Martin Performing Artist 4 models
List Price: $1,649 – $1,849 Street Price: Under $1,300
For a full review of the Performance Artist Series, go HERE
The latest members of the Performing Artist Series bring Martin Guitar’s innovative new line in reach of the player with a budget under a grand.
Choice of Tonewoods
Available in three sizes of cutaway bodies, the classic Dreadnought, the traditional Orchestra Model and the mini-jumbo Grand Performance, the PA4 were introduced with solid sapele back and sides in a satin finish, topped with solid Sitka spruce polished to a high gloss. Sapele is an African hardwood that looks a lot like mahogany while sounding somewhat crisper and brighter. North American Sitka is the dominant spruce used for guitar soundboards and its welcomed warmth fattens up the sapele lows nicely. The neck is made from Spanish cedar, which feels smooth and fast.
Now, the budget-minded player can pay a little more to get their PA4 tier Martin in Indian rosewood or African Siris. Like Sapele, Siris is a promising replacement for the endangered South American mahogany. When it comes to tone, I actually prefer it to Sapele, because it sounds a bit less dry and has more bass response, at least in larger guitars, like the dreadnought size.
And there is now a 12-string version, available in the Grand Performance size.
These guitars look on-the-edge contemporary, with a scooped out cutaway and white microdots on the fingerboard, offset along the bass side of the neck, between the E and A strings. The fingerboard is made from Richlite, an environmentally-friendly composite and so is the attractive bridge, which is thinner and smaller than Martin’s traditional design.
As with all PA Series guitars, they have the High Performance neck with its “Performance Artist neck profile.” Slightly shallower than other Martin necks, it has a width of 1-3/4” at the nut, but widens to only 2-1/8” at the 12th fret. This gives the player a little extra room down in the first position, while offering a faster, sleeker neck in the upper frets. The strings feel almost parallel and with a low, easy action it is like playing an electric guitar. The Satin finish on these new PA4 necks make gliding from one position to another super quick and slick.
Grand Performance deeper than OM
The 2-3/16”string spacing splits the difference between the norm for fingerstyle guitars and those played with a pick. They are made to be versatile and that they are. But perhaps none more so than the Grand Performance size, which is Martin’s take on the “mini jumbo” guitars popular with many current recording artists. It has a lower bout that is wider and rounder than a Martin OM and the overall depth is nearer that of a Dreadnought. They have a tonal balance across the strings closer to an OM but with more bottom end.
With a modern, Mortise and Tenon neck joint, the first PA Series guitars sounded a little anemic when played unplugged, compared to traditional Martins – the PA4s more so than most. They get pretty spanky and brash when played hard out. But laying off a bit makes up for that and soon I was zeroed in on the sweet spot and producing bright, forthright trebles and edgy, defined lows that had a decent thump when playing with a muted palm. As expected, the Dreadnought had the biggest whomp, the OMs had the punchiest mids and the Grand Performance had a bit of both.
Sometime in 2013 the PAs (and most other M&T neck Martins) were upgraded to the new “simple dovetail neck joint,” which is a noticeable improvement over the M&T joint, both in terms of stability and in terms of tone.
The PA4 models have the Fishman F1 Analog system. It has the Sonitone pickup, with its volume and midrange sweep controls mounted in the same interface used for the Fishman F1 Aura system on the more-expensive PA models. The interface consists of two flat dials and a readout window, all about the size of a nickel, set into the bass side where a player can adjust them easily.
The F1 Analog won’t sound as “true-life acoustic” as the Aura version but it does come with the on-board tuner and feedback-killing phase switch, for a street price $1,400 less than the PA1 models. The plugged-in tone of the PA4s is pretty impressive and ranks high among other acoustic-electric tone available in their price range and beyond.
The PA4 models feel and sound like they were born to play the contemporary pop and progressive country hits of the new century. But at this price, many players with traditional tastes will find the sleek neck and Fishman’s F1 Analog pickup system hard to pass up.
Pro: Performing Artist Series design, High Performance neck and quality electronics, all for under a grand.
Cons: Acoustic tone not as robust as other Martins, non-wood bridge.
Bottom Line: The latest models in the Performance Artist Series bring the new neck, look and sound to dorm rooms and frugal rockers needing a decent acoustic to supplement their electric arsenal. But shelling out the extra hundreds for the PA3 tier Martin will get them the Aura+ pickup system.