Guitarists have been looking to CF Martin and Co for almost 200 years for innovative, stringed instruments. One such innovation was the Dreadnought body acoustic, invented way back in 1916. This behemoth of a guitar, named for its likeness to the famed British warship of the same name, sparked a revolution that led to some of the most popular guitars in history – models like the Martin D-16E.
Full size Martin acoustics like this are aspirational guitars to many. They don’t come cheap, but owning a Martin dreadnought built in the legendary Nazareth, PA factory is a dream for a lot of acoustic players.
We were fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with the Martin D-16E for this KillerGuitarRigs Review (and for our roundup of the best acoustic guitars under $2000). We wanted to learn more about why these guitars are so sought after, and whether they’re truly worth the investment. If you’ve been thinking about buying a high end US made acoustic, you’re definitely going to want to keep on reading.
Who Is This For?
The Martin D-16E is mostly aimed at intermediate and above level players, with a particular focus on those who either make their living through music, or those who perform live and record as a hobby.
Smaller players and those who typically don’t like playing boxy guitars will actually appreciate the D-16E for its reduced body depth, which brings improved comfort and ergonomics.
It offers the kind of robust craftsmanship required to survive years of use, while not sacrificing the delicate tones that recording artists demand.
Appearance / Features / Controls
Aesthetically, the D-16E is classic Martin. This is a broad, square shouldered dreadnought style guitar, and is almost certainly what the majority of people automatically imagine when asked to picture an acoustic.
It was made with a gorgeous solid Sitka spruce top, and for the back and sides, was all solid East Indian Rosewood. Both as far as looks and tones go, this is one of our favorite combinations of woods, and it works perfectly with this Martin.
Interestingly, the neck was made with “select hardwood”. This is something that Martin does to keep costs down. They use seasonally available woods with similar looks and characteristics, but offer no guarantee as to exactly which species your guitar will feature. For a guitar that costs a touch under $2000, we found this to be a little unusual, but seeing as this is still considered entry level in terms of US made Martins, it’s not all that surprising.
Regardless, the Low Oval neck profile was still very modern feeling, and very comfortable. It was slim and fast playing, and will likely appeal to a wide range of guitarists.
We really did love the ebony fretboard. It was a gorgeous piece of wood, and it felt amazing under the fingers. Not only was the wood just about perfect, but the frets were too, thanks to the PLEK dressing that is pre performed at the factory.
It had beautiful Grover open gear tuners that performed even better than they looked. Tuning stability was incredible, with very little intervention required from us during the entire review process.
There’s no doubt that the D16-E is a great looking guitar, but when it comes to tones, there’s not a lot that can match it at this price point.
We found that it was best suited to vocal accompaniment. It’s a great rhythm guitar that can settle well into any mix, and because of its excellent responsiveness and dynamic range, it could just as easily cut through as a lead guitar, too.
Being a dreadnought, it had huge volume and projection. Tonally, it was most present at the bottom end and in the lower mids, but it still had some incredible top end sparkle and the most intense resonance. As for sustain, open chords seemed to ring out forever, and the note separation was absolutely sublime
As for comfort and playability, the D-16E has a thinner body than most Martin dreadnoughts, which made it much easier to handle. We think smaller players in particular will really benefit from this. Despite being thinner, we don’t think it lost much of any volume or projection, which is likely down to clever use of scalloped bracing.
The electronics were courtesy of Fishman, and in this case were the proprietary Matrix VT Enhance NT2. The model name may be a mouthful, but we found it to be a simple and very effective system to use. It made use of both an under saddle transducer, and the “Enhance Element”, which can be used independently, or blended together. This allowed us to create some pretty unique tones when amplified, and also keep things simple with great, organic tone.
Other Guitars to Consider
The Martin D-16E is a tough act to follow, but we understand that when shopping for high end guitars it makes sense to weigh all the available options. Below we’ve picked out some of our other top recommendations.
Gibson Acoustic G-200 EC
The Gibson Acoustic G-200 EC is a big, bold jumbo designed with high volume and well balanced tones in mind. Like the Martin, it’s made in the USA, and offers superb playability as well as exceptional build quality. It’s made with a Sitka spruce top, and walnut on the back and sides, so it’s a little brighter in the mid range than the D-16E, and will likely appeal to those looking for a more lively sound.
Taylor American Dream AD17e
We’re big fans of the Taylor American dream series at KGR, and with the Taylor American Dream AD17e, you’ll get the same great build quality and tones, but with an board pickup system. It’s fitted with Taylor’s in house designed and built ES2 electronics, which are some of the best in the business. This is a full depth “Grand Pacific” model, which is a slope shouldered dreadnought. It delivers the big dreadnought punch you’d expect, but with slightly improved comfort thanks to the rounded shoulders. It’s made with all solid woods, and serves up the bright tones that Taylor guitars are most famous for.
Final Thoughts on the Martin D-16E
In the end, the Martin D-16E really did live up to the hype that surrounds Martin Dreadnoughts. It was a genuine pleasure to play, and the level of attention to detail and craftsmanship that has gone into this guitar was tangible in every facet.
It offered interesting tones and superb dynamics, features which we know demanding players will love. Although, at the end of the day, we were left wondering – if Martin is able to make what is effectively one of their lower tier US made models this good – how much better can their flagship models actually be? Hopefully this is a question we’ll be able to answer in a future review!