Martin D-15M Review: An All-Mahogany Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar
The Martin D-15M
I’ve always loved Martin guitars, and I've owned a few in my day. They’re top-notch instruments, about the best you can get in an American-made acoustic guitar. My first Martin was a D-15M, an all-mahogany dreadnought acoustic guitar with a warm, rich sound.
If you play guitar long enough you'll own a lot of gear. And, sadly, you'll part ways with a lot of gear. Eventually, you'll have a few regrets. I could probably name a dozen guitars I wish I had held onto over the years, and the Martin D-15M is near the top of that list.
I remember back when I decided I was finally going to drop some cash on a Martin acoustic. I went to the local shop and played a bunch of them. I really liked (and still like) the 000 body shape, but it didn’t quite have the projection and power I wanted. I played a few more traditional designs, and I liked them a lot, but I ended up loving the Martin D-15M, and the sound of an all-mahogany guitar.
The D-15M is a little different than your average acoustic. From the tonewoods used to the finish and the appointments, it looks, feels and sounds quite unique. This review will present some details and opinions on this amazing acoustic guitar, made by one of the best guitar companies in the world.
Hopefully, it will help you decide if this instrument is a good match for your needs.
Specs and Build
Most dreadnought acoustic guitars today usually employ something like a spruce or cedar top with mahogany or rosewood back and sides and a mahogany neck. There are some slightly different variations, but the basic idea is to count on the back and sides for the warmth and depth provided by woods like rosewood or mahogany, while the top provides the punch and clarity due to tonewoods like spruce. It’s a nice combination that sounds really good.
The D-15M is a little different, and it all has to do with that “M” tacked on to the end of the name. The Martin D-15M has a top, back, neck and sides all made from solid mahogany. With this design is sort of unique today, it has a heritage going back many decades. And, that mahogany top means the D-15M is going to have different tonal characteristics than the average dreadnought acoustic.
The fingerboard, head-plate, and bridge are all East Indian Rosewood, which looks beautiful with all that chocolate-colored mahogany. Like other guitar companies, Martin is coming up with some creative solutions to the shortage and subsequent import limits on quality rosewood in recent years. In the past, they've used some alternative tonewoods for their fingerboards, and still do on some models, but it is nice to see rosewood here.
There is no binding on this guitar, and no fancy appointments or inlays. It’s all about the wood, that deep, rich beautiful mahogany. And it’s the mahogany that makes this thing sound so special.
Martin D-15M Sound
If you play electric guitar you are probably aware of the influence a good mahogany body can have over your tone. This is the tonewood the legendary Gibson Les Paul and SG are built around, and many other guitar makers have followed along. But long before the Les Paul was even conceived acoustic guitar makers such as Martin knew about the sweet tonal texture of solid mahogany, and the D-15M carries on that tradition.
If you are a fan of bright, twangy acoustic guitars the D-15M is probably not for you. The tones are warm and deep with excellent projection. This is what we should expect when high-quality mahogany is used on any guitar. You can almost feel the chords resonating through your body and reverberating in your chest. That low-end, soulful noise it what the D-15M is all about.
With all that mahogany some players might be concerned the sound may lack presence and clarity. My response: Maybe a little. Some players may simply prefer a brighter sound.
But, while the mahogany top may not have brought the presence you’d expect from spruce, at no time did I feel like the D-15M sounded muddy, or even lacked punch. It’s just a deeper, rounder, not-as-bright sound compared to spruce or cedar-top acoustics.
I actually like it. I tend to gravitate toward guitars that give me that low-end, warm, guttural resonance that I love.
I'd also add that I thought it performed a bit better with a flat pick rather than a finger-style. The added attack of the pick brought a little more clarity to the individual notes. However, many players sound fantastic finger-picking mahogany guitars, so I put this down more to my individual style.
When I owned my D-15 there was only one finish, but now you have a few choices. These guitars are now available with sunburst finishes, and Martin also has some cool distressed versions of the D-15M in the StreetMaster Series.
The Martin D-15M StreetMaster
More Martin Mahogany Guitars
With all that resonance you might be thinking it would be hard to pair the D-15M with a preamp. If you think you are going to need to plug in, you might want to instead consider the Martin DC-15ME if you can find one.
This is a similar guitar to the D-15M is construction and styling, with a few small differences. The most obvious is the single-cut design that will allow better access to the higher registers.
Another big difference, of course, is the onboard Fishman Matrix VT Enhance preamp. Otherwise, it’s very similar to the D-15M.
There are Martin 15-series mahogany guitars with 00 and 000 body styles as well. These might not have the same projection of the dreadnoughts, but some players feel they have a more even sound to them with a fuller tonal profile.
So which way should you go if you are looking for an all-mahogany guitar? Personally, I prefer the dreadnought body style over the smaller bodies. I’d probably also avoid the electronics, though I could see that either way.
On the one hand, having an onboard preamp is super convenient if you know you’re going to play live a lot. But, with this guitar anyway, I think I’d rather use a traditional microphone to amplify the sound. Of course, the choice is yours, and there is no wrong answer. If Martin built it, you know it will sound amazing!
Guitar Center Reviews the Martin 000-15M
Don’t Fear the M
If you’re looking for rich, resonant sounds from your acoustic guitar you’ll have a tough time beating the Martin D-15M, especially in its price range. It’s a beautiful, woody, tone engine that you’re going to feel in your chest and your soul.
Though it looks a little different than traditional acoustics and has such pared-down appointments, there is a certain beauty in its simplicity. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are considering a new acoustic guitar.
Consider the electrified DC-15ME if you need to plug into an acoustic guitar amp or don’t feel comfortable putting a microphone in front of your guitar in live situations. If you want something with a little less oomph and a bit more subtlety, check out the 000 and 00-sized bodies.
And if all that mahogany is simply too much for you, at least consider a guitar with mahogany back and sides. There is a certain elegance to the sound and appearance of mahogany that lends itself well to the acoustic guitar.
And it seems I started out this article writing about the Martin D-15M and ended up as a mahogany tonewood advocate! I guess I never know where I’ll end up when I start thinking about guitars.
So, why did I part ways with my D-15M? Like many of the guitars I sold or traded, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I sure wish I had it back. I still play a Martin today, a more affordable DX1AE. When it comes time to spend some money on a high-end Martin, I'll definitely be thinking about an all-mahogany model.
Whatever you decide, good luck and have fun.