Established in 1833, CF Martin & Company have been at the forefront of multiple innovations in the guitar-making business. Martin invented everything from the 14-fret neck, to the now-ubiquitous X-bracing and the legendary Dreadnought body style. To say that the company’s guitars are highly sought-after would be an understatement — most people would kill for one.
But it’s not to say you have to part with a limb for a bona-fide Martin guitar. Unlike most other industry old-timers, Martin’s been kind enough to offer great acoustics that don’t command hefty price tags. This becomes clear once you look at to of the company’s entry level models: The Martin 000X1AE and DX1AE.
What are They?
Martin’s nomenclature is rather straightforward. With the 000X1AE & DX1AE, the prefixes ‘000’ and ‘D’ denote each guitar’s body style. ‘X’, on the other hand, implies that both are from the company’s X-Series, an acoustic-electric (AE) family. Both guitars feature spruce tops (indicated by ‘1’). Which one of them should you get? Let’s examine each of them in detail.
The Martin 000X1AE
This is Martin’s signature Auditorium body — renowned for its near-perfect convergence of presence and playability — but not in the format we’re used to. Instead of solid wood, the 000X1AE’s back and sides are built of HPL, or high-pressure laminate. HPL is created by binding bits of wood under intense heat and pressure, after which the product is finished off to look like natural wood (mahogany in this case).
Can it be as good as the real thing? Well, not exactly, but Martin’s choice of solid Sitka spruce top should assuage any doubts you might have with regards to volume. And for what it’s worth, laminates aren’t as susceptible to the elements as solid woods are.
They’re also easier to craft, which ensures better build quality. This could be the reason why Martin have used laminate (Stratabond) for the instrument’s neck too. The fretboard is also made of an ebony-like paper-based laminate known as Richlite.
It’s this well-thought-out recipe that makes the 000X1AE stands out as one of the most immaculately-crafted guitars in the sub-$1,000 range. Nowhere will you find any hints of sloppiness or corner-cutting; not even a slightly-skewed cut or minor trace of errant glue. Although the unit looks rather austere, the craftsmanship is more-or-less what you’ll find on higher-end Martins.
The sound is just as impeccable. Like we said, you can always bank on a spruce top to deliver a rich, lively tone. One that has the subtle midrange bias typical of the manufacturer’s 000 models, but still very well-balanced from end to end nonetheless. And like you’d expect of an auditorium ax, the 000X1AE’s handling is just about perfect. Martin have given it a somewhat-compressed feel that lends itself to fingerpicking, letting you balance notes almost effortlessly. This is the kind of guitar you’ll never want to put down once you pick up and start playing.
- Body type: “000” Auditorium Non-cutaway
- A-Frame X-Bracing
- Neck profile: Modified Low Oval
- 25.4″ Scale; 20 Frets
- Fishman Sonitone pickup
- Enclosed Chrome Tuners
The Martin DX1AE
As highlighted earlier, the DX1AE is one of several dreadnought models in Martin’s X-Series. It follows the same budget- and eco-friendly recipe as its sibling above (mahogany HPL for back and sides, rust-birch laminate neck, and Richlite fretboard). The top, made of solid Sitka spruce once again, will ensure the unit delivers the goods in the sound department.
Still, this is still a full-bodied dreadnought, rather than a downsized auditorium ax. The latter might be able to get away with an underweight tone with a bit of charm. But a ‘nought worth its salt must always make its presence known. Can the Martin DX1AE do that?
Of course it does — it’s from the same company that pioneered the concept. Even with its faux wood bowl, the DX1AE still gives you the deep, hefty voice you’d expect from a dreadnought. It’s not the loudest ‘nought in its price bracket, but it doesn’t struggle for volume either. The low end is clear and present, as are the warm mids and shimmering trebles. Seldom do you find units whose tonal balance is this good — not for less than a thousand bucks anyway.
Overall, you get the impression that Martin can squeeze out the dreadnought tone from pretty much anything — even a sponge. And unlike most other budget-range dreads, the DX1AE is very accommodating. It lends itself to pretty much everything, from intricate fingerstyles to flat-picking and hard strumming.
- Body type: D-14 Dreadnought Non-cutaway
- Non-scalloped X-Bracing
- Neck Profile: Modified Low Oval with High-Performance Taper
- 25.4″ Scale; 20 Frets
- Fishman Sonitone Pickup
- Enclosed Chrome Tuning Machines
Martin 000X1AE vs DX1AE: How Do They Stack Up?
These two guitars have quite a lot in common; both are 6-string acoustic-electric hybrids, they’re built of the same materials, and are identically-priced at $779 MSRP. But that’s as far as the similarities go. With different body styles and sound characters, it’s clear that Martin designed each unit with a specific target audience in mind.
On the one hand, the 000X1AE has a warm voice that’s clearly centered around the mid-range. It’s very well-pronounced, but still soft enough to let you sing over with ease. By contrast, the DX1AE offers the chunky, hefty tone you’d want for hard-rock rhythms and blues.
The 000X1AE also stands out for its ease of handling. Short players will find it more approachable compared to the larger DX1AE, and the compact body also affords precision when you’re playing complex chords.
But then again, there’s nothing to keep you from buying both the Martin 000X1AE and DX1AE. If you’re the kind of player who likes to hop across styles and genres, and your budget allows, you’ll be pleased to know that the two units can perfectly complement each other. And because both have onboard pickups, you can switch them up with ease during your studio sessions and stage performances.