REVIEW: Martin's Gorgeous 000-18 Golden Era 1937 Sunburst

Martin-000-18-GE-1937-smI’m going to break away from the electric side of things today and talk about a guitar that’s grown near and dear to my heart –– Martin’s 000-18 Golden Era 1937 Sunburst.

This is my current acoustic guitar of choice (I purchased one at the beginning of 2009,) and to be honest, I don’t see myself switching to anything else in the foreseeable future. The guitar is just too good to let go of.

Built as a reproduction of the classic pre-war 000-18 from Martin’s “Golden Era” (generally accepted as being the 1930s and early 1940s,) with a few minor modern-day enhancements thrown in, the 000-18 GE is not only beautiful to behold, but absolutely enchanting to play and here. It’s a vintage Martin for the rest of us, and handles as you’d expect from an instrument of its caliber and lineage.

With a street price somewhere in the mid-$3,000 range, the 000-18GE isn’t exactly an impulse buy –– for me it was the guitar I played time and time again at my local Martin dealer, and gradually fell madly in love with –– but its price, while not cheap, is right in line with the quality of the instrument, and a steal compared to true vintage Martins from this era.

Take the 000-18 Golden Era out of its hardshell case, and you’re presented with a stunning specimen of guitar artistry –– fit and finish is impeccable here, with a gorgeous glossy sunburst top fading to a deep, rich black. The tortoise-pattern Delmar pickguard is nicely beveled, and a solid black ebony bridge (1930s-style belly with a long saddle,) is flawlessly carved, and punctuated by six black ebony pins. There isn’t a speck of glue over-spill to be found.

The 000-18 Golden Era ’37 is of course a 14-frets-clear model, with 20 frets in total, spread across a lovely solid black ebony fretboard. All frets are dressed to a “T,” and inlays are pleasant enough, though not pronounced. There are no side inlays, and I don’t find that I miss them. A vintage-style Martin headstock and logo, plus aged Gotoh open-gear button tuners (I love the feel of these,) finishes off the look of this beautiful guitar.

Of course, the real test of any guitar is its tone and playability, and the 000-18GE Sunburst excels on both of these fronts… whether fingerpicking or strumming, deep but not overly-booming bass is perfectly balanced with a shimmering high-end. There’s nothing piercing about the treble here; just sparkling clean tones, easy on the ear. The overall sound is both woody and clear, with round, bell-like mid tones. Martin’s Golden Era 000-18 is quite simply one of the nicest sounding acoustic guitars I’ve ever had the pleasure to play, let alone own.

Maybe it’s the solid 1/4″ Adirondack Spruce top (play one of these next to a standard Sitka Spruce top model and you will notice the difference.) Maybe it’s just that Martin is a very old company that has learned its lessons the hard way, and continues to refine its understanding of what makes a guitar truly exceptional.

Whatever it is, Martin hit the ball out of the park with this one… it’s no wonder that original 000-18s from the 1930s fetch a small fortune these days. It’s a timeless design that has scarcely been surpassed.

As for playability, the 000-18 Golden Era is a hard act to follow. In fact, the other acoustic guitars in my arsenal have suffered a sad fate since this gorgeous reproduction entered my home –– they are languishing in their cases. With 1-3/4” at the nut, the 000-18 is plenty wide for us fingerpickers, and the instrument’s modified v neck (with a fast satin finish,) is comfortable enough to play for hours on end without undue difficulty.

Chording is comfy and fast compared to the other acoustic guitars I own, and the smaller 000-size body sits well in my lap and puts out a lot of sound, though admittedly not as loud as a dreadnought or other larger bodied instrument. That said though, even in a raucous bluegrass jam the 000-18GE holds its ground admirably.

As an aside: Martin recommends its Studio Performance Light Phosphor Bronze (MSP4100) string set, and I’ve tried these on occasion with much success, but my current favorite strings for this particular guitar are the John Pearse 600L Phosphor Bronze Wound; a 12-53 set. Light but still meaty. Easy on the fingers and the ears. They also last for quite a few weeks with regular play, and I’ve never heard a cleaner sounding string.

All in all, Martin’s 000-18 Golden Era 1937 Sunburst gets a helluva’ lot right, while getting almost nothing wrong –– the guitar’s fit and finish are flawless, its tone and playability have few peers, and the authentically vintage vibe is just undeniably cool. The 000-18GE easily outperforms most of the acoustic guitars I’ve touched in my 20+ years of playing, and certainly puts to shame all that I’ve owned. It’s an easy recommendation to make; give one of these beauties a try –– I think you’ll like what you find.