Wednesday, June 26, 2013

2012 Martin D-18 Golden Era Acoustic Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a guitar that I really need to try to hold onto, a 2012 Martin D-18 Golden Era acoustic. This could possibly be the best acoustic guitar I have ever owned, right up there with my old Santa Cruz Guitar Company Model D. This a beautiful dreadnought that any guitarist would give their left nut to have.

The D-18 guitars have been popular models in the Martin line-up since they were introduced in 1934. These guitars hit the market at exactly the right time, and its playability, full range and sweet tone were just what the performers of the day were looking for. As time went on, this became the signature model in the company’s line-up and they became the guitars of choice of for musicians from all genres, including legends such as David Crosby, Andy Griffith and Elvis Presley.

The D-18 received a few changes over the years, in some cases to improve deficiencies, and in other cases to make production more efficient (cheaper). As a result, the current D-18 is a very good instrument, but there is a cadre of players that believe that the pre-war ways were better, so Martin created the D-18 Golden Era guitars for them.

The D-18 Golden Era brings back many of the original features, with the benchmark being the 1934 D-18. Most notable this includes a stiffer Adirondack (Red) spruce top that allows the use of 5/16” forward-shifted scalloped X braces. This results in improved top vibration as well as overall volume and clarity.

Besides the Adirondack top, Martin also uses first rate materials for the rest of the guitar. The D-18 GE has solid mahogany neck, back and sides, as well as an ebony fretboard and bridge (not to be found on a regular D-18), and a Brazilian rosewood peghead overlay.

There are some neat appearance clues from the original models, too. These include a large Golden Era-style peghead logo, old style 18 abalone fretboard markers, fossil ivory nut and saddle, and open-back nickel Waverly tuners with butterbean knobs. Rumor has it that open-back tuners were used during the war to conserve metal. Hmm.

The hand-signed label from CF Martin IV is pretty obvious, but you might not notice some of the neat stuff that they put inside the guitar. The mahogany blocks, the dovetail neck joint, and the cloth side strips are really nice finishing touches, for sure.

The hand-shaped neck has a pleasant V profile, and the generous 1 ¾-inch nut width and wide spacing at the bridge make this a great strummer, flatpicker of fingerpicker. I find the neck very comfortable to play for longer sessions.

And the craftsmanship is first-rate. The high-gloss finish is perfect (and not too thick), and the frets are level with an easy-playing action and not a hint of fret buzz. It came out of the box not needing a single thing. When I change the strings I only use the original equipment Martin medium gauge strings (as recommended), and I have been very happy with them.

My god this is a truly wonderful instrument. My workhorse Takamine EF341SC is a great guitar with a nice clean tone and great playability, but it pales in comparison with this Martin. The neck is great and the action is slick so it plays like a dream, but the sound is something else. The clarity of the tone is out of this world. Fingerstyle playing will quickly highlight any flaws in technique as slightly misfretted notes come off as tremendously dull when compared to what this instrument is capable of.

With no break-in, the top already has a very loose sound, as if it has already been played for a few years. The usual tightness of a new acoustic is not there, which is a real blessing. It has great volume potential, and the more you lean into it, the more you realize how well balanced it is from string to string with incredible mids and highs. This guitar makes me a believer in mahogany, and may have solved the mahogany versus rosewood debate for me.

This D-18 Golden Era guitar did not come with electronics, so I had a K&K Sound Pure Mini pickup installed. This is a nice choice for these, if you want the versatility of being able to plug in. It is a no-frills unit that only requires that the tail pin hole be enlarged, and it is easily removed if necessary.

These guitars are fantastic, and if you want one there is a price to be paid. A brand new Martin D-18 Golden Era has a list price of $4499 and a street price of $3399, which includes a nice hard case and a limited lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. Think of it as an investment in your future, as these guitars will last a lifetime if kept in a loving environment.

By the way, I have had the opportunity to tour the Martin factory and have seen first-hand the care that goes into building these guitars. It made me proud to own one. If you are ever in Eastern Pennsylvania or New Jersey, I highly recommend that you stop by their factory for a tour.

I have to do my best to hold onto this one, and not get distracted by the next shiny thing that catches my eye.



  1. Heh. Told you about the mahogany, did I not?

    Nice review. It is rather unusual for a fresh adirondack red spruce top to feel played in right off the bat- they are often notably stiffer at first than other types of spruce, and usually take about twice as long to realize they are in fact a guitar.

    Play it in good health, Rex.

  2. I have a D18 Golden Era, too and I can only say,
    it is realy a great guitar. Better than my Gibsons,
    nut In Germany it has a really high price of about $5000!

  3. I thought your review might be over the top until I bought my own D18 GE. No, spot on. I swapped out the plastic bridge pins for ebony. Highly recommended. Warmth, resonance, sustain, and clarity all improved. I wish I hadn't gotten the ones with abalone inlay (it doesn't fit the simplicity of the guitar). But they will stay right where they are for fear of harming the tonal improvements even slightly. Best $20 I ever spent.

    1. Hi can you tell me what size are the bridge pins for the Martin d18GE mine is a 2012? Thanks

  4. I agonized over buying a D-18 GE from a local shop. I usually play electric guitar, and I did not trust my own ears. Was this guitar really as special as I thought? Your review helped convince me to make the purchase. Many thanks! I do hope you held on to yours. I plan on playing mine for the rest of my life.