The D-18 can easily slip under the radar if you’re not too careful. We’d advise you to most definitely be careful. If you’re not, then you’re liable to miss out on an absolute gem.
At first glance, The D-18 can be a little bit underwhelming. Like many Martin guitars, it is very much understated. But under the simple exterior, beats the heart of one of the most beautifully made and beautiful sounding acoustic guitars money can buy.
The D-18 is a classic by any yardstick.
So, let’s get this Martin D-18 Review underway and take a closer look at this piece of acoustic guitar history.
The Martin Standard Series D-18 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar is an all-solid wood construction.
It has a Sitka spruce top and high gloss mahogany back at sides. It has an aged finish to the spruce top. The aged top is designed to give it a kind of pre-war look. It’s a look that tends to divide opinion as some prefer the natural blonde finish of the wood. We think it works well, as it beautifully offsets the rich mahogany back and side and ebony fretboard.
The rear of the guitar is in two pieces though you will have to get out the microscope if you want to see the black pinstripe join. There’s no fancy purfling like you find on the D-28. Just two pieces of glorious looking wood joined together perfectly.
Subtle and beautiful…
The black and antique white binding on the body of the guitar is also flawlessly executed and also does little to draw attention to itself. The simple inlay around the soundhole continues the trend of restraint.
Pleasingly, the D-18 has a tortoiseshell pickguard, which helps to elevate the otherwise plain looks. The colored pickguard is another throwback to the pre-war era. It’s another good look for the D-18.
Forward scalloped bracing…
Under the Sikta spruce top, you’ll find forward scalloped bracing. This is the same kind of bracing as you find on the Martin HD-28 Standard. In recent years, Martin has shifted away from standard X tapered bracing, still found on some of its guitars, towards forward scalloped bracing.
Going back again to the pre-war years of 1934 to 1946, this was another common feature of Martin guitars. At this point, it clear that Martin is reaching to the past to build even better guitars for the future.
Forward scalloped bracing has a significant effect on the D-18’s sound, which we’ll look at in more detail later on.
Safe and secure…
Finally, the D-18 comes with a case that looks and feels like it could survive a nuclear holocaust.
Specification and Hardware
The neck is made from select hardwood and joins to the body of the guitar at the 14th fret. It has a modified low oval shape and has a high-performance taper. The back of the neck has a smooth satin finish.
It has a smooth black ebony fingerboard with mother of pearl dot inlays. The fretboard scale length is 25.4” and it measures 1¾” at the nut. There is no binding between the fingerboard and the neck, which is very much in keeping with the rest of the guitar. Additionally, there’s no binding on the headstock. It would be a bit of a surprise if there was!
There is a bone nut and a bone saddle. The saddle is set into an ebony bridge. To keep things in tune, the D-18 features nickel-plated open-gear tuners. The knobs are nickel-plated butterbean shaped.
A choice of pickups…
We’re not a big fan of putting electronics on any of the Martin dreadnoughts. We think it’s something that just seems wrong. However, if you’re determined to ruin another wise beautifully crafted and put together guitar, you do have a few options.
Martin can hook you up with four different kinds of Fishman or an LR Baggs Anthem pickup. We think you should go for the sixth option and leave the guitar alone. What’s it ever done to you?
Guitarists buy Martin guitars for the sound, so we presume that’s mainly why you’re here.
Let’s start by taking a look at the forward scalloped bracing and how that affects the sound from previous models. And the fact is that it affects it rather a lot, happily, in a good way.
Firstly, what hasn’t been lost is its awesome, powerful, well-balanced sound. This is a dreadnought guitar, so you automatically assume it will be loud, and we can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.
You’ll also be happy to know that the new Martin D-18 Standard still retains an excellent midrange bump. Additionally, it maintains its great bottom end without ever sounding boomy. What’s more, it does this without the volume overwhelming the sound, whilst allowing the harmonic complexity to shine through.
Sustain for days…
The forward scalloped bracing has increased the level of bass, volume, and projection. Additionally, there is a noticeable increase in the level of sustain. The guitar also feels more responsive to different levels of attack. When playing, it reacts quickly, and with great accuracy, to even the slightest changes in playing dynamics.
For playing in the mix, it’s hard to think of a better acoustic guitar. It sits beautifully with other musicians as it doesn’t impinge on the bass guitars frequencies. But also, it doesn’t crowd out the vocalists, but conversely, it has a big enough sound to hold its own and not get lost over more powerful instruments.
Warm and rich…
It does all of this whilst still sounding warm and rich, plus, without ever losing its beautiful even tone. There’s no doubt that this is a great guitar for recording with and an excellent choice for finger pickers.
Martin guitars have changed over the last 20 years and have become increasingly easier to play. The fact is that this latest D-18 has a neck that is more playable when compared to Martin D-18s of old.
The oval profile high-performance neck has a slim modern feel to it. If you close your eyes, you’d be forgiven for thinking your left hand was playing an electric and not an acoustic guitar.
A familiar feel…
This push amongst acoustic guitar makers to produce acoustic guitars with lower profile necks is a welcome one. In part, it’s been fueled by the increasing number of new guitarists who’ve learned to play on an electric guitar first and then moved on to play acoustic. Consequently, there’s a demand to move to an acoustic instrument with a neck that feels more familiar.
It all feels the wrong way round to us, but if it gets more young people into playing acoustic guitar, then why not? Plus, there are still plenty of choices for guitar players who want a more traditional feel to their neck. It’s just great to have the options.
Let’s move on to the fingerboard…
Again, it’s more good news here, as wherever you fret, even higher up the fretboard, you’ll be rewarded with clean, crisp tones. The D-18 is almost cheering you on to explore the entire fingerboard and the treasures it has to offer. The cool thing is that once you have the action set low, even with some shoddy technique, you’ll have to work hard to get the strings to buzz.
This is achieved, to a large extent, by the guitar being placed in a PLEK machine before the final part of the manufacturing process. Basically, the PLEK machine is a computer-controlled fret leveling device. It can level any fret to an ideal height within a tolerance of just .001”. Additionally, it assists in shaping the nut perfectly.
The result of all of this is a Martin D-18 Standard guitar that is optimized to achieve the very highest level of playability. It’s a guitar that has no sharp edges. It’s a guitar with excellent intonation. A guitar that can be played with low action and minimum issues.
Frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Martin D-18 Review Pros and Cons
- Excellent craftsmanship.
- Quality tonewoods and finish.
- Forward scalloped X bracing.
- Oval high-performance neck.
- Well-balanced sound.
- High volume, resonance, and sustain.
- Super-strong hard case included.
- We don’t have one.
More Excellent Choices of Acoustic
As you can tell from reading this review, you really don’t get much better than a Martin D-18. However, it is well worth checking out our review of the Martin HD-28 as a comparison. The Guild D20 is also a superb guitar and well worth considering.
However, if you’re not quite sure that you want to spend that much on an acoustic, check out our reviews of the excellent Epiphone Hummingbird Pro, the Martin LX1 Little Martin, the Taylor GS Mini, the Epiphone EJ 200SCE, the Taylor BBT Big Baby, and the Epiphone AJ 220S.
Martin D-18 Review – Final Thoughts
So, there you have it — a truly iconic and special guitar. If you don’t already own a premium Martin guitar, then you can’t go far wrong with the Martin D-18 Standard. If you’re also seriously considering buying a Martin D-28, you should buy both!
Every guitarist should have a solid mahogany and a solid rosewood guitar in their collection. But if you’re looking for an acoustic guitar that’s beautifully made, beautifully balanced, responsive, with a warm, rich sound, then get your credit card out and treat yourself to a Martin D-18.
We guarantee it’s a decision you won’t regret.
Happy fingerpicking, strumming, or a nice combination of both!