Last weekend we were visiting family out of town and spent a few minutes in "big box" music retailer Sam Ash where I fell in love with this beautiful 000 body Martin with Fishman's new Aura electronics. We almost bought it, but since cash flow was a bit of an issue, plus I wanted to check out what was available locally, we held off but that model definitely rose to the top of the list.
I went to a couple of local stores this week, tried some other brands, and kept going back to the small-body Martin and its tone... though no one locally had that particular model in stock. I did play a nice non-cutaway 000 equipped with the older Fishman electronics the Aura is replacing (combination microphone and piezo bridge) but plugged in the thing squealed with feedback way too much for my liking.
On a lark, yesterday I made my way across the Atchafalaya to the Red Stick where there's a Guitar Center open on Sundays. Alas, for all their selection they also did not have the desired Martin in stock (I was told that it was very popular though) but they did otherwise have a wider selection of acoustics than I could find closer to home, and the sales staff tried their best to find something similar in size and tone.
First off the wall was a gorgeous off-white cutaway Cort with the same Aura electronics as in the Martin. I've owned a couple Corts back in the day, and overall they're a nice guitar for the money - particularly since you're not exactly paying for the brand name. I could only imagine my husband's reaction if after going shopping for a Martin or a Taylor I came home with a lowly Cort. However, despite the fact that it was a dream to play, the thing sounded like a cardboard box. All the high-end electronics in the world weren't going to change the fact that acoustically it was like playing underwater.
I tried some smaller body Taylors, as well as a really nice Breedlove (new brand to me), and while the incredibly light and nimble $3,000 Breedlove came close with its clearly articulated tone, I kept going back to the Martins.
The salesperson left me to my own devices for a while, and there were a couple other guys in the acoustic room who were also drooling over the Breedlove, so I put it back on the wall so they could play and drool some more. I noticed there was a black 000 body Martin in the corner that no one had paid any attention to (it was only $650), so I took it down off the wall just to give it a shot, thinking it was going to sound like the cheap guitar that it was.
It didn't. In fact, it sounded almost exactly like the guitar I fell in love with last week, but for some reason was $1,000 less. I put it back on the wall and tried some others.
No, no, no and no. I even tried the Cort again, thinking that maybe it wouldn't sound as muddy as I thought on first play. I might as well have been playing in Henderson Swamp, with a tone that would even scare the alligators away. I took the little black Martin down again and plugged it into the acoustic sound system they had set up which is exactly the same system we have in our church. The thing sounded like a dream - while it didn't have the Aura electronics, the still high-quality Fishman Prefix Pro, designed for smaller body guitars, perfectly accentuated my somewhat rhythmic playing style (what they call the "Martin thump"). But unplugged it was still very much a Martin. No cardboard box here.
I put it back on the wall and mentioned to one of the Breedlove droolers, "You know, that little thing is the best bang for the buck in here."
I detected a veiled sneer. "Well... it's ok, I guess."
Exit droolers. I noticed too that the sales person who was helping me out kept his distance for a little bit, after I had obviously become enamored with this cheap little gem. But since I also was more ready to buy something than the droolers were, he eventually came back to check how I was doing. "What's the deal with that guitar?" I asked.
"Well, it's black. If you can get over the fact that it's black it's ok. I like real wood."
Turns out the body is made with Martin's patented wood-fiber laminate, and the neck is a maple "stratabond" which is supposed to be stronger than solid wood - I found it very comfortable to play as well. According to one retailer,
Martin Guitar's X Series feature acoustic guitars constructed with a combination of highly compressed wood fibers (high-pressure laminate, called HPL) and traditional tonewoods making these acoustic guitars extremely durable and affordable without sacrificing that "famous" Acoustic Martin Guitar sound and playability found in their more expensive acoustic guitars.
I called my husband. "I found what I liked. It's only $650. But it's a Martin."
"Are you sure that's what you want? I wanted to spend more money on you."
"It's perfect. It sounds great. It's black, though."
I didn't tell him that it wasn't "real" wood.
The resident "guitar guru"(I'm not sure if he works there or just hangs out in the store), a portly dude in his mid 50s who picked like a banshee, offered to set up the guitar, even though he kind of sneered at it as well. No matter, they restringed it with a lighter gauge set of strings, Mr. Guru readjusted it accordingly, and I brought it home. It didn't stay home long because I played it at church last night.
It played and sounded great, comparing very well with the "real" wood Tacoma.
Then the moment of truth. My husband played it. He liked it, too.
Ahh, there's a moral to this story, which is why I'm telling this on my blog. Names and reputations aren't everything. Test all things, rather than just accepting things at face value merely on the source's reputation. And don't overlook the humble vessel that may be sneered at and collecting dust in the corner. I've learned that the God I serve is often more likely to use humble vessels. In fact, it is with those that He can most demonstrate His power and glory.