Martin HD-16R LSH Guitar
By Todd Stuart Phillips
C.F. Martin and Co. has hit a series of home runs with their latest offerings of musical instruments. The HD-16R LSH might get lost in the glare of some more expensive and flashy players but I believe it will prove among the most successful over the long haul. It takes advantage of modern economics while presenting an aesthetic that is comfortably in line with Martin's most venerable traditions.
The D in the model name means it is a dreadnought size, a Martin invention and the most popular acoustic guitar design in history. The R stands for the solid rosewood from India, prized for its lush, smoky tone and used for the guitar's back and sides. The H in the model name stands for Herringbone trim, which is inlaid around the edge and soundhole of the solid Sitka spruce top. H-designated Martins traditionally have hand-scalloped braces, allowing the soundboard to move freely for a more resonant tone. That is also the case with this model. The LS in the name stands for L A R G E S O U N D. And that it does have, in piles and piles. This is a modern dreadnought with a high Wow Factor. It is a great looking guitar with a big, bold voice that will stand out in any jam session and is likely good for scaring cats.
The 16 in the name refers to the 16 Series of guitars. These are the highest grade guitars in the regular catalog that feature the modern Mortise and Tenon neck joint. This joint is far less time and labor intensive than the traditional, hand-fitted dovetail joint and therefore helps keep costs down for the consumer. But unlike many M&T neck Martins, today's 16s get the Hybrid X bracing pattern, which means it has the same X brace and tone bars below the soundhole as the most expensive Martins, along with the addition of the A-frame braces installed above the soundhole necessary to that neck joint. As such the 16s often have the fullest, most powerful sound of the M&T Martins. Well, things just got all the more full and powerful with the addition of the large soundhole.
The large soundhole concept has been around since the late Clarence White was playing the modified D-28 now in the possession of Tony Rice. Martin has since produced a number of models with a large soundhole built right in. They make for guitars that are loud in the best possible way. 14-fret dreadnoughts often sound much louder to the player than someone sitting across the room. But guitars like the HD-28LSV and the D-28 Clarence White just fill up a room with tone. The LS Martins have all been very popular. They have also been very expensive. This is the first time Martin has made available a more affordable LS and it is long over due. When I visited the Martin factory to try out the new models not a single soul heard that guitar who did not praise it, including many Martin employees.
These things should fly out of the stores because they feel as good as they sound. The D-16R LSH has a 1-3/4" width neck in the Modified Low Oval profile. That profile is another recent invention found almost exclusively on M&T guitars and should retire all criticism that Martin's 1-3/4" necks are too big and manly for many players. The MLO does not overly flatten the hand like their low profile neck and yet does not fill the hand with the pointy profile of a V neck either. It is one of those necks that a player forgets all about; because it is so easy to play they just focus on the music being made.
The body is all gloss (yea) and the fingerboard and bridge are made from undyed, striped ebony (I assume this means Macassar ebony, a species native to Indonesia and currently a cash crop of India. It makes for a beautiful tonewood in its own right, so it works very well for bridges.) I like it because the striping in the pigment reminds me of rosewood fingerboards, only with more black instead of the reddish brown and it makes each bridge and fingerboard unique from all others. The decorative but woody look continues when you turn the guitar over to see the multicolored purfling running down the center strip as found on the lofty D-45.
I am not sure what Martin may have changed in the development department but I cannot remember a single year when so many models appeared on the same day that were this well thought out and so well executed. When one gets this deep in the lineup and can say each guitar is a heavy hitter they are talking about a serious Murder's Row of axes. The HD-16R LSH certainly deserves its place among them. At a list price only $300 more than the basic D-16R, this large sound hole and herringbone trimmed model is going to win many fans. With a street price $1,000 less than what a used HD-28LSV will run, if you can even find one for sale, this guitar is a steal. Well done, Martin.