Martin SP Marquis Acoustic Guitar Strings 
                              - reviewed by Todd Stuart Phillips    

I enjoy trying out different acoustic guitar strings. But I continually return to my all-time favorite, Martin Marquis 80/20s. So I was quite curious to see how the new Martin Marquis SP strings would compare. I am happy to report they are very good indeed.

As well made as Martin's various types of strings can be I find the Marquises to give me the tone my ears love. In addition to the top quality bronze windings and steel treble strings, they feature special, silk wrappings down at the all end of the string. These wrappings help protect the pin slots and bridge plate of an acoustic guitar. But they also affect the sound of the strings. I know this because I have had the opportunity to acquire some Martin Marquis from the factory before they had the silk added to the ends. To my ear, those windings help filter out certain tinny frequencies at the highest registers. Whatever the case, Martin Marquis 80/20s age beautifully and give me a rich, golden tone in the mids and low end while allowing the woody qualities in the voice of a professional level instrument to remain an integral part of its overall voice. This makes them ideal for that great undertone found in the best Martin guitars. After many years they remain my favorite strings for recording purposes.

So why did Martin choose to add an SP version to their venerable Marquis line and what difference does it make? The answer is a significant improvement in the playing life of the strings. SP stands for Studio Performance and represents a recent breakthrough in string technology. They are designed for performing artists and studio musicians who need strings that will withstand long hours of intense playing and continual tuning and retuning. 

Many manufacturers have tried to improve string longevity. One method that has met with mixed results is to add special coatings to the strings that would resist corrosion and reduce unwanted string noise. Various brands of coated strings manage exactly that. Many players love such strings, yet others did not like how they sound and miss the bronze edge and definition of traditional strings. So Martin sought to attain the Holy Grail of offering their beloved, traditional strings while making them last longer under the most demanding circumstances. SPs achieve this goal through two improvements.

The first is a new bronze flashing added to the outside of their top quality steel core. The result is a core that resists breakage better than anything that came before it. This also means the first rate bronze windings do not have to be coated and can go through the classic, sonic evolution as that "new string sound" burns away to reveal the ideal warmth, definition and tone, before they slowly mellow out with age. The new core allows all that while also taking everything a serious player can dish out, from bends and vibrato to being continually dropped or raised into any number of alternate tunings, without being stressed beyond the limits that previously would have resulted in broken strings.

The second improvement lies in the unwound treble strings, which also receive the bronze flashing. This allows the trebles to resist corrosion and maintain brightness for a longer period of time. This is where the SP version differs in sound from the traditional Martin Marquises. The ring off those unwound SP strings is slightly fatter and bell-like. Because of this, certain chords seem to have those treble notes reach into the voice of the guitar and bring out some extra ring in the sympathetic harmonics. This adds some subtle but noticeable definition in the higher reaches of the fundamental notes. I would not say it makes a guitar brighter, as I do not find "brighter" to always be a positive thing. Rather, the clarity I hear in those unwound trebles is simply full and delicious; the sympathetic harmonics just that much more present and ringing. It is different than what I hear in the regular Marquises, possibly because the treble strings do not degrade as quickly and therefore do not age along with the wound strings in quite the same way. But the effect is not so different that I could claim it an improvement or detriment to that classic Martin Marquis tone. If a player is already familiar with Martin Marquises they will just have to try the SP version and see which they prefer. 

My hat is off to C.F. Martin & Co. When was the last time you heard of a major brand actually taking pains to see to it you could wait longer before having to buy more of their product? And rarely do I find a company that actually manages to improve a favorite product of mine without changing what I love best about it. But these new SPs are evidence of Martin's genuine appreciation of their loyal customers. They have taken what I feel are their premium guitar string and made them last longer without compromising their famous tone.

I think any guitar player would find a set of Martin Marquis SPs worth the money. Guitarists who find they are breaking or wearing out strings sooner than they wished will find them even more worthwhile. 

Out of a possible 8 Notes and the T Spoon Scale of Guitaracity, I give Martin Marquis SP 80/20 acoustic guitar strings a classic but improved 7 Notes.

TSP, NYC
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