From the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Greg Olwell
With its Road Series, C.F. Martin & Co. offers a line of accessibly priced guitars that deliver pro-level performance and sound. These instruments are clearly intended as solid partners for gigging musicians and boast modern features, playability, and construction. Recently, Martin added two new models to the line, the GPC-13E Grand Performance cutaway and the D-13E dreadnought. (See a review of the all-mahogany GPC-15ME in the January 2017 issue.) The GPC-13E features a solid Sitka spruce top with a choice of mutenye or ziricote for the back and sides. Martin sent the latter in for review. Over the few weeks I checked it out, I appreciated the GPC-13E’s easy-playing features, great setup, good sounds, and contemporary looks.
The Grand Performance has become one of Martin’s most popular body shapes since it was introduced a little over ten years ago. With a few differences in the body dimensions, the GP is similar to Taylor’s Grand Auditorium. It’s easy to see why players are into this body size: The upper and lower bouts are close to the width of a dreadnought, so a GP can supply plenty of lows and highs, yet its relatively narrow waist gives it the feel of a smaller, more manageable guitar.
Though Martin’s model numbers have historically identified wood and decoration levels that increased with each higher number, this guitar’s 13-level designation has style beyond what you might expect. Rather than approaching the guitar with vintage-inspired aesthetics, Martin chose crisp lines and bright-white binding that says “new guitar.” The GPC-13E’s radiant white binding and heel cap gleam, giving a bold contrast to the dark ziricote, while the 28-style mother-of-pearl pattern fingerboard dots and wide rosette add a little glitz.
The GPC-13E is the only guitar in Martin’s regular lineup that features ziricote back and sides. This Central American tonewood is commonly dark brown with hints of green or purple and dramatic grain figuring. My test guitar had a light streak of sapwood up the middle of the back, like a built-in center stripe, giving it a unique touch. Because ziricote is pricey, the back and sides are laminated. However, instead of the typical recipe with poplar or maple as the core layer, Martin uses khaya, or African mahogany, sandwiched between outer layers of ziricote.
A Versatile Player
As someone who grew up playing dreadnoughts, I really like the GPC’s present but not overpowering bass output—it makes the guitar’s tone feel grounded and solid, not bass-y or boomy. Pushed vigorously or coaxed gently, its modest midrange scoop and full bass and sparkling trebles combine some of the better traits of a bottom-heavy dreadnought with smaller-body guitar fullness.
Time and again when I played the GPC-13E, I kept gravitating toward strumming. Chords just want to jump out of this guitar, and it feels like you could play set after set with minimal fatigue and lots of satisfying sounds. It’s also a good fingerstyle guitar, with its proportions giving rotund and controlled low-end and crystalline highs to both thumb-picked bass notes and fingerpicked treble melodies.
The GPC-13E plays as nicely as it sounds. Its neck has Martin’s Performing Artist carve and high-performance taper, which lend a slender, modern feel that will appeal to players more experienced with electric guitars and comfort-minded acoustic guitarists alike. The neck’s lightly applied, hand-rubbed finish was a delight for my fretting hand and gave me an immediate sense of connection to the guitar.
The Richlite fingerboard and bridge were as dark as night, and both looked and felt like ebony. Because it’s a phenolic resin/cellulose composite, Richlite is more stable than wood and less likely to be affected by dry conditions. The GPC’s fretwork was smooth and sleek, and the setup made it easy to play for extended periods without getting tired. I could say the same thing for the entire guitar—it feels built for performance.
In Northern California where I live, relative humidity and temperatures varied widely during my test time with the GPC. Not once did the guitar feel challenged by near-single-digit humidity and high temperatures one day, followed by cold and damp conditions the next. The GPC-13E just seemed remarkably stable. Its performance held steady during an outdoor gig where temperatures dropped into the low 50s as the sun set, with action, fretwork, and sounds staying consistent. I suspect this is due, at least in part, to the guitar’s road-ready features, like its strong, laminated back and sides, solid mortise-and-tenon neck joint, and Richlite fingerboard and bridge.
A True Road Warrior
The GPC-13E’s Fishman electronics package includes an onboard tuner located inside the soundhole’s treble side that mutes the pickup for tuning. The tuner’s small LCD screen is easy to see while the guitar is held in playing position but is invisible to the crowd. Likewise, volume and tone controls are hidden inside the soundhole’s bass side, for a discreet look as well as easy adjustability. The MX-T’s tone control goes from a flat setting to simultaneous bass and treble boost, with a bit of gain added in as you turn the knob up. I tested the guitar through a Boss Acoustic Singer Pro. With the amp’s EQ set flat and at a stage-ready volume, the GPC’s fullness came through, and it made me want to strum through every rock tune I could remember.
While no guitar can satisfy every player’s need, the GPC-13E does many things well. It does so many things right that it might be as close to an all-purpose guitar as anything I can recall. While its Swiss Army knife approach won’t be for everyone, the GPC-13E is an easy choice for players needing a reliable, handsome guitar that sounds good acoustically and plugged in. It would also be great for players who like the sound of a dreadnought’s accentuated bass and treble but want a guitar with more playing comfort. The GPC-13E is the kind of road warrior guitar that you could rely on for just about any gig that could come your way.
BODY Grand Performance 14-fret cutaway body; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped Sitka X-bracing; laminated ziricote back and sides; Richlite modern belly bridge with compensated drop-in Tusq saddle and 2-5/32″ spacing; tortoise pattern pickguard; gloss polyurethane finish
NECK 25.4″-scale select hardwood neck with Performing Artist shape and high-performance taper; 20-fret Richlite fingerboard with 16″ radius; 1-3/4″ Corian nut; chrome closed-gear tuners; hand-rubbed finish
OTHER Fishman MX-T electronics; strap button on neck heel; Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 phosphor-bronze strings (.012–.054); gig bag; available left-handed
MADE IN Mexico
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This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.