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Acoustic Guitar

Martin D-28 (2017) Re-imagined Standard Series Acoustic Guitar Review

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My love of the D-28 from Martin has always been strong, but past models have always felt a bit closed and flat sounding for use with a full band. That has always pushed me towards the HD-28 with scalloped bracing and herringbone purfling. The HD-28 has, to my ears, always been more open sounding, with more treble, and cut in the mid-range, making it perfect for live performances, in large band settings. It is no wonder that Hillsong United founder and frontman, Joel Houston, is almost always seen playing his trusty HD-28.

Additionally, the D-28 models from the past decade or so all featured bright white binding on the front, back and sides along with a thick, chunky C.F. Martin logo on the headstock. This cosmetically just never resonated with me. The D-28 is iconic in Martin’s line and it deserved a bit more of a vintage aesthetic in my eyes. That was then, this is now.

Exquisite Aesthetics

Martin recently sent me the new Re-Imagined D-28 Standard Series to try out. It was love at first sight for me. The aged white binding, aged toner top and thinner vintage style logo immediately demanded respect and framed the style of the guitar wonderfully. I have to note that one of my personal favorite things about getting a new Martin guitar is the smell when you open the case. It is a mixture of nitro cellulose lacquer and wood that I have never smelled elsewhere. It is almost like the craftsmanship and history are coming together to touch all of your senses. Kind of like that new car smell, it has a smell that harkens the feelings of “I have made it.”

Moving on in the cosmetics department, Martin added open back Wavorly tuning machines which are a huge cosmetic upgrade in my opinion, compared to the modern chunky Grover’s found on previous D-28 models and even the HD-28 for that matter. The neck was perfectly finished in a satin nitro-cellulose lacquer that even after hours of playing didn’t feel tacky or slimy like other manufacturers nitro does.

The gloss nitro lacquered front, back and sides is absolutely exquisite. Not a single flaw, orange peel, or hazy spot. Not that there should be in a $2800 guitar, but let’s face it, we have all seen it from other manufacturers. All in all, this guitar felt like some of the custom one off $6000+ acoustic guitars I have played.

“The Tone”

“The Tone” is not just a lazy heading I came up with. It literally describes how I feel about Martin’s latest rendition of their best selling D-28. For this new re-imagined model, Martin shifted the bracing forward, which they say allows the top to vibrate more freely. Now let’s be clear. I have no scientific way of accurately measuring that, but what I can tell you is that the guitar sustains for ever! I have never heard an acoustic guitar sustain for so long.

Unlike previous D-28 models this one has a richness in the mid-range and top end that give it almost a vocal like characteristic. It is equally at home with light picking and strumming and big open, heavy handed strumming. The low end is punchy but not overpowering and the added treble helps cut through the mix in a large band setting.

For me this guitar literally is “The Tone” I have been looking for. For me it sits between previous D-28 and HD-28 models. It is not quite as bright and airy sounding as the HD-28 but it is not as flat and boomy as the D-28. The perfect combination of both worlds.

Subtle Yet Present

This is a much disputed topic in Worship bands. Does the acoustic need to be front and center in the mix, or should it be present without over-powering the other instrumentation? There are many schools of thought and as with just about anything, different applications require different tools. That being said here is my take.

Rewind back to the early 2000’s. Chris Tomlin was at the forefront of the Worship music industry and most churches were just coming out of the traditional piano, organ driven hymns that once filled churches across the world. The churches that were transitioning did not have large bands with drums, multiple acoustic and electric guitars, bass and even keyboards and synths. They often times were made up of an acoustic guitar player, a pianist and 1-4 vocalists.

The guitars needed in those applications were very vocal and mid-range heavy. That is, in my opinion, what lead to the Taylor and orchestra body sized boom of that era. The OM, OOO and orchestra body shapes tend to be more punchy and brighter than a dreadnought or jumbo. They also tend to be way more percussive in nature, which is a great thing to have when you don’t have a drummer or percussion section.

But like it or note, over the past decade there has been a switch in both band size and also desired tonality from an acoustic guitar. Bands like Elevation (Chris Brown & Mack Brock) and Passion (Crowder & Kristian Stanfill) reach for larger bodied Gibson jumbos and dreadnoughts on most occasions and the group at Hillsong has almost exclusively played dreadnoughts over the years. What you will notice about these bands is that they are huge. They have many guitarists, bass, keys, synth, percussion and drums. In these situations you need a guitar that sits well in the mix, without being front and center. Gone are the days where the percussive driving acoustic guitar is the most prominent instrument. In the early 2010’s to 2015 the electric guitar emerge as the prominent instrument in songs. Presently there is a resurgence of 80’s synth driven sounds. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be acoustic in the mix. It just means that it isn’t front and center any longer.

At my home church we have a similar setup with a ton of moving pieces. My Taylor and Breedlove orchestra bodied guitars, while great guitars, just didn’t have the sound I was looking for. I have tried many Gibson acoustics. I have liked a few but all in all they sound dead to me and the companies lack of quality control in recent years has lead me to avoid them. There are a number of other companies out there that make dreadnoughts, including Taylor and Breedlove but they all tend to still have a tonality that is to front and center. They are not mellow enough if that could help shed some light descriptively to what is lacking.

Refreshing & Inspiring

I have always been a fan of Martin’s history of ethics, craftsmanship. The HD-28 for the past few years has been my go to guitar. That was until we received this demo re-imagined D-28. I immediately bonded with it. Literally from the first strum, I knew I had to have it. I first played it on a Friday and I can honestly say it is the most fun I have had playing an guitar, acoustic or electric, in the past decade. The guitar took me back to my early days of learning guitar, when regardless of what was going on around me, I just didn’t want to put the guitar down. I just sat in my recliner at home and played for hours. In my busy life of family, business and volunteering at church I rarely have hours to sit and play and when I do have spare time, I use it to catch up on sleep. Not lately. This guitar has revived my passion for guitar playing and inspired me to play better.

The feeling I compare it to is when you first get a great sounding tube amp. The amp highlights every mistake and every nuance of your playing. Like that amp this guitar brings out both the best and worst in your playing, pushing you to be better and when you do bust through that ceiling, it rewards in a huge way.

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