Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Little Martin LXK2 Acoustic Travel Guitar Review


I travel a lot for my day job, and to keep my fingers in shape I usually take along a guitar, which is often a hassle when flying the friendly skies. This has lead to a lot of experimentation with different travel guitars, and the best compromise I have found so far is the Little Martin LXK2.

My goal was to find something that would fit easily in the overhead bin, be reasonably priced, play well, and sound good. There are plenty of products on the market that do the first two things, but they often end up being miserable to play and/or sounding like crap (e.g. the Martin Backpacker or any of those crummy little Yamaha ¾ size acoustics). So the obvious choices were the Little Martin or the small-size Taylors.

So, when it came time to pick up a 3/4 –size guitar, I did my due diligence, and A/B’d the Little Martin with the Baby Taylor and the Taylor Mini GS. Do not get me wrong, both of the Taylors are fantastic instruments, and played very well, but I just liked the sound of the Martin better. A matter of personal preference, I guess. So let’s take a look at this thing.

For starters, the Little Martin is not assembled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, as this would be impossible at this price point due to higher labor costs here. Instead, it is put together (with parts made in the US) at their factory in Mexico, the same one that builds their lower end and Backpacker instruments. Just so you know...

Also, the Little Martin does not use much in the way of solid woods. The top, back and sides are wood-patterned HPL, which stands for high-pressure laminate. To call it plywood would be churching it up a bit. The neck is what they call Stratabond, which is a laminated piece with about 35 strips of wood glued together. Martin markets these components as being environmentally responsible, but we all know that they use them because they are cheap. I don’t see too much of a downside with either one of these for a travel guitar, as these materials appear to be quite sturdy.

The top has “1-series" Sitka spruce bracing, like the cheaper Martin D-1 and DM models. This is a simpler light weight "A-frame" system that uses less braces. The cross braces are tapered drastically at the ends to improve flexibility at the edges of the top to improve bass response at the expense of the treble range. There is no free lunch, you know.

the neck has a glued mortise and tenon joint, unlike some of its competitors that use bolt-on necks (Baby Taylor). The fretboard and bridge base are made of Micarta which looks kind of like ebony but is actually a composite material that has a phenolic resin injected under high pressure into some sort of fiber (god know what), and then baked. Kind of like fiberglass or carbon fiber, I guess. Anyway it is hard as a rock, and sounds nice. You will also find nickel-plated Gotoh Tuners and a classy-looking Martin logo on the peghead.

Though it is small, the Little Martin is easy to play. It has a 23-inch scale (about 2 1/2 inches shorter than a full-size guitar), so it is not too much of a transition to this guitar. The neck has a flat oval shape, and it is considerably easier to play than Martin’s miserable Backpacker models. Fingerstyle is not too hard, and it is fun to play melody lines on it.

The body is a modified 0-14 shape, and it is big enough that it can be comfortably played on the knee, though I still prefer to use a strap, even when sitting. There is no neck dive and It is nice to have a body to rest the right arm against – both of these are big minuses for the Backpacker.

Besides playing well, it sounds pretty nice, too. Though it lacks the bass and punch of a dreadnought, it is loud enough for practicing or around the campfire, plus it sounds less tinny than the small Taylors, and nothing like the nasally Backpacker model. Apparently their bracing system lives up to its promises. It does not have a very complicated or rich sound, but it has even volume from string to string, and …

This particular guitar was very well put together by the folks down Mexico way, and the fretwork was very good. Intonation is pretty close to perfect. The action was way too high for my liking, but my tech did a set-up and lowered the bridge saddle, and now I am very happy with the way it plays. I am going to wear to cowboy chord frets out on this thing!

The Little Martin sounds good enough and plays so well (after a set-up), that I think this would be a great starter guitar for kids or people with small hands, and obviously it is a great instrument for the travelling business man.

This guitar comes with a nice padded gig bag, which has worked well for travel, but there is one caveat. On small regional jets there is just not enough room in the overhead bins (and no closet), so I have had to gate check it a few times. It has handled all of this with no problems, so it is super-durable. But…it still makes me nervous enough that I ended up springing for an SKB molded hard case. Now this thing is ready to travel anywhere and I can have peace of mind.

I have save the best part for last, and that is the price. The Little Martin LXK2 has a list price of $409 and a street price of $289, which includes the nice gig bag and a one-year warranty. You will get a lot of guitar for not much cash, so you should check one out if you get a chance.



  1. what is the weight of this guitar?

  2. Hi there! 3 pounds, 10 ounces...

    1. i nearly spend three hours trying to figure out the weight of this guitar. THANK YOU REX!!! :)

  3. I'm enjoying your blog posts/reviews. Especially on the smaller/travel acoustics. I've always had a special place in my phalanges for smaller acoustics with non-cutaway, and a narrow "waist" section between the upper and lower bouts. My GS Mini has been insatiable (not the right word, but it sounded good), and I love it, but it was just too huge. I got the Martin LX-Black and it's a BEAST! It does sound like a mandolin when I play "D" chords, it has a mandoliny overtone, and I dislike that, but that's about it. And it's harder to play than I'd like. I need to invest a set of (medium gauge) nut files to lower it down some. I'm going to go read your review about the hard case for it, and then probably buy one.