Saturday, September 27, 2014

Little Martin LX1E Acoustic Electric Parlour Guitar Review

Greetings!

Because I travel a lot for work, I usually take along a guitar to try to keep my fingers in shape. If you have flown lately, you know what a hassle it can be, so I try to bring along a smaller-profile instrument. I have experimented with different travel guitars, and my current favorite is the Little Martin LX1E.

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. Both of the Taylors are fantastic instruments, and played very well, but the Baby Taylor doe not sound good to me, and the GS is pretty close to a full-sized instrument.

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. Also, the Little Martin does not use much in the way of solid woods. The top is Sitka spruce, but the back and sides are wood-patterned HPL, which stands for high-pressure laminate. 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 are quite sturdy and are stuck together well.

The top has X-series Sitka spruce bracing, like the cheaper Martin D-1 and DM models. This is a simpler, lightweight "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 Richlite, which looks kind of like rosewood 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 chrome-plated Gotoh Tuners and a classy-looking Martin logo on the peghead.

The overall look is rather Spartan, with no binding to be found anywhere and no pickguard. There is no glossy lacquer or poly here, either, just a hand-rubbed finish. If I hold onto this it might get a pickguard, just to church it up a little bit. Like I hold onto anything very long…

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 instrument. The neck has a flat oval shape, and it is considerably easier to play than Martin’s miserable Backpacker models. With the 1 11/16-inch nut and a 16-inch radius fretboard fingerstyle is possible, 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 my right arm against – both of these are big minuses for the Backpacker.

I got rid of my Little Martin LXK2 to get this LX1E because of the E in the name, which means “electronics.” This instrument has a Fishman ISYS T onboard preamp system. It has Volume, Tone shaping, and Phase controls with a Fishman Sonicore pickup. It does not take up much space on the upper bout, and it even includes a kind of crummy tuner. There is a separate battery box down by the endpin, and it takes a conventional 9-volt battery.

Besides playing well, it sounds pretty nice, too, especially when plugged in. 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. I picked it up secondhand from a pawnshop, and though it was pretty filthy it cleaned up nicely and has a good set-up with medium gauge strings.

The Little Martin sounds good enough and plays so well 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. By the way, it weighs 3 pounds, 10 ounces, which is not too bad either.

I have save the best part for last, and that is the price. The Little Martin LX1E has a list price of $519 and a street price of $399, which includes the nice gig bag and a one-year warranty. This is a hundred bucks more than the model without a pickup, but I think the extra expense is worth it. You will get a lot of guitar for not much cash, so you should check one out if you get a chance.

Mahalo!

2 comments:

  1. Hi,

    Have you replaced your 9v Battery?
    I ask since I replaced mine and whenever I turn the fishman ts the red light turns on and off intermittently, do you have any idea of why is this happening?

    Thank you for your help!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ooh, not yet, and I have not run into the situation you are describing. Give the folks at Taylor a call, they have alway been helpful with me in the past!

    ReplyDelete