When most people think small-bodied mahogany guitars, they think blues fingerpicking or folk strumming. But Martin’s 00-15E sounds as good when you flat-pick Thelonious Monk’s Latin-tinged jazz standard “Bye-Ya” as it does when you fingerpick arrangements of piano pieces by Erik Satie. On “Bye-Ya,” the guitar has a surprising amount of headroom, while the Satie pieces reveal a wide range of tonal colors as you move your hand between the fretboard and bridge.
The 00-15E’s mahogany soundboard isn’t as excitable as spruce, but the guitar is responsive whether I’m playing gently or digging in with a pick. Single-note lines and complex chords alike are clear and brilliant up and down the neck.
Guitarists who don’t like to plug in will be glad to know that the 00-15E’s voice is warm and mellow, clear and balanced throughout the sonic spectrum. There are no dead spots anywhere on the neck—all of the notes ring clearly and are buzz-free, and the intonation is perfect.
If you want to plug in, though, you’ll love the electronics system: Fishman’s F1 Aura+, which is designed specifically for Martins. For this clever system, the guitar company recorded a tone donor—a 1935 Martin 00-55, which is essentially today’s 00-17S—with nine high-quality microphones. The images, or timbral samples, work in tandem with an undersaddle pickup to make this modern Martin sound like a miked golden-era model.
The multi-function controls are not straightforward to operate—for instance, the volume control also engages the tuner and phase control—but they offer flexibility in editing both the images and the sound of the pickup, as well as the compressor and anti-feedback controls. On the other hand, the default Easy Mode gives a nice sampling of the electronics’ possibilities, having three preset images and the dry pickup and a single tone control, for adjusting the mid scoop.
The staunch purist should be impressed by the Aura+, which is miles ahead of the traditional electronics system. It delivers an exceptionally natural and “old” sound on all of the images, and its miked sounds are convincing—a Neumann M147 and a Telefunken ELA M260, among others, were used in the recording sessions for the electronics. The system makes for an incredible tool for performing and recording alike.
With its subtly shaded top, fretboard inlays shaped like diamonds and squares, and open-geared butterbean tuners, the 00-15E has the understated good looks of a classic vintage guitar. The lack of body binding and other decorative embellishments is not only visually appealing, but it keeps the price down. So do the A-frame X bracing and simple dovetail neck joint.
Inside and outside the box, the craftsmanship on the review model I received is as good as what I’ve found in review models of other recent high-end Martins. The builders paid meticulous attention to everything from the fretwork to the kerfing.
But the guitar plays better than your typical vintage instrument. Right out of the box, its action and neck adjustment are perfect. What’s more, the shape of the neck—which Martin calls Modified Low Oval with Performing Artist Taper—makes it as good to cradle in the open position as it does beyond the 12th fret. And it has the winning combination of a short scale (24.9 inches) and wide nut (1.75), making it as easy to fingerpick as to play chords involving wide stretches.
Martin’s 00-15E Retro is an awesome little guitar that, when played unplugged, stacks up favorably to the company’s top-of-the-line models.
The guitar’s Fishman F1 Aura+ system takes things over the top, making it rich with tonal possibilities and one of the most compelling acoustic-electrics on the market.
Satin finish with 15-style burst on soundboard
24.9-inch scale length
Fishman F1 Aura+
Martin SP Lifespan phosphor bronze light strings (.012–.054)
$2,549 list $1,999 street
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Contributing editor Adam Perlmutter transcribes, arranges, and engraves music for numerous publications. adamperlmutter.com.