a guitarist's occasional blog
Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a problem for some guitarists, including myself. However, I have come to think of Guitar Accumulation Syndrome (GAS Type 2) as the larger problem. Think of the crazy cat lady with an uncontrolled population of pets who have overrun her home; now substitute guitars for cats. I know these people! So I've been doing my part to manage my GAS (Type 2) this past week by selling off my Paul Hathway Octave Mandolin, Gibson LP Special, and Goodtime Classic Banjo. In fact, I currently have three other instruments for sale, and I am considering listing another guitar. GAS (Type 2) is in remission*.
Yesterday I took delivery of a wonderful new Martin guitar. It's a variation on the iconic Martin D-18 that is apparently meant for the European marketplace in light of trade restrictions on endangered tonewoods like mahogany and rosewood.
My new guitar is a Martin DST Special Edition that I ordered brand new from Ted at L.A. Guitar Sales. I have wanted a Martin D-18 for a long time. (Actually, I have owned two of them in the past!) But when it can time to purchase a new guitar for teaching and children's music performances, I did the right thing and saved myself a little bit of money by choosing the new DST over the D-18. (If you aren't experienced buying new guitars, know that you should never pay full list price. Also, know that certain dealers will agree to sell you an instrument below the MAP that you see listed on internet sites.)
After years of buying and selling used instruments, the most striking thing for me as I look at this guitar is the light color of the new spruce top. As spruce ages it turns darker and sometimes even takes on an orange hue. But right now my new guitar is very white. It's going to be fun watching it age and change color.
This instrument checks off the most important boxes for me in terms of emulating the iconic D-18. It has scalloped, forward shifted bracing, a Sitka top, a 1 3/4" nut width, and ebony fretboard and bridge. These are most of the essential elements (to me) of the D-18 that Martin has been selling since 2012.
Some primary differences include a simplified neck joint, sapele as a substitute for mahogany, and the light satin finish. I don't know anyone who can hear these details in a blind test, but they do add up to a bit of a difference from the D-18. Other differences are mostly in the visual details. I'm not crazy about the gold tuners or the red "eyes" on the bridge pins, but these are small things that are easy and inexpensive to change. (My wife and kids like these details.) There is no rosewood or mahogany to be found anywhere on the instrument.
I thought the guitar was going to come with a soft case, but mine was delivered with a basic flat-top Martin hardshell case. That didn't matter to me because I already have a padded gig bag for hauling my guitar and teaching materials around town.
How does it sound?
Well, it has a Sitka top and scalloped, forward-shifted bracing, and it is made from Martin's basic dreadnought recipe. To my ears, it sounds like a D-18. It's a new guitar, and it will change as it gets played and ages. Some people say the sapele will give it a slightly brighter tone than a mahogany guitar. Personally, I don't hear it. But I have no horse in that race because I already like what I'm hearing. I've put it through the paces with flatpicked fiddle tunes, fingerstyle blues, heavy strumming, and even some classical guitar etudes. The D-18 has a reputation as a "Swiss Army Knife" guitar, and this DST is just that.
Also, this is a very loud instrument. It is louder than the two straight-braced D-18's I have owned in the past. It's possible the lack of a gloss finish contributes to its volume; I can't be sure. Compared to my (2011) Martin D-21 Special, I'd say the DST has less bass power and more emphasis on treble. The D-21 Special is very lush sounding with a dark, growling character, and the rosewood back of the guitar really rumbles against your body as you play. The DST seems more articulate but also has solid, clear bass response. None of that should surprise anyone who has played a number of Martin dreadnoughts.
Which guitar should you buy? A DST or a D-18?
If you have your heart set on the classic Martin guitar, I honestly think you should spend the extra money and buy a D-18. It is maybe the most iconic acoustic guitar in American music, and the price difference (if you know how to shop) isn't enormous. But if you need to save some cash, or if you just like to be a little bit different, I think the DST represents a worthy musical alternative. In my case, I'm trying to control my own GAS (Type 2), and this seemed like a wise choice. I'm happy with it, and I'm grateful to be able to play such nice guitars.
(*OK. I admit it. I'm now shopping for a classical guitar.)
Chuck Cheesman writes hopeful, loving, and sometimes funny songs for people of all ages.
All materials ©℗ Chuck Cheesman
Banner photo by Gina Dazzo