Katy 88 concludes our look at C.F. Martin with her review of the new J-40M.
I think I can safely say that there are basically two types of steel-strung acoustic guitar — the rich sounding Jumbo (typified by Gibson's J-200 and the Martin Dreadnoughts) and what might best be described as the 'Folk-type', (Martin '000's for example). These are smaller bodied, narrow-waisted, and 'toppier' than their Jumbo counterparts, and significantly less popular in Rock, Country and Jazz. It's rare indeed to come across an instrument that combines the best of both worlds; but with the introduction of their new J-40M, C.F. Martin seem to have achieved exactly that.
Although, strictly speaking, the J-40M is a Jumbo (in fact, I hear it's the physically largest guitar that Martin have ever made), the body styling, as our photo shows, shares some '000' qualities in that it has the narrow waist which typifies the normal Folk guitar. Is this, then, a 'best of both worlds' guitar? And for that matter, can such a beast exist?
London's main Martin dealer, Ivor Mairants Music in Rathbone Place, kindly gave me the facility to try this new Martin — the ideal place, considering the vast number of acoustics in general (and Martins in particular) that they have in stock. As ever, they were not only helpful, but incredibly knowledgeable. And so down to business. Even taking into account its high price, I was extremely impressed with the looks of the J-40M. The choice of materials is quite conventional, a handsome Indian Rosewood body perfectly offset by a solid Spruce top that's unusually and beautifully marked. Spruce has a characteristic long grain, but Mairants told me that Martin insist on using only those parts of the tree which grew facing the Sun. The result of this is that the J-40M's top has an extra crossways grain pattern that in some lights looks stippled. It's distinctive, attractive, and a typical Martin touch! Decoratively, and in its hardware details, the J-40M is nicely restrained. The body is bound in a modest but attractive white purfling with a narrow black stripe which extends along the edges of the Mahogany neck and its Ebony fingerboard, which is inlaid with hexagonal abalone position markers. The machines are gold-plated and, although stamped with the Martin name, are, I suspect, Schallers. Needless to say, they worked perfectly. The nut is made of a synthetic substance called Micarta. I haven't any more details on this material, but suffice it to say that it was perfectly cut and set.
One important detail is that, for the first time (as you'll see from the Ed's interview with Chris Martin elsewhere in this issue), Martin have incorporated a truss rod in this new model. To my mind this is a long overdue introduction from Martin. Oh, and one other other points worth mentioning — though the Martin is physically a very big guitar, the narrow waist makes it easy and comfortable to play whether standing or sitting.
Getting down to play the J-40M, my first impression was of the unusual (for a Martin) comfort of the neck. Though I don't find the traditional Martin neck profile awkward, I do realise that players more accustomed to Strats and Les Pauls often find Martin necks too chunky for comfort. In the J-40M's case, the relatively low action and slimmer neck will probably win many new friends for the marque.
But obviously, the most important factor of any guitar is its sound: and that's where I was really in for a surprise when I started playing. The J-40M sounds quite unique — I've never heard a guitar like it. As I'd expected, the large body gives it plenty of rich, full bass, but unlike most jumbos the bass never dominates; it's beautifully in balance with the treble end, which in its turn is clear and strong and and capable of cutting through, without being at all sharp or 'tinny'.
Describing sound is never easy; but overall I'd say the J-40M has a fundamentally warm tone, but with much more 'edge' than a normal jumbo (and a Rosewood jumbo in particular). Certainly in many ways it combines the best of both worlds; the richness of a big-bodied instrument and the clarity of the smaller, narrow-waisted designs, and yet it has something of its own. I know it sounds contradictory to say that a guitar has a unique sound and then say it's versatile, but it's true. This blend of cutting top with a rich bass gives the J-40M a character which will suit it to almost any style; Folk, Jazz, Country and Blues. Its projection is terrific (again, a characteristic of 000 types), and, though I didn't have the chance to put it to the test, I imagine that it would record superbly.
Is the J-40M worth so much money? For a professional player who makes a lot of use of an acoustic, it's certainly not overpriced — not for a flawlessly handmade instrument which will always hold its price. As far as comparisons with other acoustics go, well, they really don't apply because there isn't (as far as I'm aware) another acoustic which sounds like this. To that end, if you like a full bass but find most jumbos too boomy, if you want more penetration and attack without losing depth and power, then you must try the the J-40M. It's as simple as that. Perhaps most importantly, it's a new type of Martin, and as such it'll appeal to a breed of players who've never previously experienced the delights of these remarkable guitars.
Grateful thanks to Ivor Mairants Music, Rathbone Place, London W1, for facilities and review sample.
RRP £1535 inc VAT
More details from the Dreadnought Guitar Co., (Contact Details).
Review by Katy 88
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