Hands-On Review:Martin Grand Concert 00-17 and D-16GT acoustic guitars.
The rising cost of labor and material for guitar making has made obtaining a reasonably priced domestic instrument difficult. The good folks at Martin, having recognized this situation, are now providing acoustic fans with a range of affordable guitars that produce stellar tones. And because the Martin name is built on 170 years of guitar making, buyers receive an heirloom-quality instrument that will only improve with age. This month, I'm reviewing two models from Martin's $1,000-to-$1,900 range: the Grand Concert 00-17 and the D-16GT.
Grand Concert 00-17
In the Twenties, Martin built the 2-17, a guitar constructed almost entirely from mahogany, which was easier to work with and less expensive than cedar or spruce. The guitar's beautiful appearance and tone, and its low price point ($25), made the 2-17 a strong seller even in the depths of the Great Depression. Today, the Grand Concert model 00-17 faithfully replicates that classic guitar, providing players with yesterday's tones at an attractive price.
Pulling the 00-17 from its plush lined case, I marveled at its construction and clean artful lines. Upon close inspection, I found that the guitar's neck joint, top and sides were fitted with the precision we've come to expect from Martin, and the solid mahogany sides, back and top were iced with a flawless gloss finish. Black fiber purfling accents the back, while tortoise binding distinctly frames the instrument, matching the pickguard and offering a subtle hue that complements its dark beauty. The simple rosette keeps with the guitar's theme of subdued adornment. The tasteful black micarta bridge and compensated white micarta saddle are durable, and they present an even tone across the spectrum. White pins with black dots finish the bridge nicely.
Built on a 25.4-inch scale, the 20-fret mahogany neck features a white corian nut, an adjustable truss rod and a nut width of 1.6875 inches. The black micarta fingerboard is inlaid with pearl dots and the solid rosewood headplate provides a nice backdrop for the top-quality enclosed gold tuning machines. The modified low oval neck carve might be the closest to a universally comfortable neck that I've encountered. It fits in the palm beautifully and caters to quick changes of position.
The sound of the Grand Concert 00-17 is akin to its appearance: dark and rich. The relatively small body shape is a nod to traditional Spanish designs and, in conjunction with the all-mahogany tone woods and hybrid scalloped bracing, produces sounds that are ideal for folk and backing artists. Light-gauge strings and flatpicking styles better complement the guitar's dark tone and create the best tonal balance. Dylan would probably love this guitar as an everyday writing tool, and its moderate projection makes it ideal for intimate gatherings and for use in small venues.
Conceived as a less-expensive alternative to the high-end D-18, the handcrafted D-16GT delivers superior sonic performance and playability. And although the price is reduced, the quality is not. The D-16GT derives most of its great tone from its carefully chosen woods and its wide-shouldered, deep bell-like dreadnought body shape. The satin-finished sides and back are crafted from solid mahogany and bound in black, while the tight-grained and rippled spruce top sports a polished gloss finish (GT is short for "Gloss Top") and is highlighted by a herringbone (wood) rosette and traditional tortoise pickguard. The 25.4-inch scale D-16GT also features a black micarta bridge and a compensated micarta saddle that improves note definition and maintains spot-on intonation.
The mahogany neck is affixed to the body with a patented mortise-and-tenon joint, and features a fast and well-rounded modified low-oval shape, an adjustable truss rod and a black micarta 20-fret fingerboard with a 1.6875-inch white corian nut and pearl dots. The neck was straight and the action was set up so well from the factory that I was able to burn through scales easily without having to make any adjustments. The solid rosewood headplate sports sealed chrome tuners, and it gives the guitar a top-end look while adding depth to the instrument's tone.
The beautiful spruce top is supported by scalloped hybrid A-frame bracing that creates the D-16GT's crisp notes and effortless projection. High notes are airy, and the midrange is full and pronounced with the recognizable Martin tone; the lows are big, without the tubbiness sometimes associated with dreadnoughts. Perhaps the guitar's finest attributes are its tonal balance and quick response, which make for a rewarding fingerpicking experience. Simply stated, the D-16GT handles any acoustic chore with a level of refinement and ease of play that isn't typically available at this price point.