Martin is a name synonymous with acoustic guitar awesomeness and that becomes ever more evident when you look at the long list of guitar virtuosos that use Martin instruments on a regular basis.
From the late Chris Cornell through to David Crosby (The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash), Ed Sheeran, James Valentine (Maroon 5) and Willie Nelson, the appeal of Martin guitars is far-reaching and spans many genres and styles.
Although technically speaking the D10-E is entry-level by Martin’s standards, there’s nothing beginner-esque about this guitar. It’s an excellent instrument, crafted by a company that really knows how to build acoustic – and acoustic electric – guitars. It certainly impressed us. Read on to see why this bagged top spot in our ‘Best Acoustic Electric Guitar roundup’.
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How it all began
Are we sitting comfortably? The Martin story began on January 31, 1796 in Markneukirchen, Germany with the birth of Christian Frederick Martin. Born into a long line of cabinet makers our man, not surprisingly, followed the same path.
At the ripe old age of 15, he traveled to Vienna and embarked on an apprenticeship with renowned guitar maker Johann Stauffer. The rest is history.
Established in 1833, Martin (the company) is the oldest guitar brand in the US and quite literally invented many of the things we take for granted today. The dreadnought style guitar is a Martin invention – named after the large, military ships that bear the same name; as are the bracing patterns that are used inside most guitar tops.
Martin guitars are predominantly handmade instruments with manufacturing methods being a marriage of modern technology and materials with traditional handcraftsmanship.
The Martin D-10E is the updated version of the insanely popular Martin DRS1 and DRS2 models. The major differences broadly fall into three categories: aesthetics, electronics and the inclusion of an inbuilt tuner.
Actually, Martin has upgraded its entire Road series of guitars and also their respective naming conventions. In this video, Martin’s VP of domestic manufacturing, Fred Greene explains how this works, covering a number of Martin’s models including not only the D-10e but also the D12 and D13 variants:
We digress. Back to the D-10E. It’s a solid wood guitar which is a real plus at this price point. Solid guitars are like fine wines – they improve with age – and with the D-10E you’re getting a dreadnought sized guitar with a Sitka spruce top and Sapele back and sides.
Cosmetically, the guitar has some nice touches that differentiate it from the earlier DRS1 and DRS2 models: a mother of pearl pattern fingerboard; mother of pearl soundhole inlay, faux tortoiseshell pickguard; and rosette inlay with multi-stripe rosette border.
The D-10E has a smooth satin finish all over, complemented by an FSC certified Richlite fingerboard and bridge (see below) and a hand-rubbed neck finish. The neck incidentally is what Martin refers to as a performing artist style – it’s a comfortable C-profile and is manufactured from select hardwoods.
We noticed a flatter profile near the nut which lends itself well for bashing out barre chords.
If construction details and dimensions float your boat – the Martin D-10E features a mortise and tenon neck joint, an X-brace bracing pattern and a 25.4-inch scale length.
The fingerboard width at the Corian nut is 1.3/4” and 1.1/8” at the 12th fret. Chrome enclosed gear tuners are smooth in operation and function well. Strap buttons are located at the neck/body intersection and again at the far end of the body alongside a ¼” jack socket and a 9V battery compartment that powers the electronics. The saddle is manufactured from Tusq (also see below)
Like all Martin guitars, we were mightily impressed with the build quality of the D-10E. In fact, we’d say it’s the best we’ve seen at this price point.
The guitar ships with a premium soft shell case which although doesn’t offer the protection of a hard case, it does come pretty close. It’s well-padded and its dual back straps make it really easy to carry.
So what on Earth is Tusq?
Elephants have them and it’s a Fleetwood Mac album but we’re talking about TUSQ – not TUSK!
The D-10E has a Tusq saddle which for all intents and purposes could be alternatively called ‘man-made ivory’.
It’s very efficient at transferring sound vibrations to the guitar top resulting in full, rich lows and snappy, crystal clear highs. Whilst it’s difficult to quantify, many believe Tusq offers improved sustain over bone. You’ll need to make your own mind up on that one but it’s certainly on par if not better.
The problem with bone and other organic materials is that by definition the composition will be inconsistent – and this means the resultant sound will be too. Tusq components, like the saddle on the D10-E, are precision engineered under high pressure and heat to controlled specifications so consistency and tonal and harmonic excellence are guaranteed.
And FSC Certified Richlite?
FSC stands for ‘Forest Stewardship Council’ – an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting responsible forestry. FSC certifies forests all over the world to ensure they meet the highest environmental and social standards.
We all have to take care of our environment and when you buy a guitar made with wood and paper from FSC sources you can be confident that buying it won’t mean harming the world’s forests.
On the D-10E, Martin uses FSC Certified Richlite for the fingerboard and bridge. This is a durable, versatile and highly sustainable material handmade from resin-infused paper. Traditionally, Martin used ebony and sometimes rosewood for its fingerboards.
For Martin, discovering Richlite was something of a revelation because not only does it have obvious environmental and sustainability benefits – it also performs really well on guitars. Effectively, for Martin, Richlite has replaced ebony on all Martin guitars which is good news for the planet.
From the Top
The Martin D-10E is also available with a Sapele top rather than Sitka spruce. Sapele is a cheaper material than Sitka so it does reduce the price a tad. It’s a much darker wood as well if you’re that way inclined.
Talking about tone specifics on a guitar is challenging at the best of times but verbally conveying the sonic differences between woods is a nightmare.
We would say however that Sapele has a mellower tone than Sitka. It’s like mahogany but higher density. Sitka is more defined, brighter and has louder projection. Both are excellent guitars but of the two, we prefer the brighter sound of the Sitka version.
A really welcome addition to the D-10E compared to the earlier DS1 and DS2 models is the inclusion of a Fishman MX-T electronics package featuring volume/tone controls and a built-in soundhole tuner that auto mutes the audio output so you can tune up any time without using a pedal.
Where Martin has bucked the trend somewhat is that both the volume/tone controls and the tuner are located INSIDE the soundhole rather than on the side of the body as is the norm. Somewhat unexpectedly, this actually works really well and accessibility is excellent.
In operation, we found the volume quite limited. It’s not that sensitive – it’s fine full-on but if you’re looking to make precise volumetric tweaks then you’d probably be better off doing it via the amp/mixer. It’s not exactly subtle.
It’s a different story on the tone control. Fully counter-clockwise the EQ is flat but as you rotate clockwise the bass and treble lift simultaneously and there’s also a little gain boosting.
Players that like full-blown EQ on their acoustic electric guitars may find this nothing but a compromise but it’s actually a pretty useful tool to have in the box.
The tuner is basic but does what it says on the tin and is turned off and on by simply pressing the front of the circular display. Nestled inside the soundhole, it is discrete, easy to see and backlit for dark environments so generally a pretty useful addition. In use, it’s fine. Not as good as a dedicated tuner in our opinion but having something onboard is always better to have than not, especially for those impromptu mid-gig tune-ups.
Sound and Playability
There’s no doubt that the dreadnought format provides a full-bodied sound and on the D-10E, the Sitka spruce top offers warm, rounded bass tones and a clean, clear top end. It’s an ‘honest’ guitar. Perhaps not as refined sound-wise as some of its much more expensive siblings but it still ticks just about all the boxes.
It’s light too. Weighing just 4.56lbs the D-10E is comfortable – but still a dreadnought every inch of the way. The action is just fine straight out of the box. This is a guitar that will suit delicate fingerpickers and all-out strummers alike.
The sound is top-notch unplugged with good projection across the audio spectrum. It’s not quite as refined amplified but this certainly isn’t a dealbreaker. You’ll need to experiment with the onboard volume/tone controls and your amp/mixer settings to get the best results.
Play it hard or caress it softly. This guy, using a variety of strummed and fingerpicking styles really shows off the Martin’s versatility.
- A fantastically well-made guitar. Martin pays great attention to detail
- Fishman MX-T electronics are a welcome addition. The tuner is really discrete
- Comes with a high-quality gig bag
- Great value for money. C’mon this is a Martin!
- Lovely full sound
- The volume control isn’t exactly subtle
- Some players will miss a dedicated EQ
- That’s really about it!
The D-10E may be entry-level for a Martin but that still sets the bar really high.
OK, aesthetically the Martin D-10E may not be the most striking we’ve ever seen but it really doesn’t matter. The Sitka spruce top and pearl soundhole inlay really set the guitar off visually really well and the satin finish gives it a real quality feel.
The D10-E deserves to be played. Martin guitars are revered the world over and for good reason. You get a lot of guitar for your money and they’re designed and built from the ground up for the gigging guitarist. It’s part of the Road series for a reason.
In terms of who this guitar would suit: well it would be ideal for the beginner who’s been playing a while and is looking to step-up to his or her first serious guitar. For the more seasoned pro, it would certainly hold its own or make a great second guitar.