Understated, incredible value for money, and boldly in fashion; Guy Little has a hankering for the all-‘hog Martin
C.F. Martin & Co.’s history as one of the world’s leading guitar makers knows no bounds. For over 180 years, America’s oldest guitar brand is a tour-de-force for constantly redefining standards and coming up trumps. Whether it’s a Road Series, or a Custom Shop D-45, when buying a Martin guitar you can’t really go far wrong.
Martin’s first all-mahogany guitar was the 2-17 – an adorable parlour with a slotted headstock – released in the ‘20s. These nimble little powerhouses became trendsetters for blues players because they were loud, bright, sweet – and also cheap. Gibson soon found that this was the way to go and released their L-O mahogany top in the latter part of that decade.
The Martin style 15 then came into being in the ‘40s, and the 000-15M that I have sitting on my knee, with its gorgeous understated looks, is the new trendsetter – for the modern guitar-toting troubadour, that is.
No matter what guitar I’m about to review I always have to get one thing out of the way first – smelling the guitar as I pull it from the case (a hardshell TKL lined with green faux fur, since you ask). The aroma is positively delicious; almost as delicious as the choclately mahogany that’s neatly tucked inside.
The 000-15M continues the 000 Martin 14-fret-to-body size – which is sitting comfortably on my knee as I write this. The first thing you’ll notice are its minimal appointments and simple looks – again, taking inspiration from the earlier guitars from the ‘40s and ‘50s. There’s no binding here at all, only minimal fine lines on the soundhole rosette. The understated appeal of all-‘hog guitars with no superfluous adornments is certainly in vogue at the moment. Ask any luthier and they’ll tell you the same thing – everyone wants mahogany. Whether this is to do with notable players using mahogany more, a resurgence for old-time traditions, or because we’re going all environmentally conscious, I don’t know – but there’s a demand.
It’s all-solid mahogany for the top, back and sides, as well as the neck. These guitars are US-made, in the same factory as some highly ornate models, and they all share the same build quality of some Martins that dwarf the price of this instrument.
Continuing with the old-style appointments, we’ve got nickel open-geared tuners with butternbean knobs sitting atop the headstock, which has a lovely figured east Indian rosewood headplate. There’s also the Delmar faux tortoise pickguard that sits in with the grain of the 000-15M perfectly. We’ve got a bone nut at the bridge with ebony pins and a string spacing of 2-1/8”. It’s got great all-rounder player appeal. In fact, the only thing that’s a little fancy is the abalone diamond finerboard inlays – an upgrade from the usual dots. The neck is a low oval shape, which fits in your hand perfectly, and would be a welcome addition to someone migrating over from an electric guitar. The satin finish enhances this guitar’s playability – which it was oozing with from the start. It takes very little effort to make this guitar truly sing.
The general look and feel of this instrument is one that’s simple and uncluttered, yet it’s achingly trendy. It has remained faithful to a no-frills approach, not bothering about the flashy looks here. Where Martin could have skimped and gone with laminated tonewoods, we have solid mahogany which tells us one thing: it’s all about tone. Unadulterated, glorious tone.
So I’ve already fallen in love with the looks of this guitar, but will I love how it sounds? First things first: the bracing. Martin has used a simplified A-frame take on the usual X-bracing system with a section that reinforces the bridge plate, with struts made from Sitka spruce which aims to create a tight, bright, and vibrant tone chamber.
When you think of mahogany guitars, you’ll probably think blues; that’s alright, but this 000-15M is so much more. The mahogany produces a clear, articulate, and balanced tone across the entire range; another tick next to the “all-rounder” box. Fingerstyle licks are crisp and punchy as you’d expect (I wasn’t expecting a ‘hog top to be so crisp, actually) but when you strum chords it takes this guitar into a new level of hyper activity, which is why you’ll see so many singer-songwriters wielding one of these. Its sound is perfect for vocal accompaniment and despite its size (which may limit how much force it can take in comparison to say, the D-15M) it’s a loud and bright guitar that covers everything you can throw at it. The tone is lush and warm when you’re playing with your fingers, yet dig in with a plectrum and it’s almost a different guitar. The responsiveness continues when you drop it in another tuning, put a capo on it, pick single notes, strum it, or play lead licks up and down the fretboard. It’s a bold instrument – its demure and understated looks juxtaposed with its bright and lively tone. It almost feels as though it’s jumping around in your hands as you play it, needing taming when you’re digging in, while it dances around gracefully as you pick it.
The one thing this model doesn’t have is an option to plug in. That’s fine, though – if you need that option, then there’s the 000-15ME, which will cost you around £150 more. That leads us on to the price: £1,099. Well, it’s a no brainer, really. This offers outstanding value for money, with buckets full of tone and playability.
I am completely enamoured with this guitar. I can’t think of another guitar that won me over so quickly, actually. It’s everything I look for in a guitar: simple, unfussy, great tone, and excellent playability. Oh, and it’s not going to break the bank either. I must mention the strings here, too, because I really think they make a difference. The Martin SP Lifespan Bronze light gauge strings have no squeakiness to them; they feel completely natural, and they sound glorious. You might want to up the gauge if you require that bluesy, slide honk, but they’ll have you covered.
Its appeal is centre stage at the moment with the all-mahogany trend going full-force. It’s uber sexy, no-frills approach makes me covet this guitar unlike many others not just in this price range, but ones that cost a considerable amount more. I’d not think twice about adding this to my guitar collection.
Pros: Wonderfully balanced, articulate and engaging across the whole tonal spectrum
Cons: No binding and no electronics might not be for some
Overall: A sensational guitar that should be a part of every player’s collection
Build Quality: 5/5
Sounds Quality: 5/5
Value for Money: 5/5
Manufacturer: C.F Martin & Co.
Retail Price: £1,099
Body Size: 000 14-fret
Made In: USA
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and Sides: Solid mahogany
Neck: Solid mahogany
Fingerboard: East Indian rosewood
Tuners: Nickel open-gear with butterbean knobs
Fingerboard width at nut: 1-11/16”
Scale Length: 25.4”
Strings Fitted: C.F. Martin & Co SP Lifespan Phosphor Bronze
Left Handers: Yes
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hardcase
Westside Distribution / C.F. Martin & Co.