Country star Thomas Rhett’s choice of dreadnought meets the steely gaze of David Mead
Martin’s 16 Series was introduced in the early 1960s with the aim of making quality acoustics available to players on a tight budget. But this doesn’t mean that corners have been cut or a policy of “no frills” put in place. Far from it, in fact. After all, this is a Martin guitar and so you wouldn’t expect anything less than top-notch quality from an instrument costing a smidge under £2,000 now would you?
I will confess here and now that I have never played a Martin dreadnought that I didn’t instantly fall in love with. It doesn’t matter if it’s the relatively plain Jane D-18 or the fancy pants D-45, there’s just something about the sound and feel of a Martin dread that makes me feel comfortable and warm inside. That and the fact that practically every singer-songwriter from the classic early 70s era who I’ve been listening to all my life seems to have used one: Joni Mitchell; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; James Taylor… need I go on? In any case, the look of the guitar is instantly familiar and seeing that the top is bound with the characteristic herringbone inlay, it’s difficult to estimate exactly where the 16 Series’ reputation for being at all “budget” actually comes from. After all, there’s an Adirondack spruce top on this HD-16 and that’s a wood that we associate with the pre-war Martins and several contemporary boutique acoustics, too. It’s a nice-looking piece of spruce with an antique stain that suggests maturity, but we know that Adirondack takes a while to fully open up and so I suspect that what I’m hearing now only hints at what lies ahead for this instrument. Under the top, the bracing is once again Adirondack spruce, with hybrid X scalloped patterning just discernible to probing fingertips.
As I said, the top is bound with herringbone inlay plus the almost standard white Ivoroid and is topped with a mock tortoiseshell pick guard below the soundhole, which itself is surrounded by Martin’s “Style 28” rosette.
It’s solid East Indian rosewood for the HD-16’s back and sides with what Martin describe as “HD Zig-Zag” purfling down the back’s centre. Everything so far looks in order and, well, typically Martin dreadnought to these eyes.
The neck timber here looks very similar to the industry standard mahogany, but the spec on this model tells me that it is in fact the anonymous “select hardwood” that you find on some of the lower end Martin guitars. Alas, I’m unable to discern exactly which wood this is as the grain is covered by the darkish matte finish; but if someone told me it was mahogany of some sort – or at least a similar genus – I wouldn’t be at all surprised as it really is that close in terms of looks.
At the top of the neck there’s the signature volute just underneath the six chrome tuners which each carry an embossed Martin stamp. No Waverlys here, then; but I daresay any prospective owner wanting to add a little vintage chic to their new instrument could always upgrade at some point later on.
The front of the headstock is laminated with a piece of rosewood and the familiar raised gold foil Martin logo. The white Corian nut has been neatly cut so that fretting at this point is absolutely effortless, which is how it should be. It’s surprising how many times I’ve seen acoustics in the past where there has been some sloppiness in this area, but Martin have, as usual, got it spot on.
The fretboard on the HD-16 is Richlite, a phenolic cellulose compound which is made from recycled paper. Once again, if someone told me that this was ebony, I’d believe them because a lot of ebony has no discernible grain pattern to it and that is the case here. Having spoken to Chris Martin IV, I know that C.F. Martin & Co. is seriously on the conservation trail with their construction materials and so where Richlite might be cheaper to buy in than quality ebony, the statement this makes as far as the environment is concerned is, to my mind, 100 per cent valid. After all, Richlite is made from recycled paper and paper is little more than a recycled tree, is it not? So there’s some sort of circle of life thing going on with the fretboard here!
It’s Richlite once again for the bridge, with a saddle made from 406mm radius compensated white Tusq and finished off with six white bridge pins.
Everything about the HD-16R screams class and quality, so let’s see what it sounds and plays like.
The first thing you notice when picking this guitar up is the feel of the neck. Described as a “modified V” it’s definitely on the chunky side and while I don’t have a problem with that at all, some players might. During my chat with Martin’s chief product officer, Fred Greene, this month he told me that neck profile preference seemed to be linked to age, the older players preferring more chunk under their hands while the younger players go for slimmer necks. As I say, not a problem for me as I’ve never found a bit of girth in this region too much of an issue, especially when it’s accompanied by a 44.5mm nut width, as is the case here.
I suppose we all associate a dreadnought with fulsome sounding chords and so that’s where my explorations began. I’m keeping at the back of my mind the fact that the Adirondack still has to reach its full potential, but what I hear now is some very full chords, without any of that annoying midrange hump that you find on some dreadnoughts. To be honest, the bass isn’t as full as I’ve heard on some Martin dreads, but what’s there is perfectly adequate. There’s a fair amount of sparkle in the trebles, too, with a good deal of separation to the notes – even fingerstyle sounds good, a thing that you can’t always say about a dreadnought. Be assured that plectrum-powered chordal strumming sounds every bit as good as it should and once that Adirondack finds its feet, I would imagine that the HD-16 is going to be a real contender.
I’ve already confessed that I like Martin dreads and this one is no exception. Don’t be put off by the non-specific timber in the neck or the Richlite fingerboard because they have very little impact, if any, on the overall sound of the guitar. The most important things are the quality of the body timbers, the bracing, and the workmanship that has gone into the build – all of these really are first class.
Retail Price: £1,999
Body Size: Dreadnought
Made In: USA
Top: Adirondack spruce
Back and Sides: East Indian rosewood
Neck: Select hardwood
Tuners: Martin Chrome
Nut Width: 44.5mm
Scale Length: 645mm
Strings Fitted: Martin SP Lifespan PB medium gauge
Left Handers: Yes, no extra charge
Gig Bag/Case Included: Martin hard shell case
Martin Guitar / Westside Distribution