Price paid: $ 599
Purchased from: Maple Street Guitars, Atlanta GA
Features: It was made in Mexico just this year, I believe. It's got 22 frets, a comfortably-wide fretboard, made out of a material called Richlite, same as the bridge. It's a wood alternative that looks similar enough to ebony. The material's base is recycled paper, so it has similar acoustic properties to wood - you're not sacrificing your tone in the alternative material.
The neck is made out of a high-pressure laminate called Stratabond, and it looks fantastic - it's striped up and down the neck, you can find a picture of it online. While it's not for everybody, (some people think it looks atrocious since it's more obvious that it's a laminate), at the least, it's extremely stable - I live in a high-humidity environment, so when I'm not able to control the humidity, this is a great feature to have in the instrument.
The satin finish is very subdued, and seems tough enough. You won't see fingerprints or anything on the wood, which is great. The back, sides and top are all made from SOLID sapele, which is very similar to mahogany. I want to emphasize that SOLID bit there, you can easily find a guitar with a solid top in the $200-300 range, but this is one of the least expensive ALL-SOLID bodies you'll find anywhere.
It's got your standard active Fishman Sonitone pickup system, controlled by volume and tone knobs, hidden perfectly just inside the soundhole. You'd never know they were there if you weren't looking for them. Very subtle, very classy. The tuners are nothing special; just generic Martin stock ones. I've not had problems with tuning though, so I have no complaints.
What really sold this for me, outside of how great the instrument is on its own, was the fact that with the instrument, they provide a VERY nice Martin hard case. The thing can take a good bit of abuse, and fits the instrument like a glove. If I were reviewing it, I'd give a 9/10. My only gripe with the case is how heavy it is, but that's just fine with me, all the more protection for my new baby. // 9
Sound: As an acoustic guitarist, you ought to know the difference between laminate wood and solid wood, and you can certainly hear it in this instrument. I played two of them, and unfortunately the first one I played was sold before I returned to the shop with the cash. The two were not dissimilar in tone, so I'd say it's a fair bet this review will more or less be accurate to whichever one you play.
The sapele is, as I said, quite similar to mahogany - you'll have tight, punchy bass, which is complimented by a clear mid-range. So far, I've not gotten the chance to play it through more than my practice amp, but Fishman Sonitones are in EVERYTHING, so you probably have some idea of how they sound already. Overall, the tone is quite pleasant, and while it's one of Martin's lowest-end guitars, it can hold its own against some of the $1000-range Taylors I played it with. Play it yourself, is the best advice I can give you. I think you'll be impressed. // 8
Action, Fit & Finish: The store I purchased it from does setup work on ALL their instruments before they put them on the shelves, and then offers free setup and adjustment on the instruments for the first year after you buy them, so I can't speak to what the factory setup was like. Maple Street did a great job setting it up, the action's just a little high for my liking, but the intonation was spot on, and I can have it adjusted as soon as I need to. My only worry is the Richlite - it seems like it could get damaged easily. Fortunately, it's still in perfect shape, and the bridge and fretboard are relatively small areas on the guitar, so I'd imagine it would be a bit difficult for them to get messed up. Just plan to keep a close eye on this.
Well, there's that, and the fact that the 9V battery for the pickup is installed WAY the hell inside the soundhole. You'll have to loosen or maybe even take off the strings in order to replace it. It should last for something like 300 hours, I believe, of "on" time. It's activated and deactivated by plugging it in and unplugging it, respectively, so just unplug it when you're done to conserve battery life. So, the instrument was flawless when they sold it to me. Just be aware of what you might be getting into with the pickup and the Richlite (which are pretty irrelevant when you're looking at what a wonderful instrument this is) and you should be just fine. // 10
Reliability & Durability: I've had this instrument for about three months, and it's not failing me yet. I think it's certainly stage-worthy, though the stripped-down look of it makes it slightly less of a "stage" guitar than some might desire. Other than that, I think it's great. There are those who wouldn't ever go on stage without a backup, but I wouldn't ever expect this instrument to fail on you during a gig. It's an acoustic, it's not like you'll be tearing up a stage with it anyway. // 10
Overall Impression: I recognize that I've given it high-ratings across the board; just understand that I'm comparing this to other guitars in its price-range, such as high-end Epiphones, some Taylors, and slightly-higher-end Martins. Nothing too far above that. I don't recommend this for fingerstyle playing; nor would I recommend any dreadnought for fingerstyle. It's a dreadnought. You know what styles it's suited for. There's no cutaway, so it might not be appropriate for some bluesy stuff, but you have easy-enough access up to about the 10th-12th frets.
What you ought to understand about this instrument is that it's as cheap is it is, with the features that it has for a few reasons: The first, is that it was made in Mexico, as opposed to the USA. That doesn't affect the quality of the instrument at all, as far as I'm concerned, but some do care, and there you have it.
The second reason is the alternate materials for the fretboard, bridge and neck. They don't affect the sound terribly, and they're extremely stable and not prone to humidity, which is a plus in my opinion. It's not solid wood, it's not ebony, so if you care about that, this isn't the instrument for you. However, I defy you to find an instrument with the same features, plus a hard case, plus the aforementioned solid wood components, at this price.
The last reason is the lack of visual effects. There's no binding on the body or fretboard, the rosette is just a decal, and the inlays are small dots. I actually like the subtle look and feel of it, but there are certainly more visually-striking instruments in this price range. Of course, they'll sound like a cat in a meat grinder compared to it, but if you want to look like a rock star, this might not be the best choice.
I'm more than satisfied with this instrument. It's tons of sound for the price, even if it isn't all blinged-out. I'm not here to tell you this is the guitar you should get, but my experience with it has been overwhelmingly positive. I still have to just look at it sometimes and say "damn, I'm glad I bought you." // 9