Play a Martin D-1 Authentic 1931 and you get a good sense of just how formidable this guitar must have seemed when it was introduced in 1931 as the largest-bodied Martin guitar. Though it weighs just barely over three and a half pounds, the D-1 Authentic 1931 dreadnought feels imposing compared to the smaller guitars I’m accustomed to. And it’s got a magnificent voice to match its dimensions: loud and immediate, richly detailed and warm.
The D-1 is one of the latest members of Martin’s Authentic lineup, in which the company recreates its prewar designs in highly accurate detail. The series includes a handful of dreadnoughts. What’s significant about the D-1 is that it’s a replica of the first Martin-branded dreadnought, of which only two were made, which led to the development of the D-18—and the modern dreadnought in general.
That Unmistakable Martin Sound
I don’t have an original D-1 at hand for comparison, but the D-1 Authentic 1931 does evoke the familiar sound of a vintage Martin dreadnought. Its robust bass notes are equaled by articulate, singing trebles, and a slightly scooped, warm midrange. Overall, it sounds sweeter than the other dreadnoughts I’ve recently tried, probably owing to the guitar’s 12th-fret neck junction, which has a more central bridge location and a longer soundboard than a 14-fret instrument.
An instrument like the D-1 begs for some time-honored country picking-hand approaches, like Carter strumming and boom-chuck. The guitar’s terrific bass response, paired with the crispness of the upper strings, makes for lively and colorful accompaniment. Flatpicked single-note lines have a bold presence as well, and the notes on the first string are so robust.
The D-1 is just as satisfying to fingerpick as it is to play with a plectrum. In standard, open-G, or open-C tuning, it’s highly resonant and responsive. The sound is uncluttered, with lightly shimmering overtones that add a beautiful dimension to arpeggio work. Though the dreadnought is not typically the instrument of choice for fingerstyle jazz, the D-1 works brilliantly in this realm, its power and clarity being ideal for complex chord work.
Whatever I try on the D-1, I’m impressed by its smooth playability. I tend to prefer relatively narrow necks, but the guitar’s wide nut—1 7/8 inches—feels quite comfortable, as does the medium, V-shaped neck profile. As on other Martin Authentics I’ve tried, the setup is spot on, with the perfect action, neither too high nor low, and no fret buzzing anywhere on the neck.
In the D-1, Martin has done an excellent job of making a new guitar that looks old but not worn. The Adirondack spruce soundboard—wide-grained at the edges and more tightly grained in the center—has received Martin’s Vintage Tone System (VTS). It is torrefied, or roasted, giving it the rich sort of patina that spruce develops over decades—and more important, a sound to match.
The Vintage Gloss finish on both the body and the neck is based on a long-lost recipe from the early 1900s, and unlike a modern finish, the recipe’s resultant soft gloss effect lends the subtle luminosity of a well-preserved old guitar. What’s more, it feels great.
On its other Authentic series guitars, Martin has replaced the original Brazilian rosewood components with Madagascar rosewood. But on the D-1, Brazilian rosewood, with its unmistakable rich coloring and waxy feel, has been used for the fingerboard, bridge, headplate, and endpiece—a detail that makes this guitar even more appealing. The back and sides are solid mahogany.
There are plenty of excellent, high-end dreadnoughts available these days, but the D-1 Authentic 1931 stands out among them, as a 12-fret dread is a rarity both in the Martin catalog and in the general market. It scores high marks as a note-perfect replica of the first Martin dreadnought, but historicity aside, it’s just a stunningly good guitar.
At a Glance Martin D-1 Authentic 1931
BODY 12-fret dreadnought size; Adirondack spruce top with Authentic 1931 X bracing and VTS (Vintage Tone System); mahogany back and sides; Brazilian rosewood bridge with bone saddle and 2 3/8-inch string spacing; Vintage Gloss finish
NECK Solid mahogany neck; slotted headstock; Brazilian rosewood fretboard; 25.4-inch scale length; 1 7/8-inch bone nut; Golden Age Restoration tuners; Vintage Gloss finish
EXTRAS Martin MSP7200 SP Lifespan 92/8 Phosphor Bronze Medium strings (.013–.056); ply hardshell case
PRICE $6,999 list/$5,529 street
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.