I felt a deep and instant connection with Martin’s 00-18 Authentic 1931. This diminutive, slope-shouldered beauty has a warm and lively voice and is extremely responsive. It’s got a surprising amount of volume and projection for its size. And the guitar feels incredible, too. It weighs next to nothing and its neck offers no resistance, no matter what kind of idea I throw at it, making it addictive to play.
This 00-18 is one of the newest members of the Authentic series, in which Martin recreates its prewar classics in stunningly accurate detail. This particular model was patterned after a 1931 00-18 that Fred Oster, the proprietor of Vintage Instruments in Philadelphia, loaned Martin to scrutinize with X-rays and by hand.
Martin built the 00-18 Authentic 1931 in a period-correct fashion, using hide glue, and painstakingly replicated all of the details on the original instrument, from the ebony nut to the rosewood binding to a 1930s-style hang tag. The guitar’s finish looks noticeably different from most new guitars. That’s because the Adirondack spruce soundboard has been torrefied—that is, baked under pressure, transforming its structure such that it resembles decades-old wood, both sonically and visually (Martin calls this thermal treatment the Vintage Tone System or VTS).
The top has a warm reddish coloring that looks more natural than a guitar that has been finished with aging toner, as is common practice these days. Then there’s the nitrocellulose lacquer finish, glossy, but less so than on a typical modern guitar, and thinner, too. As it happens, Martin recently discovered the recipe for this more subdued finish, used in the early 1900s. And though the finish on this 00-18 has yet to age, it lends the guitar an excellent old-school vibe.
In another aspect that can’t be seen, the neck is reinforced with an ebony dowel, rather than the now-standard truss rod. While this period-correct detail might not be adjustable, it’s thought to increase the instrument’s resonance.
The artisans at Martin did a beautiful job in building this 00-18 Authentic. The finish is flawless, and feels great to the touch. Many modern guitars are made using a PLEK system (computer-controlled fret leveler), but the fretwork on the 00-18 was done by hand, and it’s perfect.
Similarly, the guitar’s Adirondack spruce bracing and cloth reinforcement strips are glued flawlessly, and all of the other details are meticulous as well.
Up for Anything
The 00-18’s neck has a subtly V shaped profile whose moderate girth should appeal to a wide range of players. The nut is relatively wide at 1-7/8 inches, and though I tend to prefer narrower nuts, it somehow doesn’t feel all that wide. It’s just as easy to play barre chords and even thumb-fretted shapes on the 00-18 as it is on a guitar with a 1-11/16-inch nut. The combination of a short scale—24.9 inches—and generous string spacing feels terrific on both hands.
I didn’t have the benefit of a prewar 00-18 at hand for comparison, but the Authentic does seem to have an old voice, with the sort of depth, resonance, and openness characteristic of the best vintage examples. It’s got solid fundamentals and is well balanced, with firm and rich bass notes matched by clear, singing trebles.
The Authentic is a brilliant guitar for fingerpicking. It amplifies even the subtlest shifts in finger placement and velocity. And the instrument feels open to all styles. It sounds just as good for playing a Gymnopédie by the French composer Erik Satie as it does for a ragtime arrangement or jazz standard in the chord-melody style.
It might not have the powerful bass of a good dreadnought, but the 00-18 is a great strummer, with excellent note separation and clarity. Perhaps on account of the mahogany back and sides, the sound is nice and uncluttered for chords of all qualities, with or without open strings. It’d be a terrific guitar for recording.
In the 00-18 Authentic 1931, Martin offers a beautiful time-capsule guitar that represents one of its most accurate reissues to date. Vintage aficionados will surely be impressed by its wealth of period-correct specs and by its mature-sounding voice. Historicity aside, this Martin is simply a fine and beautiful guitar—with a winning and adaptable personality—that begs to be played.
AT A GLANCE
Martin 00-18 Authentic 1931
12-fret 00 size
Adirondack top with VTS
Mahogany back and sides
Vintage gloss finish
Ebony fingerboard and nut
1 7/8-inch nut
Golden age relic brass side-mount tuners
Vintage gloss finish
Martin SP Lifespan 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Light (MSP7100) strings (12–56)
Ply hardshell case
$7,999 list/$5,959 street
Made in the United States. martinguitar.com
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.