Martin D-18GE - reviewed by Tony Phillips
GEE? No, "GE"
Which D-18 is right for you? Considering Martin offers 4 production D-18's for you to choose from, and has produced several D-18-based limited editions, you have a very good chance of finding exactly the features that you want. You may not need Martin's Custom Shop after all. Variations in Martin's family of style-18 dreads include neck width, bracing, top wood, and several other cosmetic and structural details if you factor in the limited editions. I'm narrowing my focus to the D-18GE, which offers an all-star array of features and a reasonable price for a premium mahogany dreadnought. I recently auditioned one from Maury's Music, and was very impressed by what I saw and heard.
The D-18GE's all-star features list begins with an Adirondack top supported by forward-shifted "Golden Era" scalloped bracing. The D-18V also wears forward-shifted and scalloped braces, but the "V" has a Sitka top, and the scalloping used in the D-18GE features Martin's "Golden Era" scalloping pattern, where Martin removes different amounts of material from different places than they do with their "standard" scalloped braces. The D-18GE also features a 1-3/4" modified-V neck, which happens to fit my hand perfectly. Cosmetically, the D-18GE maintains an understated theme with its black-and-white soundhole rosette and simple style-18 black-and-white body bindings. The D-18GE's simple binding scheme helps its beautifully grained aging-toner Adirondack top stand out all the more. (By comparison, the limited edition D-18GL, D-18DC, and D-18CW seem almost flashy with their quilted woods, binding choices and abalone rosettes.) The D-18GE has its back and sides made from striking straight-grained mahogany, with a richer cast to it than what I've seen on other mahogany Martins. Inside, Martin equips its Golden-Era models with linen side reinforcement strips placed every few inches along the sides, while the D-18V and limited edition D-18 models get a smaller number of slim rosewood side reinforcements. The low-key and old-style appointments are very appropriate for a "Golden Era" instrument.
What does all this mean to your ears? Well, the D-18GE shows off its Adirondack-based character very well, offering a crisp attack with plenty of pop. Notes really explode with a pick, and there is no shortage of volume. I don't think you'll need to worry about overdriving the D-18GE. It is refreshing to hear a solid and rich bottom-end to balance out all the clarity. Lifelong rosewood fans might find in the D-18GE a mahogany guitar they can love. Notes are still delivered with a lightness and clarity that comes from mixing Adirondack and mahogany, but the Martin voice gives the D-18GE a full and round bottom end as well. As you play successions of notes, each note gets its space and shows a clean attack and lengthy sustain. I experienced a wonderful swell of sound, but the individual notes still got heard. Lead runs and quicker picking patterns are right in this model's sweet spot.
What I found especially entertaining was putting my flatpick aside (allow me to plug Tor-Tis picks with the speed-bevel edge) and digging in with bare fingers. There is absolute magic in this mix of Adirondack and mahogany. Many might pigeon-hole the D-18GE as a bluegrass lead instrument because of its ability to keep up with any instrument in the ensemble, but the clarity and the precision the D-18GE offers to fingerstyle players should not be underestimated. I found a lot of efficiency at my fingertips, meaning I didn't have to work hard at all to produce clear notes that filled the room with sound. Open tunings were a real treat, with the D-18GE's power holding up even on the dropped strings. (Speaking of strings, the D-18GE I played was wearing Martin SP medium phosphors, which I liked very much on the GE.) I also found the neck's comfortable modified-V shape and 1-3/4" neck width offered me ample room for fingering. The V-shape felt comfortable all the way up the neck, and I found the volume and tone to be very consistent regardless of where on the neck I was playing.
Besides comparing the D-18GE with Martin's own D-18V and a couple of limited editions (D-18GL and D-18CW), I have had an opportunity to sample several other highly-regarded makers' premium mahogany dreads alongside the D-18GE to round out my sampling of mahogany. I found that, in spite of the high quality of all the different mahogany dreads I tried, I was won over by the simple elegance and clear, rich and "woody" voice of Martin's D-18GE. In its class, the D-18GE offers tremendous value. I also am a big fan of Martin 1-3/4" modified-V necks, and loved the D-18GE's playability.