It takes only the meekest strum of an open-E chord to realize that Martin has created a juggernaut of a guitar in the D-35 Brazilian 50th Anniversary model. Boasting a deep and immediate bass, sturdy, singing treble, and the smoothest modern playability, it’s one of Martin’s finest D-35s to date.
Design and Details
The D-35 is a relative youngster in Martin’s line, having been introduced in 1965, roughly 50 years after the earliest dreadnoughts were made (under the Ditson label). Its design represented a clever solution to a supply problem.
Martin had been using Brazilian rosewood on its guitars for 130 years, but by the mid-1960s, the availability of that fine tonewood was diminishing. So, in using a three-piece back with a triangular central wedge on the D-35, Martin was able to use pieces of Brazilian rosewood that otherwise would have been too small for guitar making.
Customers responded favorably to the new guitar, and by the mid-1970s, the D-35 was Martin’s best-selling instrument. That’s no longer the case, but the D-35 has always been a mainstay in Martin’s catalog, enjoying notable proponents like Johnny Cash, who for 20 years played a custom-ordered black version in concert.
The name D-35 Brazilian 50th Anniversary might be a little misleading. Only the back’s wedge and headstock cap are made from Brazilian rosewood, not the entire back and sides, as on D-35s made before the fall of 1969 (when the company all but discontinued the use of that species). The guitar has a European spruce top, in lieu of the original Sitka, but it does maintain the mahogany neck and black ebony fretboard and bridge.
All of the woods used on the review model are gorgeous. On the back, the quarter-sawn centerpiece has a deep purplish coloring that contrasts nicely with the lighter and impressively figured Madagascar rosewood wings. The spruce is finely grained, free from imperfections, and has a warm glow, thanks to the use of aging toner.
The anniversary-model D-35 preserves many of the details that were relatively new when the guitar was introduced. There’s no volute on the neck, and the headstock is equipped not with open-geared tuners but Grover Rotomatics. It also replicates the original’s top bracing—1/4-inch wide, compared to the 5/16-inch bracing found on dreadnoughts like the D-28 and the D-42—a design intended to enhance the instrument’s frequency response.
Craftsmanship on this D-35 is unimpeachable, with 20 medium frets perfectly crowned and polished, completely smooth at the edges, and the bone nut and compensated saddle precisely slotted. On the soundboard, the gloss finish has been faultlessly polished to a smooth luster, and the neck’s satin finish is also very clean. No shortcuts were taken on the inside of the guitar, either. The kerfing and bracing have been sanded to perfection, and there’s not a trace of excess glue to be found.
Sound and Feel
This D-35 is a serious player’s guitar, thanks to its modern neck profile, a Modified Low Oval with Performing Artist Taper, which many will find to be an improvement over the original neck style. It’s a full, but not cumbersome profile, and together with its sleek low action, the instrument feels as easy to play in the open position as it does past the 12th fret. Also, while the original D-35 had a 1 11/16-inch nut, this one has a 1 3/4-inch nut—a fashionable nut width these days, which gives both the fretting and picking fingers a little extra room to maneuver.
The guitar truly shines when strummed with a pick. Whether you play basic cowboy chords or cluster-based voicings high up on the neck, this D-35 responds with great power and clarity. It’s easy to hear the individual notes of any type of harmony you throw at the guitar, and it takes quite a bit of pick-hand force for the instrument to distort.
Although fingerstyle players generally prefer smaller instruments, this D-35 has a warm, robust voice, and it feels dynamic and responsive to pick-hand nuances, whether in standard tuning or an alternate tuning like open-G or DADGAD.
At $6,999, Martin’s limited-edition D-35 Brazilian 50th Anniversary is not a cheap guitar. Some players will find that the Standard Series model, much less expensive at $2,599 street, will deliver the goods.
But those looking for a little something extra will appreciate the guitar’s incorporation of Brazilian rosewood and its high-performance modern neck. Plus, since it’s limited to a production run of 100, it’s an instant collectible.
Dreadnought 14-fret size
Solid European spruce top
Solid back with Madagascar rosewood wings and Brazilian rosewood wedge
Solid Madagascar rosewood sides
Polished gloss finish with aging toner on soundboard
Solid genuine mahogany neck
Solid black ebony fingerboard and bridge
25.4-inch scale length
1 3/4-inch nut width
2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle
Grover Rotomatic tuners
Martin SP Lifespan Phosphor Bronze Medium Gauge (MSP7200) strings
50th Anniversary Label
signed by Christian Frederick Martin IV. 545E Geib Style hardshell case
Limited lifetime warranty
Made in the United States martinguitar.com
Excerpted From the February 2015 Issue of Acoustic Guitar