Fueled by reader requests for an overview of currently available small-body guitars, Acoustic Guitar invited manufacturers to send us samples of their small-body instruments with list prices between $500 and $1,000. We ended up with 11 guitars that are surprisingly diverse in sound and feel, some inspired by vintage instruments and others with more modern body and neck shapes, materials, and appointments. In checking out these guitars, I was assisted by Pete Madsen, a San Francisco Bay Area fingerstyle blues guitarist, teacher, and frequent Acoustic Guitar contributor. Here’s our review of the Martin 000X1AE.
Martin has been building 000-size guitars since the early 20th century, and most of the guitars in this article are modeled after that design in one way or another. The company’s most affordable 000, the 000X1AE offers a number of surprises, the most significant being that it is built with some unusual materials. Like all of Martin’s X-series instruments, the 000X1AE’s back and sides are made of high pressure laminate (HPL), which consists of wood particles pressed together under high heat with special resin and given a “photo finish” to resemble real wood, in this case, mahogany. Similarly, the guitar’s fingerboard and bridge are made from Richlite, an eco-friendly paper-based product (also baked under high pressure) that looks and functions surprisingly like ebony. The guitar’s neck is made from Stratabond, a somewhat more traditional hardwood laminate. But, because the top has the most impact on a guitar’s tone, Martin uses a solid Sitka spruce top of excellent quality. The guitar has an austere appearance, with no binding, fingerboard dots (though there are position markers on the side of the fingerboard), and a very simple rosette. The craftsmanship is comparable to higher-end Martins, which means it’s impeccable. Sound-wise, the guitar had a very warm character. Madsen felt that he had to use a relatively hard attack to get past a bit of a muffled quality, and we agreed that the guitar had a somewhat limited dynamic range. But within its ideal range—neither played too softly, nor with too heavy of an attack—the 000X1AE sounded great, offering a solid dose of true Martin tone. As a bonus, the guitar includes a Fishman Sonitone pickup system, which provides a simple way to amplify the instrument with natural-sounding results.
SPECS: Solid Sitka spruce top. HPL (high pressure laminate) back and sides. Multipiece Stratabond neck with mortise/tenon joint. Richlite fingerboard and bridge. A-frame X-bracing. 25.4-inch scale. 1 11/16-inch nut width. 2 1/8-inch string spacing at saddle. Enclosed chrome tuning machines. Light-gauge Martin SP Lifespan strings. Fishman Sonitone pickup. Made in Mexico. Left-hand model available.
PRICE: $749 list/$549 street.
MAKER: C.F. Martin and Co.: (888) 433-9177; martinguitar.com.
See all 11 Affordable Small-Body Flattops.