the name here – its quality and sound is worth every penny.
The best Martin guitar under $750
Moving down to the sub-$750 range, our pick – the Martin DX1AE – is somewhat unconventional, but every bit awesome. If there is one Martin model that has caused a bit of a ruckus in the community, it is this one. The whole issue is not about how this guitar performs, but rather which materials they have chosen to make it. Even so, it is by far one of the best models you can grab in this price range.
One quick glance reveals that we are looking at another Dreadnought style acoustic guitar. Just from a brief inspection, you can gather enough evidence to conclude that Martin’s quality control and level of finish hasn’t changed at all. When you pick this guitar up, it inspires confidence and feels like a very solid instrument that’s worth its price.
The top comes in form of a solid Sitka spruce piece, which is about as standard as it gets. The back and sides, however, are made of HPL. This is where all of the drama starts. HPL stands for High-Pressure Laminate and is a material that is made of multiple layers of compressed chopped wood. A laminate of any kind is generally a sign of a cheap guitar, so it’s understandable to question why Martin has chosen this path with a model that isn’t exactly cheap.
The first thing we need to understand is that not all laminate is the same. Some are better while some are worse in terms of acoustic properties. The HPL that Martin uses is actually very well made. The reason why they have chosen to use this material in the first place is to cut down costs of production, but if you take a truly close look at this guitar, it packs very similar hardware and design solutions as our previous pick. There’s the same X-1 bracing, the same nut, bridge, and saddle. Going with an HPL body has allowed Martin to include those components at a significantly lower price without making too much of an impact on performance.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about its performance. To sum things up in a quick sentence: this guitar sounds great. There’s enough of a response in the low end as well as trebles. The tone is reasonably defined, bright and offers some range. Martin opted to go with the same Fishman Sonitone preamp we have seen on DRS2, so the guitar’s amplified performance mirrors its acoustic tone pretty accurately as well.
Overall, the Martin DX1AE is a great lower mid-range guitar for anyone looking to find a true workhorse. Don’t be put off by the use of HPL as it definitely doesn’t change much in terms of sound, and as we all know, sound is the most important aspect you should be concerned with.
The best Martin guitar under $500
Topping the low-price category (under $500) is the Martin LXK2. This is what some would call a travel guitar due to its size (this designation is attributed to any acoustic guitar that is smaller and features a 23″ scale or shorter). It definitely features that shape, with a thin waist and extended lower as well as upper bouts. Regardless of whether you travel or not, the LXK2 is the best Martin guitar for those on a tight budget who still want the impressive quality Martin is known for.
Much like our previous pick, the LXK2 features an HPL body. The only difference is that in this case, the entire body is made of this material. With that said, HPL bodies are a much more common occurrence in this particular price range. What really matters is the build quality and performance.
Every Martin guitar, even their cheapest models, has to meet their tough quality control standards. Same goes for the LXK2. This little thing is built like a tank with no sloppy finish issues or anything similar that you might expect from a cheaper model. In addition, cheaper acoustic guitars often arrive from the factory with setup and intonation problems, but the Martin LXK2 doesn’t suffer from those issues either. The moment it reaches your doorstep, this bad boy is ready for use.
The hardware choices Martin went with are a bit simpler compared to their more expensive guitars, but efficient nonetheless. The tuning machines do a great job at key retention, even if you decide to go hard on the fretboard. The saddle and nut are set up just right, while the overall height of the action can only be described as comfortable.
In terms of performance, the LXK2 is at the forefront of its category. The sound is balanced and offers plenty of low-end response, which is often missing with travel guitars. Sure, it’s bright much like most of the similar models out there, but that brightness isn’t dry. Instead, there’s a very warm mid-range that picks up the slack and plenty of bass to fill in the gaps.
Overall, the Martin LXK2 is one of the absolute best guitars you can get in the sub-$500 price range – not just in the Martin family, but in the acoustic guitar market all around. It receives rave reviews for its quality and performance, despite being on the cheap side.
How we picked our top three
When you are dealing with a brand such as C.F. Martin, it is relatively hard to label one model as being better than the other. Sure, there are significant differences between their guitars, but overall quality is present in every single model they offer (which is great, because then you don’t have to worry too much about checking for quality). Because of this, we approached choosing the best Martin guitars by selecting models in price ranges that the average player would be considering, and then looking for certain aspects of design, materials, and features to make our top picks.
Holding the reputation as one of the best acoustic guitar manufacturers in the world means that some of Martin’s models are definitely going to be pricey. As a matter of fact, they have guitars that cost as much as a decent used car. We didn’t really want to include those in our research as such instruments are designed for professionals – and if you are at that level of skill and experience, you probably don’t need us to tell you which Martin guitar to look into. With that said, we focused more on their mid-range and lower mid-range segment since these are the models most readers and searchers will be wondering about.
One cool thing about acoustic guitars is that there are so many different body styles to choose from. The one we have focused on the most in this guide is the Dreadnought. The main reason for this is the fact that Martin is the brand which has invented this popular body style, and the fact that most guitar players today prefer it over more traditional ones. A Dreadnought generally offers the best type of sound for the money, as it brings a slightly extended mid-range to the table.
After looking over our top picks, you will probably wonder why we chose to include two acoustic electric models on our short list. The reason for this is fairly simple. The modern acoustic tone is shifting more and more towards amplification. By having a built-in pre-amp, you are able to practice at home tonight and go perform in your local venue tomorrow evening. Even if you don’t have any use for this tech right now, you will be happy you got it the moment you get near an amplifier. Plus, built-in electronics don’t take anything away from the experience, they just add to it. With most other brands, having on-board electronics means that sacrifices were made somewhere else. That is very rarely the case with Martin, so we chose to go with acoustic electrics all the way.
Things to consider before buying
As you probably know by now, Martin has a whole array of guitars in their offer. Sometimes choosing the one that is right for you can be a pain, but if you follow the advice below, we’ll help you figure out which is the best Martin guitar for your personal style.
What’s your budget?
The very first thing to do is to set up a budget. Be realistic with how much you are comfortable spending on a guitar and get the absolute best one you can for that money (while we normally try to recommend being conservative on spending, a guitar is one product where it pays to buy as high-end as possible). The good thing about Martin guitars is that they depreciate in value very slowly. In other words, your investment is a pretty low-risk one compared to getting another brand.
Find the right shape and size
If there is one aspect of acoustic guitars that often gets overlooked, it’s playing comfort. If you are not comfortable playing an acoustic guitar of your choice, chances are you won’t be able to get the most out of it. Too often, people buy guitars that are either too big or too small, and then playing becomes more of a chore than enjoyment. Find out which size and shape work the best for you and stick to that. If that means that you need a travel guitar, get a travel guitar – and vice versa.
Remember proper care and maintenance
Proper maintenance and care is always an important factor if you want your guitar to be at its best. This is even more important when you are dealing with a high-quality brand like Martin. The first thing you should look for is a proper case. Solid ones are the best, but not always the most practical. Gig bags are better than nothing; however, don’t expect any reasonable level of protection from them. After you get your case situation settled, we would advise following Martin’s Care and Feeding Guide for routine maintenance on your guitar over time.
Are C.F. Martin guitars really worth the money?
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to Martins, or Taylors for that matter, is that you are paying a huge premium just to have their logo on the headstock. What people often fail to understand is that both of these brands have a reputation to maintain and are held to a much higher level of scrutiny. Any failure to deliver what is expected of them can cause them a lot of trouble.
Is every guitar Martin ever made, perfect? No, but their track record trumps that of many other brands on the market. When you get a Martin guitar, you are investing in a reliable instrument that has a specific tone of its own. There is a reason why a large number of popular guitar players choose these guitars over anything else on the market.
Are Martin guitars good for beginners?
This question is often asked by those who are looking to buy their first guitar. At the end of the day, there are two answers we, along with a lot of others, can give you. Instead of just going straight for it, let’s look deeper into the issue at hand.
How serious are you about playing?
How you answer this question will tell you right away whether or not to get a Martin as your first guitar. If the answer is yes, all we can say is go for it. Changing guitars often is financially inefficient, especially with cheaper ones. They depreciate very quickly to a point where you’ll be lucky to get a third of what you’ve invested in the first place. If your budget allows for a decent Martin guitar, definitely go for it.
Are you good at taking care of your instruments?
When you start playing guitar, there will be a period where you’ll won’t be used to the size and shape of the instrument. In other words, you might bang the guitar here or there, bump it on corners and similar. Doing that to an expensive Martin model is something you definitely want to avoid. This is why many new guitar players tend to start with something cheap which they don’t have to worry about. However, if you are great at taking good care of your belongings, definitely go for a Martin.
Wrapping it up
Martin guitars have been and still are at the very top of the industry. Their expertise as well as refusal to compromise is what makes them one of the best. The three picks we’ve chosen are, in our opinion, the best Martin guitars in each of their respective price ranges. However, despite their price differences and spec differences, each offers true quality and incredible sound. Figure out which model fits your budget and get to playing!
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