When I first meet the Martin DCX1AE Macassar, it feels a little foreign. The back and sides are made from a high-pressure laminate whose texture is different from the customary wooden body—though it looks like wood, it’s almost vinyl-like to touch.
But once I play the cutaway dreadnought, with its solid Sitka spruce top, it’s unmistakably a Martin. When strummed, the guitar has a warm, full-bodied sound with a certain oomph on the bass notes. When responding to single-note lines, it has good presence and definition. It sounds just as good if not better than some of the all-solid-wood guitars I’ve played.
With a street price of just under a grand, this Macassar is one of Martin’s least expensive guitars, but it’s not an inferior instrument. A solidly built guitar with a winning personality and Fishman Sonitone electronics, it’s a smart choice for a beginner or a cost-conscious pro.
Martin has kept the price low on the DCX1AE Macassar through a smart choice of sustainable materials and construction. The Macassar in its name refers to the high-pressure laminate back and sides, which incorporate not an outer layer of this striking tonewood, but a high-resolution digital photograph of it, over laminated layers of wood fiber. Some purists might be troubled by this material, but it’s less prone to warping and cracking than solid wood, and it’s important to remember that the back and sides of a guitar have much less of an influence on the sound than the top.
The neck is made of birch laminate, another material that’s cost effective and adds stability, and the fretboard and bridge are Richlite, a composite made from recycled paper, typically used for architectural purposes. As opposed to the customary ebony, an endangered species, Richlite is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, meaning it’s a sustainable material.
The guitar has a noticeable absence of body binding—a constructional detail that also helps keep the cost down. It feels modern and streamlined, as does the rest of the guitar, with its minimal embellishments. And the craftsmanship on the guitar is excellent. It hasn’t received a Plek treatment (computerized fret leveling) like some costlier Martins, but the fretwork is clean, without any jagged ends. Everything else, from the guitar’s interior aspects to the slots on its corian nut, is similarly precise.
Sleek & Playable
The DCX1AE Macassar is a terrific player. Its neck—Martin’s Performing Artist profile with high performance taper—has a generous 1.75-inch nut, but gets narrower more quickly as the frets ascend than the taper on a traditional Martin neck. The neck feels sleek and fast and, in concert, with low action, is equally hospitable to barre chords and speedy single-note lines.
Not surprisingly, the guitar doesn’t have the richness of sound characteristic of a Martin with solid rosewood—or even mahogany—back and sides. But it does have a clear and balanced voice that works well for styles from boom-chuck accompaniment to Celtic fingerpicking, in standard or dropped tunings.
A Class Act, Unplugged or Amplified
Fishman Sonitone electronics make it a cinch to plug the Macassar into a Fender Acoustasonic amp and get a realistic sound without any fiddling around—perfect for live performance or for recording, especially in conjunction with a miked signal. These electronics place the Macassar in a class of instruments that has grown in recent years—there are more high-quality, acoustic-electric options than ever before. But few have a Martin vibe like the DCX1AE Macassar, an excellent choice for a wide range of players—and the perfect gateway to other Martins.
At a Glance: Martin DCX1AE Macassar
14-fret cutaway dreadnought
Solid Sitka spruce top
HPL (high-pressure laminate) macassar back and sides
FSC-certified Richlite bridge
Hand-rubbed satin finish (soundboard only)
Brown birch laminate neck
FSC-certified Richlite fingerboard
1.75-inch corian nut
Chrome enclosed gear tuners
Hand-rubbed satin finish
Martin SP Lifespan 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Light (MSP7100) strings (12–56)
Fishman Sonitone electronics
Hardshell case optional
$929 list/$699 street
Made in Mexico
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.