Though I have owned and played many Martin guitars over the years, I have only had experience with a few of their ukuleles, and today we are going to take a look at one of their more affordable offerings: the C1K concert-sized uke.
If you know anything about guitars, you are probably aware that Pennsylvania’s Martin Guitars is the premier mass-production luthier in the world. Every major artist has played their instruments at one time or another, from Eric Clapton to Johnny Cash to Elvis. Well, they make other instruments too, and they have been in the ukulele business for a long time, and they currently make instruments that cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $5000 and more.
The C1K is a handsome little ukulele, with a clear satin finish over the solid Hawaiian Koa body and top, with a nice network of Spruce bracing to keep to top in place. There is a Spartan aesthetic with no binding to be found anywhere, and a simple white and black rosette. No electronics are available, and you can get one of these as a lefty (I think).
The neck looks like Mahogany and it has a Morado(looks like Rosewood) fretboard. The fretwork on this one excellent, and I cannot ever imagine wearing them out with nylon uke strings. The bridge is also made of Morado, and there is a Tusq nut and compensated saddle. The machined Grover tuners are open gear, and they are just beautiful.
The C1K ukuleles are made in Mexico, but the quality appears to be about as good Martin’s domestically produced instruments, which is not something I would ordinarily say about some of their south of the border offerings. The finish is clear and even, the joints are tight, and this one came out of the box with a good set-up and ready to play. Don’t sniff at where they are made – there is no way Martin could hit this price point if these things were built in the America.
It plays very well, with good intonation, a sweet neck feel, and it is comfortable to hold. It also sounds very good, with nice projection and a sweet tone that makes it sound older than it is. The strings it comes with are pretty iffy, but they are easy enough to change. It is perfect companion for traveling, especially with the uber-nice TKL gig bag that it comes with.
The Martin C1K is a good instrument that comes in at a reasonable price (list = $629, street = $479), and I am glad that Martin stepped up and made a better instrument this time around. But, it is not as good of a value as the horde of medium-grade ukuleles that are coming out of China by the container load. Those instruments are at least $100 cheaper, are often prettier, and sound almost as good. You will not go wrong with the Martin, but you might want to compare before you buy.