April 18, 2018
Martin’s dreadnought guitar, introduced under the Ditson brand just over 100 years ago and reaching its classic modern form in 1934, is probably the most iconic acoustic guitar design of the 20th Century. From Elvis to Johnny Cash, from the Louvin Brothers to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, from Johnny Marr to Kurt Cobain, the roll call of musicians who have played these fine instruments is unparalleled. It’s also the most copied acoustic guitar design, with dreadnought guitars offered by almost every major player in the acoustic guitar market. Martin themselves offer dozens of variants on the design including replicas of the classic 1930s D18 and D28.
In this blog we’re going to delve into Martin’s range of Dreadnoughts and take a look at ten that should be on any shopping list if you’re looking at these fine instruments.
The D-28 is the Martin design that you’ve heard on thousands of bluegrass and country records from the 50s to the present day and it’s a wonderful beast. They’re phenomenally loud, with a pumping bass that responds beautifully to flat picking and rich, sparkling harmonics that add a long, shimmering sustain. Martin changed the design of the D-28 many times over the model’s 80 years and there are now multiple versions in the range – it’s a little confusing to navigate but once you understand the subtleties of the models you’ll appreciate the chance to select the perfect D-28 for your tastes. We’ve gone with the D-28 Reimagined as our choice of D-28 - it’s still relatively affordable, and this newly redesigned guitar offers great value for money.
The Reimagined series began in 2016 with the D-18 and expanded to the D-28 last year, with the remaining models following suit in the course of 2018 – essentially Martin have upgraded their Standard series guitars to feature vintage style appointments previously reserved for the Vintage series such as the open gear tuners and an aging toner in the nitrocellulose lacquer. The bracing is now forward shifted, which gives the newer D-28 a bassier tone than the previous incarnation, and it’s very close to the character of a vintage D-28. There are more authentic recreations higher up in the Martin range but the D-28 Reimagined offers a great balance of relative affordability and outstanding sound.
One of the great thing about Martin guitars is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to get your hands on one. The DX1 is made in Martin’s Mexican facility and uses a few clever design features to make this one of their most affordable Martin branded guitars ever.
The back and sides are made from a patented HPL (or High Pressure Laminate) material that reprocesses wood fibres into a strong, durable material and the neck is a multi laminate that makes for an extremely stable neck. Some X series Martins also have an HPL top but we find the DX1, where the top is a rather more traditional piece of spruce, to be a much better sounding guitar and it’s literally only a few pounds more. The top is also braced with a slightly simpler pattern than the US guitars designed to give them a lively, booming sound. We’re not going to pretend a DX1 is going to sound exactly like a D28 but there is a distinctive tonal signature particular to Martin dreadnoughts and we’re very impressed with how these entry level designs capture that quality – perhaps not with quite the nuance and detail of the American guitars but the DX1 is very much a Martin guitar.
The Centennial debuted in 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Ditson dreadnought, and it’s one of the more unusual dreads in the Martin range but also one of our favourites. The aesthetic is very stripped back in comparison to the D18 and 28 variants. It utilises some of the features of the cheaper 16 series with a simple dovetail neck join (in place of the traditional dovetail of the D18) and catalysed lacquer in place of nitrocellulose, but the DR-Centennial’s secret weapon is its top, which is made from spruce taken from the Adirondack mountains and gives the guitar a unique flavour. Adirondack spruce was used as standard by most of the US guitar manufacturers up to the Second World War, when large quantities of the wood were used by the airplane industry and restrictions were put in place to preserve the remaining forests. A small amount of Adirondack spruce becomes available each year through naturally falling trees and companies such as Martin are always first in the queue – but the DR Centennial is the only way to hear it in a new Martin unless you’re prepared to spend several thousand on an Authentic series model so it’s great model to check out. The Centennial has an impressive tone, inevitably similar in signature to the D-28 but to our ears it’s a little smoother and more refined than the Reimagined D-28.
Now for something a little different! The Streetmaster is a variant of the long running 15 series guitars, which were stripped back instruments with very little in the way of cosmetic embellishments, so they lack the binding and gloss finishes of the Standard series guitars but still offer a solid wood, American-made Martin to those who are on a tighter budget and can live without the cosmetics. In addition, the original 15 series used Mahogany for the top wood as well as the back and sides which is a much tougher wood than Spruce and, with no binding to protect the edges of the guitar, was better able to withstand the inevitable knocks that a much used guitar will have to endure in its lifetime. However, Mahogany being a stiffer material than Spruce, it also has a very different sound and the 15 series has developed a devoted following over the years of those who prefer the more subdued bass and better balance of the mahogany guitars.
The Streetmaster version we’ve picked for the top ten is a cool looking addition to the 15 series that adds a randomly shaded finish to give the guitar a cool antique vibe without going fully down the relic route, and it comes with a heavy duty gig bag – so for a great guitar you won’t be afraid to travel with it’s hard to do better!
The DRS-1 and 2 – collectively known as the Road series are probably the best selling models of the Martin range here at Forsyths, and they represent the entry level point for a Martin with all solid woods. They are made in the same Mexican plant that produces the cheaper X series guitars and, like the X series, are slightly simplified in construction compared to the US made guitars, but retain that distinctive Martin character. We’ve chosen the DRS-1 for our top ten, which is essentially a Mexican made version of the 15 series with Mahogany top, back and sides, and like the D-15 it has a slightly subdued bass compared to its Spruce topped sister model, the DRS-2, but carries itself with a sweet, well balanced tone that makes for a very pleasant playing experience.
Unlike the X series you also get a proper Martin hard case with the Road models, which further justifies the step up from the X series version, and like the X series they have an undersaddle pickup fitted as standard.
Ok, we’ve been a bit naughty here – but one of our favourite Martins currently in the shop is a guitar that has never been anywhere near the Nazareth factory. Atkin guitars are hand made in a small workshop in Canterbury and are the product of years of studying vintage Martin and Gibson guitars with a view to building replicas that could pass for a real vintage guitar. His guitars are flawlessly executed and feature an aging process that recreates the look of an 80 year old guitar with a wonderful patina. Best of all they sound exceptional, very close to the sound one might expect from an old, well played in dreadnaught.
This guitar is a replica of a well worn and much modified D-28 owned first by Clarence White and Tony Rice - hence the White Rice nickname - and is made with input from Clarence White’s daughter, herself a successful musician. Aside from it’s unique appearance it’s chief practical difference over a standard D-28 of the era is the soundhole, which was enlarged prior to White acquiring the guitar. It’s hard to know exactly how this impacts the sound, but the White Rice seems to have a slightly janglier sound than Alister’s straight D-28 replicas.
There’s no question Martin make great guitars and any of the options in this list have their strengths but don’t be afraid to give this outlier a go too – it might just be your perfect dreadnought.
We’ve written about this guitar previously so if you’re interested in the full story on this guitar you can check it out here.
From a quick straw poll of the guitar department, we decided that our favourite of the Martin Dreads is not the flagship D-28 but it’s slightly cheaper cousin: the D-18. Whilst the rosewood D-28 is often spoken about as the ultimate Martin design, the D-18 has quietly found its way into the hearts of many thousands of players who prefer the model for its clarity and quick. The guitar on the iconic first Elvis album is Elvis’s much loved D-18, and if your musical tastes are a little more modern a D-18 called Grandpa was famously used by both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. To our ears the sound of the mahogany 18 is a little less busy than the 28 and it works very well as a recording guitar, and there’s certainly no lack of volume for acoustic sessions.
The Standard series D-18 was recently overhauled to include features from the Vintage series version, so the model now has a lovely amber colour to the lacquer and the open gear tuners of the more expensive versions.
The Custom Shop
One of the great things about Martin is how willing they are to deviate from the standard models, and their Custom Shop works overtime to create the most spectacular musical works of art you can possibly imagine. When we were over at the Martin factory last year - when we finally managed to tear ourselves away from the guy that was inlaying a precious stone condor into a diorama of the Grand Canyon, to make up the fingerboard of a phenomenally expensive customer order (true story!) - we were able to order a couple of Custom Shop pieces that weren’t significantly more expensive than the mid level Standard series guitars. The nature of custom ordering means we haven’t picked an individual guitar for this top ten but the Custom Shop is something Martin are rightfully very proud, and we feel the option to spec out your own dream guitar is well worth mentioning. So, if you have an idea for that once in a lifetime instrument, give us a call and we’ll see what Martin can do.
Our penultimate entry isn’t a dreadnought but bear with us… the Martin dreadnought sound is truly iconic and we fully understand wanting to chase that sound – but they’re big guitars and not everyone feels comfortable with them. So, what do you do if you want that sound but find them a little hard to wrap yourself around? The M-36 has its roots in an ill fated attempt by Martin in the early 20th Century to break into the market for archtop jazz guitars. Unlike the majority of archtop builders who used cello style construction for their instruments, Martin tried to stick to what they knew and only the tops were carved – the back and sides were made the same way as their flat tops. Although nice instruments, Martin were never very successful in this market and most of the guitars found themselves abandoned until the vintage market began to gather pace in the 70s and 80s, when luthiers began to notice that those unloved old archtops had high grade Brazilian Rosewood back and sides – so began a cottage industry of converting them into flat top guitars. The archtop models were dreadnought sized but tighter in the waist, a little like a 000 size on steroids, and Martin have now introduced this larger size as a model in its own right. So, why is it in our Dreadnought list? The great thing about the M-36 is that the overall volume of air inside it is very much like a dreadnought, so it gives you a very full sound with a powerful bass that is similar to a dreadnought in sound, but because the waist is much tighter the guitar sits a little lower on your lap and is therefore a bit less of a hurdle to get your arm over. We feel the M size sounds a little smoother overall than a dreadnought so there’s definitely a subtle difference, but we’re very fond of this model and it’s well worth considering if you like the idea of a dreadnought but are struggling to feel comfortable with one.
And the Forsyth Favourite: The DTSG
New for 2018, the DTSG was designed with the recent decision by CITES to require a permit to ship instruments with Rosewood components across international borders for commercial purposes. Although not all Martins have Rosewood back and sides, Martin has used a Rosewood headstock veneer on all of their more up market models for many years: on the DTSG the headstock veneer is made of faux-tortoise shell. It also avoids woods that are likely to come under scrutiny such as Ebony and Honduras Mahogany, so for the DTSG the usual Ebony parts (fingerboard and bridge) are Richlite and the back and sides Sepele.
Of course, if you’re buying this guitar locally and hopefully you’re not planning on selling it any time soon so, whilst it’s interesting to know why Martin made it, we probably need to give you a better reason why it’s on the list. The DTSG is essentially a D-18 in terms of spec. The Sepele is a common substitute for Mahogany as it looks very similar – it’s a harder wood than Mahogany but tonally the two species are in a similar ballpark. As with the DR Centennial the DTSG has a simple dovetail and a modern finish, and you can choose between this gloss version or the DST satin model depending on your finish preference. What the DTSG has that sets it apart from the standard D-18 is the bracing, which is both scalloped and forward shifted. The bottom end on this guitar really is lovely – it has the clarity and liveliness of a D-18 but also a very rich fullness to the low end that makes it an absolute power house of a guitar. It also has great dynamic range retaining clarity even at very low volumes and, unlike some of the other models on this list, it feels as though you can get the full range of the guitar without requiring a plectrum to drive the top. We’ve put this guitar through it’s paces playing everything from ragtime fingerstyle to heavy bluegrass picking and it never fails to impress.
As with the DR Centennial, the DTSG is a Martin design that looks and feels familiar yet throws in a twist that sets it apart. It’s a beautiful instrument that could hold it’s own in terms of sound quality against much more expensive guitars. Simply sublime!
April 18, 2018
Charli, our digital piano guru, has put together a review of the Kawai Novus NV-10!
Check it out here.
April 9, 2018
Get 15% off when you spend £30 or more on titles from the ABRSM Piano Exam Pieces 2019-2020 series in one transaction!
These new titles - comprising individual volumes for Grades 1-8, with or without CD, and the accompanying book of Teaching Notes - will be available from 7 June 2018 and valid for examinations from 1 January 2019.
Pre-order them from us now to take advantage of this fantastic pre-order discount and you will receive them as soon as they are published!
For more information, select any of the volumes from the 2019-2020 series here.
March 31, 2018
As some of you have kindly pointed out, there are currently a lot of products on the website advertised at £0.
These are items that aren’t in stock but the old pages are stored in the system in case we want to list them in the future - but somehow the website has taken it upon itself to make all these pages public. We’re working on a solution but with it being the Easter weekend it may be a few days until it is resolved.
None of these items are in stock and we have to process each order manually when it comes in so we’d be really grateful if you could not order things when they appear - we don’t have anything to send for free and it will means lot of extra work for the guys trying to handle incoming orders!
Apologies for any inconvenience and thank you to those of you who’ve phoned or emailed to let us know about the issues.
March 22, 2018
Over the last couple of years many people have admired this wonderful oil painting of our shop window by acclaimed local artist Stephen M Campbell. It’s a wonderful work, particularly in the way the instruments interact with the reflected Deansgate street scene. So at the suggestion of a couple of customers, we thought we’d make it available to buy.
Working with our friends at Framing Manchester, these gallery quality giclee prints have all the vibrancy of the original painting. They are available here as an A4 & A3 mounted print, and A4, A3 and A2 on stretched canvas, with prices starting at £25.50. A great gift perhaps for a lover of music and fan of Forsyth, or anyone who loves fantastic art.
In the words of the artist “Forsyth. Now the oldest shop in Manchester. See if you can what’s in the shop and what’s reflected. What a challenge this was.”
March 20, 2018Despite the snow’s best efforts, our Learn to Play Day weekend (17-18 March) was bigger than ever! In just two hugely enjoyable days, we gave 180 free individual musical instrument lessons to learners aged 2 to 82, and got about 50 people playing ukulele in two free group sessions.
Learners ranged from complete beginners of all ages, through those experimenting with second instruments, to others who were once at conservatoire standard but were returning to their instrument after a break.
We are extremely grateful to the wonderful teachers who so generously volunteered their time and expertise: instrumental specialists from Forsyth were joined by students from the Royal Northern College of Music and the University of Manchester and teachers from schools and music services across Greater Manchester:
Lou Armer (group ukulele) • Pablo Estébanez Blanco (double bass) • Awen Blandford (cello) • Kathryn Burke (trumpet, cornet, trombone, recorder, flute, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, ukulele, balalaika, percussion) • Wyn Chan (piano) • Olivia Dance (piano) • Malcolm Goodare (cello) • Lucy-Rose Graham (cello, piano) • Mark Leighton (classical, acoustic, electric and bass guitar) • Johanna ShuTing Leung (clarinet) • Irene Jiménez Lizcano (flute) • Nastasia Loucaidou (piano) • Maria Luc (piano) • Ryan Mark (violin, piano, harp) • Emily McArthur (recorder, flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone) • Annabel Revell (violin, viola) • Lloyd Rhodes (acoustic and electric guitar) • Kathryn Rigby (violin, viola) • Michael Welton (ukulele, violin) • Charli Wild (violin, viola, trombone)
With more than twice as many bookings as last year, we were all kept on our toes and gave lessons in every available space throughout the store: offices, stock rooms, our third-floor piano workshop and the shop window, in addition to our dedicated teaching, practice and performance spaces in the basement.
We would also like to thank ABRSM, Faber Music, Music Sales Group and Oxford University Press for kindly donating the fantastic musical stationery that went into the gift bags handed out to learners along with our own special discount vouchers.
February 24, 2018
One of our favourite piano products of the last few years has been a new venture between electronics giant Casio and the historic piano manufacturer Bechstein to produce a unique digital instrument with many of the advantages of a traditional grand piano. We recently spent the day with Casio at their London headquarters so it seems like the perfect time to have a closer look at these fabulous instruments!
Introducing The Celviano Grand Hybrid
* World’s first collaboration on a digital piano between two large players in the piano market.
* Genuine wooden grand piano keys and hammer action of a grand piano – matched only by very expensive systems such as the Yamaha Avant Grand and Kawai Novus
* Samples taken from the three leading European piano manufacturers where other brands use either their own brand (Kawai, Yamaha) or a single main instrument (Roland)
* Speaker system intended to emulate grand piano with speakers facing upward or downward where a grand piano soundboard would be.
* Designed for authenticity rather than ease of play – many digitals are designed to be easy to play which is great when you’re trying one in a shop but not ideal for technique if you then take exams on a traditional strung piano.
* Scene Setting (400 and 500 only) allows fast recall of desired settings both in terms of the piano technician settings and features such as layering or split keyboard
* Concert play allows the user to play along with recordings made specially for the Grand Hybrids by the NHK orchestra in Japan
Mechanics of the Grand Hybrid
AiR Acoustic and Intelligent Resonator technology
The AiR system comprises the following elements:
* Piano Tone: the basic engine is driven by a series of recordings of three grand pianos sampled in an anechoic chamber. These are:
Berlin Bechstein 282 Concert Grand
Hamburg Steinway D
Vienna Bosendorfer Imperial
* Key Off: when you take your finger off the key the note does not simply stop but switches to a recording of the key being released. The Grand Hybrid actually uses two different key off samples to control how the note ends which means that when you take your finger off the key quickly it sounds different to when you remove your finger slowly. This gives an effect much closer to how the notes decay on a traditional strung piano.
* String resonance: on a traditional strung piano when you strike a note on one key there is much more going on than simply that string vibrating, and as long as the hammers are lifted away from the strings numerous strings vibrate in sympathy which adds a huge amount of colour to the sound. A good way to hear this is to hold down a C triad with your right hand then strike a staccato C in the bass register with your left: you will hear the C chord ringing out for as long as you hold down those keys. To simulate this the Grand Hybrid plays back numerous samples to properly reflect what you would hear on a traditional piano.
* Damper noise: As every part within a piano is mechanical, those parts create mechanical noise that you can hear when you play. A significant mechanical noise on grand pianos is the sound of the pedals being depressed, and the Grand Hybrid contains samples of this noise that it can add in whenever the pedals are moved.
* Action Noise (400 & 500 only): The action of a grand piano also adds noise, that can easily be heard if you play the Grand Hybrid with when it’s turned off. The GP400 and 500 have been designed to sound closer to a concert grand by creating the illusion of having the player and action close to each other while the strings are far away. This is done by blending a little artificial noise recorded from a concert grand piano into the sound you hear as you play.
* Aliquot resonance (400 & 500 only): concert and higher end baby grand pianos often have one of a couple of design attributes designed to add colour to the high end of the piano, which is particularly useful if the piano is being used in a large space where high frequencies don’t carry so well so benefit from a little enhancement. One such tuning is known as Aliquot stringing as invented by Julius Bluthner. This comprises an extra string in the top three octaves that is not struck but resonates in sympathy. Other makers obtain a similar effect known as duplex (or triplex) scaling by tuning the portions of the string outside of the actual speaking length so that they act as sympathetic resonators. The 400 and 500 have their own digital version of these sympathetic effects, adding a level of harmonic complexity to enhance the sound of the piano.
Grand Acoustic System
* Sound from an acoustic grand piano does not emanate forward and backward but rather up and down as the soundboard vibrates in those directions.In the Grand Hybrid there are four speakers firing upward and two downward to simulate this.
* The four upward speakers are aimed at the lid, so sound is reflected in the way it would be by a real piano lid.
* The headphone mode on the Grand Hybrid uses addition processing to give a realistic stereo spread rather than relying on the sample you hear through the speakers that will sound unnaturally wide through headphones.
* The Grand Hybrid has a genuine hammer action keyboard – all of their competitors use the term but very few actually have hammers in them!
* The key is Austrian quarter sawn Spruce bought from Bechstein’s suppler in Europe. Buying quarter sawn spruce ensures that the key is stable and will not warp, and ensures a more consistent density.
* The key bed is also Spruce and is very rigid. Most digital pianos have plastic or metal key beds which are not as strong or rigid and are less able to stand up to professional level of play over a long period.
* Although the hammer mechanism is simplified from a grand piano key, all the parts are lined up in the correct orientation so that they have the same travel as the hammer mechanism in a traditional piano key, and they are engineered to have the same weight. The practical upshot of this is that the key resistance and recoil is incredibly realistic. Using plastic parts in place of wooden ones means the Grand Hybrid does not need to be regulated, so there is no maintenance necessary.
* A common complaint with most digital piano is that they suffer from slow key recoil compared to a traditional piano. The Grand Hybrid keyboard tests as faster than a traditional piano key with a rate of 20 notes per second compared to 14 for a Bechstein grand – this is due to the combines hammer and whippen in the simplified hammer mechanism.
* The sensor in the Grand Hybrid is positioned at the hammer location rather than under the key as on most digital pianos. This means you hear the note at the split second a hammer would hit the string on a traditional piano.
* The Grand Hybrid comes loaded with 12 Concert Play tracks for which the sheet music can be found along with the manual. These are prerecorded backing tracks for which the pianist can play the piano part. These are not the typical MIDI files as found in many pianos with similar features but actual recordings made for Casio by the world renowned Japanese NHK orchestra.
* In addition to the 12 pieces installed Casio have been building a library of these recordings that is available for free online, along with PDF downloads of the manuscripts.
* If you are struggling with a new piece in the Concert Play mode it is possible to slow down the recording using the metronome controls.
* The reverb algorithms for the Grand Hybrid are based on 12 legendary venues and have been made specially by Casio in a process that involved visiting the venues offered on the Grand Hybrid and conducting acoustical tests.
* In addition to the 12 venues, the modelling process has been conducted from three listener locations so, not only can you choose between the venues you can also choose between sitting at the front, middle or rear of the venue.
Scene Setting (400 & 500 only)
* Scene setting gives the pianist a series of preset voices and allows them to store their own settings. These can comprise functions such as layering two sounds or splitting the keyboard, or they can be adjustments to elements of the piano sound such as mellow and bright voicings, reverb or lid position.
* The technician voice presets include sounds specifically set to compliment the style of certain composers
* There are 10 user scenes as well as the factory settings for players to input their most commonly used settings for instant recall.
There are a number of very cleverly designed digital pianos currently on the market that bring the digital piano ever closer to being able to function as a satisfactory substitute to a traditional piano even for experienced players, and pianos such as the Kawai CS11, Roland LX17 and Yamaha CLP685 are all exceptional instrument. In teaming up with Bechstein however, Casio have brought something genuinely unique to the market place and we’re blown away by how good these new instruments feel.
To make it even easier to buy one of these great instruments, we can also offer free concierge delivery on Casio Grand Hybrids in the Northwest UK* - that means we’ll assemble it at the shop and send out a team to install it in your home, so no trying to figure out how to put it together, no nasty surprises out of the box and no mountain of cardboard to dispose of afterwards!
We have all three in the showroom to try and will be delighted to demo them for you.
*The offer is restricted to properties with reasonably easy ground floor access. If there are multiple steps into the property of you want it in an upstairs room that’s no problem but we will have to make a small charge for the additional work. We can of course deliver boxed pianos to your door pretty much anywhere in the UK and do not charge for this service.
February 15, 2018
The most recent session of the Meetup group Let’s Play the Piano! (18 February) was a little different to previous ones: the focus was on ‘non-classical’ genres – jazz, blues, show tunes, light music and pop – and all attendance contributions were donated to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity in support of their music therapy project.
Angela, a representative of RMCH as well as a regular member of Let’s Play the Piano!, was on hand to discuss the charity’s work and to take receipt of the group’s fantastic donation of £276. A tremendously fun afternoon for local pianists doing what they love for a wonderful cause!
If you would like to join Let’s Play the Piano!, you can get in touch with its organiser Ben Richards via firstname.lastname@example.org.