With the new Super D and D-18 Street-Legend models, C.F. Martin and Company has not exactly reinvented the wheel, but has certainly taken their classics out for a little fresh air. The Custom Shop Super D (Super Dreadnought) literally stretches the design of the standard dreadnought, expanding the body’s width from the standard 15-5/8″ to a noticeably larger 16-3/8″—or an approximate increase of 20 percent more air volume within the body. This beast is the largest in Martin’s current lineup.
The D-18 StreetLegend, meanwhile, is part of a new line of distressed-looking guitars that also includes a D-28. The D-18 appears more radically relic’d—a cosmetic treatment that bears an eerie resemblance to Kurt Cobain’s legendary 1953 D-18, affectionately known as “Grandpa,” which now resides in the Martin Museum.
While each of these new offerings from Martin stretches the parameters of the classic models they build upon, neither abandons the core sonic or build qualities—or simply the overall excellence—that one expects when making a significant purchase like a D-28 or a D-18. That said, the vision behind them includes a certain creative energy that’s palpable as you play, proof positive of the adage “What’s old is new again.”
Custom Shop Super D
Though at first blush the Super D might look intimidating to hold, the increased body size should be quite manageable for anyone accustomed to playing a standard dreadnought. The same can be said of its gorgeously carved and tapered mahogany neck with a modified low oval shape, which felt true and comfortable straight out of the rather large case.
As dreadnoughts go, a D-28 is pretty much a cannon to begin with, so you won’t be shocked to learn that the Super D moves some serious air—up to 12dB more volume than a standard model, as gauged by Martin’s in-house testing. With its torrefied Sitka spruce top, three-piece Guatemalan rosewood back and sides, and increased girth, the Super D possesses an incredibly full and dynamic sound. (The guitar is also available with figured koa back and sides.)
Not only is the Super D loud, it produces an outstandingly rich and lustrous tone, with an especially proud low-end response. Try playing it in open G or double dropped D for perhaps the richest bass tones you’ve ever heard from a Martin. As for the mids and highs, it’s almost as if they overlap perfectly, so lush is the sound with both plectrum and fingerstyle. The Super-D formula has found a sort of smooth and organic integration of frequencies—toppy and coppery in the highs as well as supportive and velvety in the mids, with a very natural and robust EQ arc that never lets you think of them as in any way separate. A very satisfying sound, to say the least.
The D-18 is one of the most iconic of all dreadnoughts—an essential tool of singer-songwriters, flatpickers, and fingerstylists alike for the better part of a century. Crucially, the StreetLegend iteration has every bit of that characteristic midrange bump, sculpted bass response, even dynamic range across the strings, and great volume and projection associated with forward-shifted, scalloped bracing and mahogany back and sides.
The StreetLegend ticks all those boxes, and I found it equally ideal for accompanying my voice, adding acoustic overdubs, and playing full-bodied fingerstyle rolling patterns. And like the Super D, the guitar’s mahogany neck has a modified low oval shape and high-performance taper, for a sleek and inviting feel, to say nothing of a perfect Plek setup from the factory. In terms of build quality and sonic character, the D-18 StreetLegend is entirely worthy of the model and the maker.
I must quickly clear up any potential misconceptions regarding the aged appearance of this guitar’s top. About those dramatic gouge marks that look so badass in the photos or from a short distance: You’d never even know they were there if you closed your eyes and ran a finger across the soundboard. That’s because the “wear” has been applied using a technology known as digital microburst printing, which means that the integrity of the guitar’s top has not been compromised in any way. The look may be antique and beaten, but you’re getting a brand-new D-18. That’s also the case with the D-28 StreetLegend, which uses the same application for its slightly less aged-looking top.
Although they don’t carry the StreetLegend designation, there are two additional new satin-finished D-18s, each exuding a similarly cool vintage vibe: a natural finish version, and my personal favorite, the lovely Amber Burst. Oh, and one other noteworthy advantage to these fresh D-18s: Due to the less time- and material-consuming nature of the process involved in applying a satin finish, they list at $400 less than the standard gloss model.
The Bottom Line
For many, C.F. Martin and Co. is more than just a guitar maker. Owing to its long history and continued intersection with American folk and popular culture, the Martin experience is as much a mindset as simply a set of musical tools. Balancing that kind of legacy—and those kind of high expectations—with the evolution of popular music and the emerging trends of the modern guitar market can’t be an easy ask, yet it’s an essential one.
The new Super D ably adds a literal new dimension to both the brand and the model, and yes, there’s a sizable cost for the unimpeachable excellence it delivers. I’m perhaps less sold on the D-18 StreetLegend, with its not-exactly-authentic aging, but the guitar’s excellent tone and easy playability do recommend it to dreadnought lovers of all types.
Custom Shop Super D Specs
BODY 14-fret super dreadnought body; VTS (Vintage Tone System) Sitka spruce top; scalloped X-bracing; three-piece Guatemalan rosewood or koa back and sides; ebony bridge; drop-in saddle with 2-5/32″ string spacing; tortoise pattern pickguard; gloss finish
NECK Mahogany; dovetail joint; 25.4″ scale length; 1-3/4″ nut width; modified low oval shape with high-performance taper; ebony fretboard; nickel open-gear Gotoh tuners; satin finish
OTHER Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 strings (.013–.056); ply hardshell case; available left-handed
MADE IN USA
PRICE $4,999 street
D-18 StreetLegend Specs
BODY 14-fret dreadnought; spruce top; forward-shifted, scalloped X-bracing; mahogany back and sides; ebony modern belly bridge; drop-in saddle with 2-5/32″ string spacing; tortoise pattern aged pickguard; satin finish with digital-microburst-printed top
NECK Mahogany; dovetail joint; 25.4″ scale length; 1-3/4″ nut width; modified low oval shape with high-performance taper; ebony fingerboard; nickel open-gear tuners; satin finish
OTHER Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 strings (.013–.056); hardshell case; available left-handed
MADE IN USA
PRICE $2,399 street
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.