A great mahogany dreadnought with state-of-the-art electronics.
by Teja Gerken
June 15, 2020
Martin’s D-18 requires little introduction. Though sometimes overshadowed by the rosewood D-28, the mahogany dreadnought is among the most iconic flattop models ever made, and many pickers prefer its bright, clear, and balanced tonality. When Martin introduced the Modern Deluxe series last year, it included a D-18 version, and now an advanced Fishman electronics package is an option. I recently had a chance to take the resulting D-18E Modern Deluxe for a spin in the Peghead Nation video studio.
Like all of Martin’s Modern Deluxe models (check out our demos of the D-28, 000-28, and OM-28 versions), the D-18E Modern Deluxe is deeply rooted in traditional design, yet offers a host of very contemporary features. Built with a Sitka spruce top (which has received Martin’s Vintage Tone System treatment) and genuine mahogany back and sides, the guitar follows the classic style-18 wood combination, and in a nod to tradition is constructed using protein glues. Like vintage D-18s, the instrument has an ebony fingerboard and bridge and scalloped, forward-shifted X-bracing. All the woods are of beautiful quality, befitting a guitar that resides at the high end of Martin’s line. So, where do the modern elements come in? In addition Martin’s contemporary High Performance Taper neck, the D-18E Modern Deluxe has a composite carbon-fiber bridge plate and titanium truss rod (both of which offer great strength while keeping weight down) as well as gold frets, Martin’s “Liquidmetal” bridge pins, abalone position markers on the side of the fingerboard, and several other details common to Modern Deluxe instruments. And, of course, the “E” version of the guitar includes Fishman’s Aura VT Blend electronics. Incorporating Fishman’s latest Aura HD technology, the package uses a custom Aura “image” created using recordings of an actual D-18 Modern Deluxe guitar, which is used to process the tone of the Acoustic Matrix undersaddle pickup. “VT” refers to the system’s volume and tone controls, which are mounted unobtrusively in the bass side of the soundhole, facing the “Blend” control (used to adjust the amount of Aura signal) that is installed in the treble side.
I found the D-18E Modern Deluxe to be a very fun guitar to play. It had an incredibly lively character that immediately followed whichever playing style I chose, great tonal complexity throughout its dynamic range, powerful volume, and friendly balance. In other words, it delivered the goods that great mahogany dreadnoughts are known for. Plugging the guitar into a Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge amp, the guitar demonstrated that the close collaboration that the two companies began decades ago continues to pay off, as the Aura VT Blend offers one of the best straight-out-of-the-box amplified sounds I’ve come across.
Without a question, the D-18E Modern Deluxe would be a great choice for many contemporary dreadnought players. With a great acoustic sound and the ability to plug-and-play onstage, the guitar just might be the one-guitar solution that many have been waiting for.
SPECS: 14-fret dreadnought body. Sitka spruce top with Vintage Tone System treatment. Forward-shifted, scalloped X-bracing. Solid genuine mahogany back and sides. Genuine mahogany neck. Ebony fretboard and bridge. Titanium truss rod. Carbon-fiber bridge plate. 25.4-inch scale. 1¾-inch nut width. 2⁵/₃₂-inch string spacing at the saddle. Gold Waverly tuning machines. Fishman Aura VT Blend electronics. Made in USA. $4,999. Martinguitar.com
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