By today’s standards, the Martin 0-18 might strike you as a modest guitar. But it was a commanding instrument when it was introduced in 1898, dwarfing the company’s parlor guitars in terms of size.
Like the majority of other Martin guitars, the 0-18 evolved from a 12-fret gut-string model to a 14-fret steel-string by the mid-1930s. For many years, the 0-18 remained a fixture in Martin’s catalog, and in the 1950s it was among the company’s hottest offerings, selling nearly as well as the D-28 dreadnought thanks to an agreeable price tag. Some formidable guitarists—Bob Dylan and Steve Earle, to name just two—would make good use of the 0-18’s balanced voice.
Nonetheless, the 0-18 fell out of favor and it was discontinued in 1996. But now the 0-18 has been reintroduced as the latest—and lowest cost—member of Martin’s Standard Series. And it was high time, considering the renewed interest in small-bodied guitars in general.
At a glance, the new 0-18 looks a whole lot like a 1950s or ’60s example, but it’s been updated with contemporary specs—namely, the modified low-oval neck with Martin’s “high performance taper.” That mouthful of a name translates to a guitar that’s quite easy on the fretting hand. The review model is easy on the ears as well, with the warmth and openness that Martins are celebrated for.
Small and Manageable
I’m accustomed to OM sizes, but I instantly took to the relatively petite 0-18, with its 13.5-inch lower bout (compared to 15-inches on an OM and 15-5/8-inches on a dreadnought). The guitar felt lightweight and balanced well between its neck and body in seated or standing positions.
The 0-18 also has a shorter scale length than its larger cohorts—24.9 inches compared to the standard 25.4. And though a longer scale is generally equated with a more generous sound, the tradeoff is perhaps worth it. Cluster chords involving large stretches of the fretting fingers, for example, felt more natural to play on the 0-18 than an OM.
About that high performance taper, which refers to how the neck doesn’t get as wide as a more traditional neck as it approaches the 12th fret. It’s subtle enough that it’s not necessarily a feature I would have picked up on, but I did notice how easy it was to zip around on the 0-18’s neck, whether I was soloing or doing barre-chord accompaniment. It really felt that the guitar was working with and not against me.
Right for the Studio and the Couch
When I first played the 0-18, I thought it sounded good, if a bit subdued. Oddly, it wasn’t until I was playing the guitar while transcribing music for lessons in this issue that I noticed its punchy, present voice.
It’s too easy to refer to a small six-string as a good couch guitar, but that’s just what the 0-18 is for me. In the several weeks I spent with it, more nights than not, I found myself seeking out the 0-18 and playing it on the sofa for at least a half hour.
The 0-18 really felt like an all-purpose guitar. It didn’t pack a wallop like a dreadnought, but its sturdy fundamentals and overall tonal balance make it equally satisfying to strum campfire-style open chords or Freddie Green–style two-note chordal fragments. Because of its direct and focused sound in these contexts, the 0-18 would make an ideal choice for recording rhythm tracks.
Many vintage 0-18s have a 1-11/16-inch nut, but the new model has a slightly wider, fingerstyle-friendly 1-3/4-inch nut. The guitar was quite hospitable to this technique, whether with the bare fingers or a thumbpick and fingers. In any style, from ragtime to chord-melody-style jazz—and in standard tuning as well as open-G and DADGAD—the 0-18’s openness really shined.
At the same time, the 0-18 liked to be flatpicked. Single-note lines had a zing, with a light natural reverb. Cross-picking worked out nicely, owing to the consistently good sound from string to string, as well as the attractive timbral contrast between the fretted notes and the open strings.
All in all, the 0-18 is lots of fun to play. It’s an agreeable instrument, and it makes pretty much anything I throw at it sound good. At a little under $2,500 street, it’s not an inexpensive guitar. And while you might be able to score a vintage example in less-than-pristine condition at around the same price, the new version’s highly playable neck and 1-3/4-inch nut surely give this excellent new Martin an advantage.
BODY 14-fret 0 size; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; solid mahogany back and sides; ebony bridge and compensated bone saddle with 2-5/32″ string spacing; gloss finish
NECK Hardwood neck; 20-fret ebony fretboard; 24.9″ scale length; 1-3/4″ bone nut; Grover Sta-Tite 18:1 nickel open-gear tuners; satin finish
EXTRAS Martin MSP7100 SP Lifespan 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Light strings (.012–.054); ply hardshell case
PRICE $3,099 list/$2,459 street
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This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.