Before we get to our Martin LX1 Little Martin Review, it’s time for a look back at history…
In 1833 a Mr. CF Martin established his guitar manufacturing company in New York City. To put that in perspective, he was born when George Washington was President of the United States. And in the days when politics was conducted by largely honest men, how things change.
It is now one of the most recognized and respected makers of acoustic guitars in the world. Its headquarters are in Pennsylvania, but there is a factory in Mexico where many of its instruments are made.
In the world of the acoustic guitar, They had things very much their own way for many years until 1946. Then Bob Taylor set up Taylor guitars, and the quality battle commenced.
Fender came along, but in their acoustic range, they never quite achieved the same quality level. Gibson, too flirted with acoustics and produced some desirable instruments such as the J200. Epiphone as well produced a great Dreadnought that the Beatles used often. But no one could keep up with the range of Martin and Taylor.
The rest fell out of contention a little bit because those companies were focusing on other products. Martin, apart from a few mandolins and ukuleles, was on an acoustic guitar mission. They wanted to be king of the ‘flattops.’ “Here come old flattop he comes…”
Another manufacturer joined the big two to make the big three. Yamaha was late in arriving at the party, but they’ve made a huge contribution and forced Martin and Taylor to be better. No bad thing.
Today all three are considered part of an elevated group. There are some that place Seagull and Gibson, and even Fender and Ibanez in that same group. But most agree that in the world of the Acoustic there is a big three.
We are going to take a look at the Little Martin guitar or, to be more precise, the Little Martin LX1. A scaled-down instrument in size. So, let’s see how it measures up to its larger cousins?
Martin makes a range of compact and affordable guitars that they often refer to as their Travel series. They are though eminently suitable for a variety of other uses.
If you are an adult with small hands, then a full-size instrument might be a problem. This guitar will solve that. Or as a starter guitar for the new student is certainly another. There aren’t many better ways to launch a new player’s career than with a Martin guitar.
It is a 23-inch scale guitar that measures in total 18 inches by 7 by 39 inches and weighs just over eight pounds. For a student player, this is certainly a guitar to consider. It must be one of the best guitars of its size in the marketplace. The quality, sound, and playability are all typical Martin. This particular model is Made in Mexico and features many of the great things about Martin guitars.
This ‘Little Martin’ is exactly what you can imagine from the name. It is a scaled-down ¾ size version of a full-size Martin. In fact, this little fellow is the smallest guitar in the Martin catalog. It has a very traditional non-cutaway design
People often wonder why some guitars have cutaways, and others don’t. There is no firm answer; it is a design issue, and what the manufacturers are thinking. There are some sound issues, though. Guitars that do not have a cutaway usually have a more pronounced bottom end and a bit more volume. Generally speaking, a fuller sound.
The Most Important Thing Is… The Sound!
In our view to have a ¾ size guitar designed without a cutaway is a good idea. It does limit access to the higher reaches of fingerboard but at the expense of the sound. We prefer the sound.
Acoustic guitars generate most of their sound from the body and especially the body size. There are other issues like the type of wood used, but in the main, the size and design of the body will determine the sound.
With a smaller body like the Little Martin lx1, there is bound to be a loss of some of the depth and richness in sound. Having a cutaway will diminish the sound further. Having no cutaway will give a little help to the bottom end and usually give you a fuller sound.
Mahogany & Spruce…
The back and sides are made from a laminated Mahogany. The top from solid Sitka spruce. Two woods that are noted for their good tone that blend together well. The warm richness of Mahogany complemented by the clear top sound of the spruce.
Inside the body is a Style X cross, top bracing pattern. This will add stability to the body but also help the sound produced. The bracing will control the way the top of the guitar vibrates with the sound. No bracing would mean a guitar vibrating in an out of control manner. This would seriously affect the quality of sound produced.
The bracing, in many ways, creates the clarity of the sound you hear. This bracing pattern on the Little Martin is also seen on guitars that cost far more.
The body style is very traditional and not flashy at all, which is a good thing. The top has a nice sheen to it, and the Mahogany back and sides complement the top visually. There is an attractive, understated decoration around the soundhole.
When producing a guitar that is going to be affordable, there are occasions when some corners need to be cut. Costs have to be reduced somewhere. In our view, that is not a problem as long as the manufacturers don’t try to hide it.
Martin has been upfront and said they use a strata bound neck on this model. This is a process where smaller pieces of wood may not be wasted as would normally happen, and thrown away. The multi-laminating process that is strata bonding produces a wood that is usable and stable but without the costs of a real mahogany or maple neck. The result is a strong neck that is then dyed to give it a nice finish.
Martin uses this process the LX1, as well as on a number of their lower-priced instruments in their catalog. It does allow people who would not normally be able to buy a Martin to afford one. The 20 fret neck is given a Richlite fingerboard. And fourteen of the frets are easily playable; the rest take a little more effort
The neck is fixed to the body using a Mortise and Tenon joint system. The neck has been designed with a low oval shape modified a little to make it student-friendly. Fret markers are in the shape of dots on the top edge of the fingerboard. The neck feels comfortable in the hand, and the modified profile gives it an easy feel.
One area that Martin has not cut corners. Up at the headstock, there are some Martin sealed back nickel machine heads. You need a decent quality of tuner to ensure you hold it in tune.
Sometimes the test of good tuners is that they don’t tighten up as you are tuning the strings. If the winders start to tighten too much, then the quality of the tuners may not be so good — no such problems with these tuners. The turning action is smooth and accurate.
The nut is made from white Corian, as is the saddle, which is also compensated. A compensated saddle means that there are grooves in the saddle for the high E, B, and G. This gives an increase in the intonation accuracy by adjusting the string length, which compensates for notes playing in higher registers. A non-compensated saddle doesn’t have grooves cut in the saddle.
It has a Richlite bridge that has white end pins with black dots. It is fitted with a set of Martin SP strings.
How Does It Play?
The Little Martin LX1 is a joy to play; there is no doubt about that. No matter what standard of player you are, it fits the bill. For an experienced player who wants a ‘travel guitar,’ it is an excellent choice. Smaller size, lightweight, and easy to carry around it fits overhead lockers on planes.
To be kept at home for some easy-going practice, it is also a great instrument to have around. It plays so easily and comfortably and takes little effort at all.
For a beginner, though, it has been given all they need. A nicely-shaped neck is the first point towards making it feel easy, but the action can be set low, so there is no need to struggle. The strings are nicely placed and, therefore, a little forgiving.
It must have steel strings, not nylon, so there is that initial ouch factor that some suffer. It soon goes away. In many ways, they are the perfect ‘just play it’ guitar. Perfect for students.
How Does It Sound?
So far, we have seen that it has a very impressive traditional design and looks the part. The intonation is accurate, and it plays well. But how does it sound? Martin has a reputation to uphold, and people are unlikely to be forgiving. With Martin written on the headstock, it simply has to sound good.
Let’s get ourselves into the right thought frame before we start. If you are expecting it to sound like a full-size Martin Dreadnought, then you will be disappointed. It is not built for that sound; it is a smaller body which on its own, prevents that sound.
The fact is that it is simply not possible to have that big Dreadnought sound from such a small body. This guitar is built for other reasons, and for that, it has a great sound.
It has no cutaway, which we have already discussed, that helps the sound. But for the size of the body, the projection that it produces and the tone is excellent. For a guitar to produce a great sound, then there has to be a high-quality build. The standard of workmanship in the Mexican factory is clearly very good.
The sound is nicely balanced. The bottom end is audible and adds a depth to the crisp sharpness of the highs.
If you’re not quite convinced that this Martin is not for you, please check out our reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners, the Best Acoustic Travel Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitars under 500 Dollars, and the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars under 200 Dollars currently available.
Martin LX1 Little Martin Pros & Cons
- Very high build quality.
- Excellent resonance and sustain
- Nicely balanced tone.
- Easy to play.
- Simple to transport.
- Can not be described as a ‘looker.’
- The level of volume and bass is lower than on a full-sized acoustic guitar.
- Lack of fretboard markers on the frets, but they are down the neck.
You may be looking for a guitar for a learner or for someone who has small hands. It may be that you just want an instrument to keep at home for a bit of playtime occasionally. Whatever the reason, it will be difficult to find a guitar that is better suited.
One thing you always have to consider when you are considering a Martin guitar is the cost. There will be cheaper brands out there. But apart from the other class acts of manufacturing, they won’t be anywhere near as good. And those brands themselves will have a similar price point.
The Little Martin LX1 s, without a doubt, a class act and worth every penny you pay. It comes with a nicely padded gig bag and a whole world of Martin quality.