From the January 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY PETE MADSEN
There is a certain familiarity to the Martin GPC15ME—the rustic charm of all mahogany guitars that have a log-cabin-type appeal can inspire a gutbucket response. However, this guitar, which is slightly larger than a Martin OM and equipped with an innovative pickup system, moves beyond the range of rustic and into a sound aesthetic that should appeal to the modern player.
The Grand Performance Cutaway (GPC) sports a satin finish all the way around, from the top, back, and sides to the modern C-shaped neck. With no binding, a single-ring rosette, vintage-style tuners, and unadorned styling, the GPC is a plain Jane that does not call too much attention to itself. But what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in sound and playability.
The GPC is well-suited for myriad styles, from big, full strumming to delicate fingerpicking. I strummed my way through Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” and Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay,” finding the mid-range punchy and bass almost brassy sounding. I played some syncopated rhythms and liked the way the GPC produced percussive timbres. Muting the strings, either with the palm or fretting hand, I could still keep a crisp snare-type of sound. This translates well to percussive taps on the strings with the picking hand, as well.
I switched to Travis-style fingerpicking on a couple of tunes: Mississippi John Hurt’s “Satisfied and Tickled, Too” and Merle Travis’ “Cannonball Rag.” I was getting a bit of fret buzz on the fourth string as I played an alternating bass pattern, but soon realized this was a function of my left-hand fingering, rather than some flaw in the guitar. I should note, though, that this GPC does play a little stiffer than I’m used to due to its longer 25.4-inch scale length—it required a little more effort from my fretting hand to get a good sound. Once I straightened out my technique, the percussive thump I was getting from my alternating bass sounded great.
I wouldn’t say this guitar has an extremely warm or complex sound, but it does have a certain panache that will work for a down-home Americana sound.
Returning to open D (DADFGAD), I played some slide inspired by Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance.” The bark of the GPC drifted into resonator territory, giving sharp definition to slide-based phrases. I wouldn’t say this guitar has an extremely warm or complex sound, but it does have a certain panache that will work for a down-home Americana sound.
The neck, designated as a modified low oval with a Performing Artist taper, has a modern C-shape and was easy to navigate. I played some bluesy single-string runs from nut to beyond the 17th fret—the cutaway gives you access to those electric guitar-type runs that often get stymied due to lack of frets. The 1 3/4-inch nut width and 2 5/32-inch string spacing at the bridge make the GPC a good compromise for both flatpickers and fingerpickers, although I would have preferred a little more space at the bridge V for fingerpicking.
Check Under the Hood
One of the GPC’s cool features is the Fishman Matrix VT Enhance electronics system, which combines a Matrix under-saddle piezo pickup with a bridge-plate-mounted transducer. I plugged into a Schertler Jam 150 amp and was impressed by the volume and accuracy. The Enhance Transducer captures more of the percussive attack of the guitar top and strives to eliminate string noise and other unwanted handling noises from the guitar. The output jack is located just below the strap pin, where there’s also a small port that houses the 9-volt battery for the onboard preamp. The control functions are mounted on the inside of the sound hole: Volume and tone are located at the top and the “enhance” dial on the bottom. (There are no large control box cavities carved out of the side of your guitar.)
A small but pleasant additional feature is the control wheels, angled in a manner that makes it easier to reach inside the sound hole and make adjustments without having to bury your head inside your guitar. The Enhance transducer turns the entire top of the guitar into a live pickup—great for tapping and other fingerstyle and percussive techniques. I also felt like the enhance dial functioned like a presence dial on an electric guitar amp: The guitar sound became brighter. And it increases the volume slightly.
All in all, the GPC is a great stage guitar that will allow you to get a wide range of sounds via the innovative pickup system. Its sound profile leans towards the brassy and percussive, which should make any rhythmically dynamic guitarist happy.
At a Glance: Martin GPC15ME
GP 14-fret cutaway
Top: Solid mahogany
Back and sides: Solid mahogany
Bracing: “X” scalloped, forward shifted
Bracing: 5/16-inch Sitka spruce
Modified low oval with high-performance taper
Simple dovetail neck joint
Fingerboard: Solid East Indian rosewood
Fingerboard width at nut : 1 3/4-inch
String spacing at the bridge: 2 5/32-inch
Scale length: 25.4-inches
No. of frets: 20:
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No. of frets clear: 14
Electronics: Matrix VT Enhance, NT2
Bridge and endpins: Solid black ebony
Tuners: Nickel open-geared w/ butterbean knobs
$2,249 MSRP/$1,799 street
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.