The Upscale, Short-scale Martin 000-28 Modern Deluxe
Fundamentally Easy on the Ears, and the Hands
Specs include: All solid wood construction; Indian rosewood back and sides; torrefied Sitka spruce top with scalloped, 1/4″ torrefied Adirondack spruce bracing attached with natural protein glue, carbon fiber/torrefied Adirondack spruce bridge plate; short-scale Genuine South American mahogany neck with Vintage Deluxe profile, satin finish, two-way adjustable titanium support rod, hand-fitted dovetail neck joint and solid mahogany neck block; ebony fretboard with High Performance Taper, 1-3/4” width at nut, 2-1/8” at 12th fret, abalone Diamonds and Squares position markers, EVO Gold frets, solid bone nut; ebony bridge with Liquidmetal® bridge pins, compensated solid bone saddle and 2-5/32” string spacing; European flamed maple binding; bold herringbone purfling; high gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish; high gloss Indian rosewood headstock faceplate with abalone script logo and golden Waverly open back tuners with butter bean knobs.
“Played lightly, and the 000-28 Modern Deluxe lights up like a Christmas tree, with a three-dimensional aura that is dominated by solid individual notes of fundamental color and remarkable sustain, with a lot of open inner-space behind them. Play the strings with vigor, and the notes bark and bite, blinking on and off, spanky and bluesy up top and with a quick reflection in the undertone that is dry and woody. It is a more open and airy voice than any rosewood Martin from the Standard Series, which tend to be dark and dense by comparison.”
Nimble Little Songbird
The Martin 000-28 Modern Deluxe is a rosewood 000 model, which combines an Auditorium size body with a short-scale neck, made in the upgraded version of Style 28 that is exclusive to the Modern Deluxe Series, featuring ultra-modern specifications that include advancements in acoustic engineering and deluxe visual appointments, plus a new neck profile inspired by a legendary vintage Martin.
It has a balanced voice that is both punchy and focused, like I have come to expect from a short-scale 000, compared to a long-scale OM or the larger long-scale dreadnought models. But it also has the bell-like chimes, impressive fundamental sustain, and the uniquely dry, open undertone I have heard across the entire Modern Deluxe Series, which sets it apart from any Martin 000 I have ever heard before.
There may be little about this new model that seems different from the Standard Series 000-28, at first glance. Both appear to be traditional short-scale 000s made with Indian rosewood back and sides that are topped by a soundboard of Sitka spruce. Both have an ebony fretboard with Martin’s High Performance Taper that measures 1-3/4” at the bone nut and 2-1/8” at the 12th fret. Both have an ebony bridge with 2-5/32” string spacing at the compensated bone saddle. And both have the classic herringbone top trim and the Diamonds and Squares fingerboard markers – decorative facets that defined Style 28 from the 1800s well into the 1940s, and which were rightfully returned to Standard Style 28 in this century, after Martin retired their Vintage Series.
But then, even a casual observer browsing walls of guitars in a shop will likely notice how the binding on the 000-28 Modern Deluxe is made from flamed maple rather than plastic, or how the frets are golden rather than silver. This is not just a cosmetic upgrade. They have the golden hue because they are made from EVO wire, which contains no nickel. It is actually a copper-based alloy that has greater resistance to playing wear than normal frets.
Then there is the Martin headstock logo, which is no stick-on decal. It is inlaid in iridescent abalone shell, silvery with glimmering accents of magenta, green, and royal blue, matching the abalone fret markers. And the stylized pattern to the lettering is also different. It is quite similar to a logo that was used for a brief time in the early 1930s. Oh, and the Indian rosewood faceplate has a gloss finish, even though the neck itself has a satin finish. That is something many have wished Martin would put on their Standard Series guitars. And now it is just one of the upgrades included in the new tier above the Standard Series, the Modern Deluxe Series.
Yes, the deluxe upgrades start to become obvious, including the gold-colored open back tuners that are set off nicely by the EVO frets. They are in fact Waverly brand tuning machines, previously reserved for limited editions and top-shelf instruments in Martin’s Authentic Series – which by the way has yet to include a 000-28, despite the grumblings of more than a few enthusiasts of short-scale Martin guitars.
But before any of that is taken in, someone approaching this guitar for the first time might immediately notice the gleam of the perfectly white bridge pins and the unusual shade of red used for the center dot at the apex of each pinhead. Or perhaps they will notice the duskier look to the spruce soundboard. These may be the first clues as to the truly important differences between the Standard 000-28 and the new 000-28 MD. I am referring to the modern technology that has a profound impact on how the MD sounds and how it plays.
Modern Mechanics, Transcendent Tone
Strum or pick the strings lightly, and the 000-28 Modern Deluxe lights up like a Christmas tree, with a three-dimensional aura that is dominated by solid individual notes of fundamental color and remarkable sustain, with a lot of open inner-space behind them. Attack the strings with vigor, and the notes bark and bite, blinking on and off, spanky and bluesy up top and with a quick reflection in the undertone that is dry and woody. It is a more open and airy voice than any rosewood Martin from the Standard Series, which tend to be dark and dense by comparison.
There is a direct and punchy pop to the main notes and a tinselly timbre to the trebles. When a chord is strummed and left to ring, ring it does – the unwound b and e strings chiming like silver bells and singing clearly above the steady hum of the focused, solid mid-range notes, and echoed by highly reflective sympathetic harmonics that glimmer and shine in and around them like little mirrors. The bass notes are broader, but of the same even keel volume as the mids. That balance is most noticeable during fingerpicking, where the low E and A appear very much on the same plane as the D and G string.
And always there are those high-end chimes and precisely defined notes heard from all the Modern Deluxe models. It is a different kind of chime and a different kind of definition than other Martins produce, or any other high end guitar I am familiar with.
click on photos to enlarge
All guitars in the Modern Deluxe Series are made with Stika spruce that has been “aged” by Martin’s Vintage Tone System, their propriety version of wood torrefaction. Torrefied wood has been subjected to high heat in a low oxygen environment that keeps it from bursting into flames. It bakes out the inherent moisture deep in the cellular interiors, until they crystallize in a way that mimics the physical properties of wood seasoned naturally for several decades, even centuries.
The effect of the VTS upon tone is now well-documented. It “opens up” the top, so there is a more spacious sound behind the fundamental voice that some equate with the tone of a pre-war guitar. It also makes the soundboard more responsive to lighter playing.
Similar techniques were used to counterfeit the age of violins as long ago as the 1700s. Today’s VTS technology allows Martin to select a target age from as old as 300 years to that of approximately 80 years in age, which is used for the Modern Deluxe models. That sets the time machine to the era when Martin was making its most coveted vintage instruments of the 1920s and 1930s.
Read more about the Vintage Tone System and torrefaction HERE.
Of course, this is Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest, not the Adirondack spruce used at Martin before 1946. But in my experience, the VTS treatment increases high-end chime and gives a dried out sound to Sitka, with a crisper edge to the notes that makes it sound more like Adirondack, in those respects, at least. And the VTS is one of the feats of cutting-edge engineering that sets the Modern Deluxe models apart, as this is the first time torrefied Sitka tops have been made available as a standard feature on an entire series of Martin guitars. The gleaming white Liquidmetal bridge pins are another.
Mettle in the Metal
Liquidmetal is the registered brand name of an exotic type of metallic glass that is very good at encountering physical energy without absorbing it, so more of the energy from the strings makes it to the bridge and bridge plate, which disseminates it to the soundboard where it is converted into sound waves. This is made possible by the unusual amorphous molecular structure of the pins, which does not have the atoms arranged in a crystal lattice like normal metals, so there are no weak junctures along the way. As such, the chaotic molecular structure keeps energy out, and what little energy is absorbed is conducted through the Liquidmetal to the bridge and bridge plate, with virtually no loss.
That bridge plate is also rather Space Age in its design, as it is made from a thin piece of VTS Adirondack spruce sandwiched between two very thin plates of carbon fiber, which protect the spruce from the ravages of string anchors, just as the VTS torrefaction keeps it immune to the fluctuations in seasonal humidity. And the composite plate weighs less than traditional maple plates and inflicts less dampening, allowing even more of the sound-producing energy from the strings to reach the spruce soundboard and the light spruce bracing.
Golden Era Bracing, Vintage Deluxe Neck
The top’s bracing is also made from VTS Adirondack spruce, once exclusive to the Authentic Series of meticulous vintage Martin recreations. And they are carved with Golden Era scalloping. While that does not remove as much of the brace wood as on an Authentic Series Martin, it is more like vintage Martin bracing than what is used on the Standard Series and most non-Authentic models. And unique to the Modern Deluxe Series, the bracing is glued to the top with natural protein glue, which bonds more deeply, improving the energy transference between bracing and soundboard. This model has the lightest, most responsive bracing on a 000-28 since the end of the Second World War.
With the introduction of the Modern Deluxe Series came the new Vintage Deluxe neck profile. It was inspired by the neck on the priceless 1930 OM-45 Deluxe housed in the Martin Museum, which I have repeatedly declared to be the most comfortable Martin neck I have ever played. And these Modern Deluxe models feel and offer a playability that is quite similar, even if only the OM-28 MD has the same fingerboard taper, which is a bit wider in the upper frets.
By vintage Martin standards, the neck on that old OM has a surprisingly shallow depth to its barrel, with a V shape that is likewise quite low and subtle. And so too does the Vintage Deluxe profile. But the real secret is in the shaping, which Martin calls “skewed.”
The easiest explanation is to say the shape of the neck is not symmetrical, as with other modern guitars. Instead, the Vintage Deluxe shaping drifts, so the slope on the treble side and the bass side change relative to one another depending upon the position on the neck. It is difficult to see when looking at the neck and nearly imperceptible to the hand, but it is enough that it just feels abnormally comfortable. It always seems to fit well in the well of the palm and the nook of the thumb. Otherwise, the shape of the neck’s heel is quite modern, so the neck does not get as thick and round as on the vintage Martin, up where it meets the body. One can grasp the neck so that the “F shape” D chord starting at the 10th fret still has the palm parallel to the fretboard, just like positions farther down the frets. This is a concession to the players of today’s music, and I assume most guitarists will be happy about it.
Inside that solid Genuine Mahogany neck with its Vintage Deluxe profile is a two-way adjustable support rod made from titanium. It is as strong as Martin’s normal steel rod, while weighing notably less. This allows for a weight ratio of neck to body that is much more like a pre-war Martin than anything available outside of the Authentic Series, which uses non-adjustable t-bars or wooden dowels. Covering the rod is a solid ebony fingerboard that has the same thickness as the Authentic Series reproductions, which imparts less dampening on the vibrations injected into the neck from the strings.
I will add that I keep forgetting to mention another very nice feature to these Modern Deluxe models. The side dots on the neck are made from abalone shell rather than plastic. I’ve had two Martins with this feature, and the iridescent dots are very easy to see, even on a darkened stage when the lights are low.
The 000-28 Modern Deluxe is the only model among the Series’ initial release to have a short-scale neck. So it feels different from the other models, and it makes it sound different too.
Compared to a long-scale OM, which has the same body, the 000 has a more gathered and punchy voice. The fundamental notes fire forward and in a tighter pattern, as it were. And those main notes are the real focus of the voice, complimented by the high harmonics, but without a lot of echoy undertone going on behind it.
The OM has a wider spread to the notes, more body resonance that makes its way out to the listener across the room, and it has a little more bass response. That is a typical description that applies to the tonal differences between almost any short-scale 000 and the long-scale OM closest in overall design. And it holds true in the case of the 000-28 MD.
When I first reviewed the prototypes of these Modern Deluxe Series instruments at the Martin factory in January, the differences were noticeable in the 15 minutes I could devote to any one of the dozen guitars I played that afternoon. But I did not have a chance to play them side by side.
So, just today I went to Sam Ash on 34th Street in New York City, where I spent two hours comparing their brand new 000-28 MD and OM-28 MD. As far as I know I was the first non-employee to play these guitars. My assessment: one of the two guitars is a Martin OM and the other is a Martin 000. Although both have 1/4″ GE bracing, the classic dynamics of the two designs held true. People who want the fullest, most resonant voice will likely prefer the OM. But the 000 has other advantages to consider.
The reduced string tension of the short scale makes string bends much easier when playing lead guitar. And that is what a traditional short-scale 000 does best. And it is what I use my custom Martin 000 for, in a guitar trio where I and another sideman play intricate arrangements with the singing front man, and we take turns on fills and solos.
The punch of the top notes and the focused overall 000 voice sounds very good when I am playing with other guitarists, because of how it “cuts.” And when playing by myself, the fundamentals are clearly defined and yet connected to one another in a balanced and coherent fashion. And I know other people very much like the classic 000 sound. Just look at all the many successful Eric Clapton models there have been, made in a variety of tonewoods and top woods, and only two of them have been long-scale OMs.
But the top notes of the 000-28 MD are even more precise than usual, and ring out with a colorful clarity unique to the Modern Deluxe models, or punch with a stark, edgy bark typical of Martins made with a VTS Sitka top, when the strings are attacked with a flatpick. While I cannot avoid my prejudice in favor of the OM sound, I know that among the many guitarists who are smitten by the unique chiming voice of the Modern Deluxe Series instruments, there will be those who choose the 000-28 MD over the OM-28 MD on tone alone. Just as there will be players like me who reach for the short-scale because of playability reasons, and shall find much to love in voice of their 000.
And then there is that High Performance Taper to the fretboard compared to the wider Standard Taper of the OM. That little bit of difference in the width makes thumb fretting much easier above the fifth position. For people like me who do not have elongated bones in our thumbs, thumb-fretting a traditional OM up the neck is nearly impossible. But it is surprisingly easy to accomplish on the 000-28 MD, which is likely due to a combination of the HP Taper and the Vintage Deluxe Profile.
You can read more about how these two models equate and differ in my review of the OM-28 Modern Deluxe, which I published simultaneously with this review HERE.
The Modern Deluxe Series offers a new Martin sound all it is own. It is derived from modern acoustic engineering, here working as a series of components in concert with one another. Aspects of that shared tonality are familiar and related to other Martins, while some are wholly original. And the 000-28 MD very much has its own personality that sets it apart from the other Modern Deluxe models currently available.
It has the punch and focus one looks for in a short-scale 000, as well as providing less string tension, so a lead guitarist can make bends that reach to higher notes than one can achieve on a long-scale guitar. And having frets a little closer together means faster fingering and easier stretches across the fretboard.
Finally, I will give another shout out to the new 000-28 MD currently for sale at Sam Ash in NYC. It has very good looking tonewoods, even by Modern Deluxe standards. The rosewood back has exceptionally straight grain, as do the sides, and the spruce top has the kind of straight and even grain lines I would expect to see on something like a 000-42.
The back and top looked basically flawless. And that adds one more feature that resembles an older Martin guitar, to go along with that combination of vintage Martin feel and looks working in harmony with all those modern and deluxe upgrades seen in the exclusive Modern Deluxe Series and heard in the unique Modern Deluxe sound.
And that is one man’s word on…
The Martin 000-28 Modern Deluxe
List Price: $5,199.00 – Call your Martin dealer for their best price.