Price paid: $ 3399
Purchased from: Elderly Instruments
Features: The Martin OM-28E Retro is an acoustic electric guitar that suits session guitarists, stage musicians and recording artists all in one package. The guitar features full solid wood construction i.e. sitka spruce top and rosewood back and sides with gloss finish, ebony fretboard and bridge, built for light gauge strings. The guitar has a grained ivoroid binding (very elegant seen up close) and herringbone purfing. It is equipped with high quality open back Waverly tuners (16:1) which are incredibly smooth and rival Gotoh 510's. The neck is a slim oval shaped neck with a satin back that is ridiculously comfortable to play, with no fret buzz. The very unique feature of this guitar is the F1 Aura Plus electronic system which I'll get to in a bit.
First thing that has to be said is that pictures do not do this guitar justice. I've seen some crappy pictures, and some "high quality" pictures (including the great effort put up by Sweetwater.com) but none of them really show you the wood grain, the grain in the ivoroid, the beautiful patterns in the spruce etc. In my personal opinion, this guitar is not as visually striking or as pretty as comparably priced Taylors, but it does have a very traditional beauty. It's not slathered with abalone or mother of pearl. It has a very classic look to it that's very attractive.
The Fishman Aura Plus System is the most intensive pickup system I have ever seen. It'll take a while to understand how to use it, but once you do, you'll realize how versatile it really is. In "Performance" mode, the guitar has an internal pickup (which is present on every acoustic-electric) and an "image" emulator. You can choose between 9 different "images" which consist of 9 different microphones used to record vintage OM-28's. In a sense, you are reproducing the sound of an OM-28 being played through a certain microphone of your choosing. You can also blend the pickup and "image" sound, and choose how much of each you want. The system also includes a standard and chromatic tuner (which turns the output off so you're not tuning loudly on stage), internal adjustable compression, a phase switch, adjustable feedback reducer, treble/mid/bass controls for both the image and pickup, and an "Easy mode" if you don't feel like dealing with all this complication.
The sheer amount of features given on this guitar should give it a 10. It does lack some features I don't personally find useful, but some people might... such as:
1. Cutaway (I prefer the symmetrical look, I can't argue against the utility of upper fret access. Psychologically I've always had the notion that cutaway guitars project less volume, but this is apparently not true at all. I still can't get over it, though.)
2. Maple (wood) binding: Would be nice on a guitar this expensive, but the ivoroid is elegant itself.
3. Crap tons of Abalone and Mother of Pearl: Yeah.. Whatever.
I'll give this guitar a Features score of a 9.5, or a 9 since UG doesn't let me do half points. // 9
Sound: If you're buying this guitar, you've probably done research on the electronics. I'll describe its acoustic and electric tone.
This guitar very much suits guitarists who fingerpick. It can handle light flatpicking extremely well, and holds its own with hard strumming. If the only thing you like to do is hard strumming, this guitar might not be for you. It lacks the deep bass of a dreadnought, but that doesn't mean it lacks bass. This OM shaped guitar comes with tighter bass, and more consistent relative volume between all 6 strings. Its trebles are very clear, but not twangy. You will notice some acoustic compression with this guitar. Single note lines sound very sweet and supple, and its note articulation is great. This guitar projects very well for a smaller bodied guitar, but will not have as much potential volume as, say, Taylor's Grand Auditorium body shape, a dreadnought, or a jumbo sized instrument. It does respond well to a light touch, and has top notch clarity. I would say this guitar sounds less "full" than, say, a D-28, but focuses more on its mid-range, note clarity and consistency (if that means anything to you).
The Fishman Aura Plus system is currently, in my opinion, the closest you can get to having your guitar next to a microphone. I tested it out by plugging into my friend's PA, and with Elderly's acoustic amp room, including the Fishman Loudbox Artist amp. No it's not EXACTLY the same, but you can get decently close in quality. On top of that, it's much more versatile, less prone to feedback, and you can move around on stage. In the studio, I'd probably still use a microphone to record, but on stage it's definitely no question. The Aura plus does take time getting used to, though.
For a high end acoustic guitar, I'll give its acoustic sound a 9.3 (again, rounded down to a 9 for UG). I'll give the electronic system about a 9 for sound as well. Not quite microphone quality, but close. // 9
Action, Fit & Finish: Not much to say here. A lot of the reason I bought this guitar was because of its comfort, and a large part of its comfort has to do with its action. Elderly Instruments and Martin did a great job setting up this guitar, overall. Fit and finish are flawless. The rosewood halves on the back weren't exactly the same, but similar. The ONLY thing that I noticed that irked me was a rattle I heard when playing the G string. I'm not exactly sure what it was; it might have been fret buzz, it might have been the tuning peg. All I know is once I took the strings off, checked it thoroughly, and restrung it, the buzz stopped. It was annoying, but apparently it was fixable? I'll give this a 9 as well. // 9
Reliability & Durability: *TL;DR: I'm not completely sure how to rate this as I haven't owned the guitar for that long. I'll give this guitar a score of an 8 because it doesn't seem to have any reliability or durability issues, but again, can't say for certain**
I am not the best judge of reliability, given my track record. I own 4 guitars including this Martin, and the previous 3 either had one or a combination of the following problems: Warped neck, sunken top, cracked binding, fret buzz... and others. I've owned a few guitars that I just flat out didn't take care of very well (didn't measure humidity and whatnot), but for these 4, I do monitor pretty closely. I have a humidity gauge in my room and keep most of my guitars in cases during the winter seasons when humidity levels get too low. I practice about 2 hours a day on low days, and up to 5 or 6 hours a day on high days. Maybe the sheer amount I play on instruments tends to make it hard on them I haven't owned this Martin for the longest time, but it seems pretty solid to me. I haven't had any problems with, and I would definitely have no problems with using it without a backup. No signs of wear, no signs of rattle. This guitar also, of course, comes with a pretty extensive lifetime warranty. // 8
Overall Impression: I've been playing guitar for about 5 years, and I have been doing music since I was about 5 years old. I do spend an immense amount of my time practicing guitar and songwriting. Some of my favorite artists and bands are the Smashing Pumpkins, Fleetwood Mac, The Shins, The Radio Dept., Ben Gibbard, and others. Some guitarists I try to emulate are Lindsey Buckingham, Mark Knopfler, and Hendrix. I like to play delta blues and alternative rock, with some punk and surf rock. I fingerpick most of the time, but I do use flat picks and hard strum very occasionally. I'm currently a studio musician and perform on stage. Overall, I'd say I'm a pretty advanced player (I feel like a douchebag saying this), but I definitely have much to learn. This Martin OM-28E retro is definitely one of the best guitars I've played because it suits my needs so perfectly.
I'm aware that Martin and Taylor are "factory" guitars as opposed to small makers like Santa Cruz. However, I believe that producing more guitars doesn't necessarily diminish the average quality. Most of the construction of Martin guitars are done by hand. I personally think Martin and Taylor are the best factory made guitars on the market, if you don't want to break bank by paying for a custom instrument.
I've compared this guitar to Taylors 814CE, 812CE 12 fret, 816CE, 522E, 524CE, 918E, Martins OM-28V, D-28, HD-28, 000-15, Collings and Santa Cruz OM models (drooooollll), and others. For me, this guitar eclipsed every guitar within its price range. I'd say the 814CE was pretty similar in specs and price, but its sound is not for everyone. It was definitely beautiful, but I felt like it didn't respond as sweetly to my fingerpicking style. That, and the Taylor expression system (although a decent pickup system itself) is inferior in versatility and acoustic reproducibility when compared to the Fishman Aura Plus System. The Collings and Santa Cruz OM's were phenomenal, but too expensive and lacked the pickup system the OM-28E has. If this guitar was lost or stolen, I'd do everything within my power to replace it, but I don't think I'd be able to afford another one XD
If what you need is an acoustic-electric guitar that sounds great acoustically and performs well on stage, there aren't much better than the OM-28E Retro at this price range. That being said, it's not the perfect guitar for everyone. I'd definitely do research on the electronics before you but it. I'd say you're definitely paying a premium for the Fishman electronics, and the total price is quite hefty, but I myself definitely needed a great acoustic guitar *with* a pickup. This guitar suits me so well, that I'd give it a subjective score of a 10. We'll see what you think :) // 10