It’s a bit disorienting to open a new shipping box emblazoned with Martin logos, only to find a silver hardshell case that looks like something out of the Space Age. And once inside that case, I didn’t find the usual OM or dreadnought, but a round-shouldered, jumbo-sized guitar with a flared headstock and green keystone-style tuning machines.
On one hand, the instrument in question—the new CEO 8.2—is one of Martin’s more curious departures. But on the other hand, a few introductory strums and runs show that the guitar is consistent with the company’s longstanding ethos of building guitars with a rich, clear sound, that are sure to appeal to players of all stripes. And it’s nicely built.
A Loving Tribute
The CEO 8.2 (and the CEO 8.2E, which adds a Fishman Blackstack pickup) is the latest in a line of guitars designed by Martin’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Martin. (It replaces the now-discontinued CEO 8.) While the CEO 7 derived inspiration from Gibson’s L-00 (which was, itself, an adaptation of an earlier Martin design), the 8.2 is more like an SJ-200—Gibson’s flagship jumbo guitar.
That’s not to say that the CEO 8.2 is an exact imitation, though. The CEO 8.2 has a mahogany neck, back, and sides; Martin’s modern belly-shaped ebony bridge; and an unbound ebony fingerboard; compared to Gibson’s maple body, rosewood fingerboard and moustache bridge; and binding on the fingerboard and headstock. Specs aside, the CEO 8.2 feels more like a loving tribute than a copy.
In any case, the review model is built from a nice set of woods. The fine-grained European spruce top has received Martin’s VTS (Vintage Tone System); it’s been torrefied, or baked in a controlled environment, such that it behaves like the old wood that some players covet. The back and sides are lovely straight-grained mahogany. All of the woods are FSC-certified—that is, they are recognized as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council—reflecting Martin’s commitment to the environment.
Like all the other recent Martins I’ve gotten to know, the CEO 8.2 boasts superb craftsmanship all round. The frets are smoothly crowned, polished, and buzz-free, thanks to a PLEK (computerized fret leveling) treatment.
Big Guitar, Big Sound
The CEO 8.2’s mahogany neck has Martin’s Modified Low Oval shape with a High Performance Taper, meaning, simply, that it’s slim and gets narrower at the 12th fret than on a traditional neck. It’s sleek and fast and it’s just as easy to play barre chords up and down the neck as it is to play speedy single-note lines.
Based on Martin’s Grand Jumbo 14-fret body (the same basic shape as the company’s briefly offered CF-1 and CF-2 archtops offered in the mid-2000s), the CEO 8.2 feels like a whole lot of guitar. And it’s got a voice to match. The guitar has plenty of volume and projection, with strong fundamentals and subtle overtones. Its sound is warm and balanced, with tight bass notes and singing trebles—and without the mushiness sometimes associated with jumbo guitars.
The CEO 8.2 feels like a whole lot of guitar. And it’s got a voice to match.
Its generous amount of overhead is an asset when it comes to basic strumming duties. The CEO 8.2 responds very well when played with a pick, with single-note flat-picked lines having a robust presence and definition.
When fingerpicked gently in standard tuning, as well as DADGAD and open G, there’s a rich roundness to the notes; when attacked more aggressively, an attractive grittiness. Like many other large bodied guitars, this CEO 8.2 isn’t quite as responsive to picking-hand nuances as some smaller-bodied guitars are, but it certainly gets the job done.
In the new CEO 8.2, Martin has successfully synthesized some ideas from one of its main competitors, Gibson, in a cool new design of its own. With excellent playability and a brilliant voice, the CEO 8.2 should prove a solidly reliable companion—and a sustainably built one at that.
Martin CEO 8.2
BODY Grand J 14-fret size body with solid European spruce top with VTS (Vintage Tone System) treatment; solid mahogany back and sides; ebony bridge with compensated bone saddle and 2-5/32“ string spacing; satin finish with bourbon sunset burst top and dark mahogany back and sides
NECK Mahogany neck with 20-fret ebony fretboard; Mother-of-pearl skeleton diamond inlays; 25.4″ scale; 1-3/4″ bone nut; nickel enclosed-gear tuners with green keystone plastic buttons; satin finish
EXTRAS Martin Retro Medium/Light—LJ’s Choice (MLJ13) strings (.013–.056); Liquidmetal bridge pins; TKL Alumin-X hardshell case
PRICE $3,999 list/$3,159 street
Made in USA, martinguitar.com
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.