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Home / Music / Review: Martin D-28 – does an iconic guitar deserve the hype?

Review: Martin D-28 – does an iconic guitar deserve the hype?

Anybody playing electric guitar can have an easily identifiable iconic shape, like a Les Paul or Strat, in their hands, and people will identify it as such from a mile away.

With the exception of the Hummingbird, acoustic players mostly don’t have that luxury. From far away, this guitar could be as much a Martin D-28 as a Yamaha F335.

D-28s, however, are something special, and their design is regarded as the classic American design. With a list of players spanning everybody from Elvis, to The Beatles, to Marcus Mumford, this is a guitar for professional players if ever there was one.


Core specs

The D-28 is one of those instruments where the guitar itself is its own selling point. Running through the specs, there’s nothing that stands out as groundbreaking, but the price tag indicates that the parts will be in a different league of quality compared to cheaper guitars citing similar specs.

What body style is it? Full-size dreadnought
What top wood does it use? Sitka spruce
What body wood does it use? East Indian rosewood
What wood is the neck made from? Select hardwood
What wood is used for the fingerboard? Ebony
How many frets does it have? 20
Does it have electronics? No, but it is an optional upgrade
Dexterity? Right or left-handed models available

Parts

All of the parts on the D-28 are Martin’s own brand. That’s fair enough: the D-28 has been selling since 1930 – you trust them to know what they’re doing at this stage. It just looks like such a humble, unassuming and underwhelming guitar. There are no bells and whistles on this to make it fancy looking.

For me, the standout feature of the parts is the ebony fingerboard. I always find that such a hallmark of class. Even though you can get them on much cheaper guitars these days, you know this will have better quality, higher density stuff.

There are a couple of things about the list of parts that I find unusual though. Firstly, the back and sides are made of East Indian rosewood. Mahogany is a far more common material to be used in such areas. If you’re thinking of looking into getting one of these cheaper from abroad, be mindful that rosewood is highly regulated, and you will likely have to pay a hefty fee to US customs to import it.

The other weird thing is the neck material is list as “select hardwood.” That seems incredibly vague, and I do like transparency in where materials have been sourced from. Somme Googling suggests that it means either mahogany or Spanish Cedar, depending on availability.

Although the parts are pretty standard, a large part of the D-28’s price is to do with its American construction.

Construction

D-28

It’s hard to know what to say about the D-28’s construction: you’re not remembered as the basis of other guitars for over 80 years, and charge the far side of $2500 if your construction is shoddy!

It goes without saying that the craftsmanship that has gone into this D-28 is entirely flawless. From the neck joint to the binding around the body, to the fingerboard and neck construction. It’s all perfect.

I do want to draw your attention to the construction methods though. In case you have visions of some gentleman working alone in a dusty workshop, with only a bottle of whisky and a crackly wireless radio playing Johnny Cash for company, lovingly putting your D-28 together.

It’s quite the opposite. Martin pride themselves on being innovators in guitar construction, and unfortunately, when they make such high-demand guitars, they need a slick construction process. Back in the 30s, there was a two-year waiting list for a D-28 – I think they’re keen to avoid returning to that!

The D-28 is designated as one of their Playability Enhanced models, which means it has been subjected to their Plek processing. This is actually a very cool piece of tech. Apparently it scans the guitar’s neck, and dresses the frets according to the neck tension and emulates the guitar being played, to create the guitar around the playing experience.

I told you it was cool!

This gives Martin a much quicker fret dressing process and will give them consistent quality across the range.

Tones

It’s rarely that a guitar tone is so “everything” that I struggle to describe it.

I played this in a medium sized living room with a wooden floor, with curtains that would give a bit of dampening: it shouldn’t be too boomy or reverby. I used a 1mm pick.

So how do I describe the sound of a D-28 in its most natural form? Think of every acoustic guitar sound that’s ever sent a shiver down your spine, roll it into one, and that’ll get you pretty close.

So, what is it about the tone that just nails it? For me, I think it’s the balance of the sound. If you want the quintessential acoustic guitar sound, that will cover all bases ever, this is it.

Playing at home or recording is one thing, but you want to sound as good as possible live too. If you don’t have the electro-acoustic D-28 model, that could be tricky. Most sound engineers are ropey when it comes to micing up acoustic guitars as it is, that I find it hard to believe they’d do your D-28 any justice.

Unless you’re working with world-class techs, there’s a good chance that bringing it to play a gig is a waste of time.

Playability

The only barrier to enjoying playing this guitar is holding it in such reverence that you become intimidated by it. You do need to get over that and enjoy it: this is a guitar that was made to play!

In terms of the physical playing of it, for me, it’s all about the ebony fingerboard. I like ebony fingerboards. But the balance between the ebony and the action on the strings is just right. On electrics, I’d favor a low action, but I like a bit of fight in an acoustic guitar – there’s less room for mistakes, so a little extra action will help to really focus your playing.

There’s no discomfort in playing up and down the neck. The Plek system is clearly very effective! There’s no catching or sharpness at all. Combine that playability with the perfection of its tone, and this guitar is as good as good as it’ll get.

There isn’t anything to fault at all in this guitar. But going back to that price tag, you’d really hope there wouldn’t be!

Conclusion

Obviously, the price tag on the D-28 is a big ask, and one of the main barriers to accessibility.

This guitar is aimed at professional musicians though, especially those who will be working in high-end studios, with the appropriate equipment to get the most out of its glorious tone. If you’re in the position that you just need a nice acoustic for your living room, good for you.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate player, quite frankly, the tone will be wasted. For all the hype around this guitar, it’s difficult to justify the spend if you’re working in low-end studios.


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Anybody playing electric guitar can have an easily identifiable iconic shape, like a Les Paul or Strat, in their hands, and people will identify it as such from a mile away. With the exception of the Hummingbird, acoustic players mostly don’t have that luxury. From far away, this guitar could be as much a Martin D-28 as a Yamaha F335. D-28s, however, are something special, and their design is regarded as the classic American design. With a list of players spanning everybody from Elvis, to The Beatles, to Marcus Mumford, this is a guitar for professional players if ever there…

Martin D-28

Parts
Construction
Tones
Playability

A guitar worthy of its iconic status

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