Martin makes some of the best acoustic guitars on the planet and has been doing so for over a century. It’s difficult to mention the words “acoustic guitar” or “dreadnought” without thinking of Martin, and the company practically invented the acoustic guitar as we know it today.
Of course, with all this notoriety Martin guitars come with a hefty price tag, and these guitars can be out of the range of most player’s budgets.
Enter the Martin DRS2 — a guitar that still lives up to Martin’s iconic name, with all solid-wood construction and a discreetly installed pickup. This guitar makes the iconic Martin tone available to the budget-conscious acoustic player and is Martin’s most cost-effective all solid wood guitar yet.
In this review, we’ll take an in-depth look at this budget-friendly yet incredible sounding instrument and see if it is indeed worth paying the price.
Martin Road Series Guitars
The Road Series of acoustic guitars from Martin are an ideal entry point into the Brand without breaking the bank. These guitars were made with the working musician in mind, bringing an affordable yet great sounding guitar with all the features that make Martin acoustics so sought after.
The guitars are made in Martin’s Mexican factory to bring down the cost, and some models include high-pressure laminate backs and sides to further bring the costs down while still retaining iconic tone.
Martin DRS2 Key Features
Martin has kept it clean and simple with the DRS2, and aesthetically the guitar has all it needs and nothing more. Martin has attempted to keep the price as low as possible, and so there are no fancy fret markers, bindings, or electronics, but the guitar has everything else it needs to sound and look great.
In fact, we prefer the sparse look of the guitar — it has a timeless and simple appearance without any flashy bells and whistles.
|Top||Solid Sitka Spruce|
|Back and Sides||Solid Sapele|
|Dimensions||9” x 20” x 48”|
|Electronics||Fishman Sonitone Piezo|
|Accessories||Martin hardshell case|
Most of the Road Series Guitars are made with High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) backs and sides to lower costs. There is a ton of debate about exactly how much the wood used on the back and sides of guitars affects the tone of the instrument, but it most definitely affects the guitars aesthetic.
While HPL backs and sides are a great option for budget-conscious users, purists prefer the solid wood construction that Martin is so well-known for. The DRS2 features solid Sapele back and sides, a great looking wood that keeps with Martin’s iconic aesthetic.
The top is made from X-braced solid Sitka spruce, which is finished with a silky satin feel, simple black bindings, and a minimal soundhole rosette.
The neck is where Martin has continued to implement cost-efficiency, and it is made from the company’s “Stratabond” laminate — a multiple layered, lengthways-running laminate slab of wood in which the layers have been dyed different colors, in this case, “rust.”
While this is a more affordable way to make a neck, it is also more sustainable as Martin uses woods that would otherwise be tossed out. The neck is solid and sturdy — arguably more so than a single piece of wood — and looks and feels great too.
The fretboard and bridge are not wood either, although it looks and feels just like ebony. They are made from Richlite, a composite material that is growing in popularity among guitar manufacturers due to its strength and affordability.
Again, purists are not a fan of Richlite, but it doesn’t affect the tone at all (in our humble opinion), and it feels great under your fingers.
The guitar’s neck has a comfortable low-oval shape that is both fast and feels great in the palm. It has a standard 25.4-inch scale length with a satin finish, 20 frets, and white dot inlays. The machine heads are 3-aside and enclosed in chrome, and the guitar has a “Tusq” nut and saddle.
The DRS2 is fitted with the minimal and compact Fishman Sonitone electronics with an under-saddle piezo pickup. We love the minimalist aesthetic, and from the outside, you wouldn’t even know the pickup is there.
It features the bare minimum of controls — a tone and volume knob discreetly located just inside the soundhole for quick adjustment. This is a great addition as it keeps with the clean and simple design of the guitar without a large EQ box cut into the side.
How does it sound?
With the spruce top and solid Sapele sides, the guitar has a bright, responsive sound with a signature Martin voice. The bass response is as great as all Martin guitars, a trait that the company gets right every single time.
Whatever magic formula Martin uses to get this bass response is incredible, as they hit the nail on the head with every model, proving a deep, rich, and unmistakably Martin bass response.
The trebles are no slouch either, and the guitar produces clean, crisp, and sparkly high notes that don’t get lost in the bass tones. The mids are also everything you’d expect from a Martin dreadnought, with a clean reproduction and no distortion or muddiness.
The action is great from the get-go, nice and low for speedy lines but robust and perfectly designed — even heavy players will have a difficult time producing fret buzz!
For the experienced Martin player, there is a certain punch and depth that is lacking in the DRS2, especially when compared with the higher end models of the company. This, however, is to be expected, and in the end, you get what you pay for. That being said, what you pay for sounds sublime and is certainly a notch above most other acoustic guitars in the same price range.
Plugged in, the guitar sounds great. The lack of more intricate EQ control may leave some players wanting, but the overall tone is pleasing and quick and easy to adjust. If you are playing the guitar plugged in regularly, you’ll want to invest in a separate EQ pedal for more control, and the simplistic and unobtrusive pickup design is, in our opinion, one of the best traits of the instrument.
- Great price point
- All solid-wood construction
- Iconic Martin tone
- Included Fishman pickup
- Minimalist design
- Included hardshell case
- Mid tones are a bit lacking
- Very little EQ control
What’s the deal with HPL?
Martin has long been a company focused on environmentally sustainable wood use and acquisition. High-Pressure Laminates are simply another step in that direction, allowing woods that would likely otherwise have no use to be used to produce high quality and great sounding instruments.
The HPL construction sounds great, is tough and long-lasting, and environmentally friendly, and so we believe Martin has taken a firm step in the right direction for the future of guitar construction.
Besides HPL, Martin source all their tonewoods responsibly, and were one of the first guitar companies to ensure that all their woods were CITES certified. This makes sure that all the woods are sustainably sourced and are used with minimum wastage in HPL backs and sides and Stratabond necks.
Martin DRS2 Alternatives
While the Martin DRS2 is on the more affordable end of the Martin guitar spectrum, it is still out of the price range of many players.
Although there are no guitars other than Martins that sound like a Martin, there are definitely a few options that come very close without the hefty Martin price tag. If the Martin DRS2 seems a tad expensive, here are some alternatives worth considering:
Tanglewood MasterDesign TSR 2C
The MasterDesign series from the Britian based Tanglewood Guitars are the pinnacle of the company’s acoustic range, and the TSR 2 C is the peak in terms of materials, contruction, and overall quality.
With a solid Spruce top and solid Rosewood back and sides, you’re getting an all-solid wood constructed guitar for an incredible price. The guitar also comes with an Ebony fingerboard, B-Band A1 pickup, and includes an ABS hardcase. For the money, the Tanglewood TSR 2C is an incredible sounding instrument that won’t disappoint.
Takamine Pro Series P7DC
The Japanese company Takamine make a wide range of acoustic guitars, from super affordable student guitars, to its Signature and Pro Series models — guitars that can compete with some of the best on the planet. The P7DC features a solid Spruce top with solid Rosewood back and sides.
These woods of course make the guitar have a rich and timeless tone, but the pickup is what really sets this guitar apart. It features Takamine’s CTP-3 Cool Tube preamp system with a unique Palathetic under-saddle pickup.
With this tube-fueled tone complete with 3-band EQ and onboard tuner, you are getting an amplified sound that is matched by very few other acoustic/electric instruments.
Larrivee Guitars are made in Canada, and although they are more affordable than Martins, they are by no means made with less attention to detail or quality components.
There are many players that would choose a Larrivee over any other acoustic guitar, and for good reason — they are incredible sounding instruments with almost unmatched value for money.
With all solid wood construction, single piece mahogany neck, an Ebony fretboard, and bridge, the D-09 is a powerful instrument with an affordable price tag. While this guitar definitely doesn’t sound like a Martin, it has its own unique tone that has spawned an entire generation of staunch enthusiasts.
Question: Are Mexican Made Martins worth the money?
Answer: The Martin Guitar factory is located in Nazareth, USA, and has been the mecca of guitar manufacturing for decades. For their more affordable guitar models, Martin has another factory located in Mexico. These guitars may not be the American made icons that Martin fans are accustomed to, but they are solid, great-sounding guitars, nonetheless. Most of these models are made with the budget-conscious user in mind, using laminated necks, HPL backs and sides, and Richlite bridges and fingerboards. The guitars look great, they sound great, and are built just as well as American Martins. For players looking for that signature Martin tone but cannot afford an American made model, they are most certainly worth the money.
Question: Taylor guitars vs Martin?
Answer: Taylor and Martin are two of the best-known companies in the acoustic guitar world, and the debate rages on about which is better.
The answer is neither; both companies make exceptionally great guitars with their own unique sound and aesthetic. One aspect in which Taylor has the upper hand (in our opinion) in the electronics: the native Taylor pickup system produces some of the most authentic-sounding plugged in tone on the planet, a sound that piezo pickups just cannot replicate. If you are using your guitar plugged in most of the time, a Taylor is definitely worth looking into.
Question: Why are Martin Guitars so expensive?
Answer: Apart from their reputation, Martin guitars are expensive simply because they make some of the best acoustic guitars on the planet, using the best woods possible. Also, the guitars are largely made in the USA driving up labor costs. While Martin uses a lot of elaborate machinery in their factory, the guitars are mostly hand-crafted, making them even more expensive.
Are they overpriced? Maybe, it depends on what you are looking for. You could get an all-wood constructed guitar hand made by a luthier for a similar price or less, but nothing can replace the experience of a company that has been making guitars for well over a century. In the end, you need to play one and decide for yourself.
The Martin DRS2 is a great guitar for acoustic players on a budget and delivers in all the ways you’d expect a Martin to deliver.
It sounds phenomenal, it looks great and has the iconic and signature Martin tone that the company is so highly revered for. When you buy a Martin, you are buying a century of experience and craftsmanship, and this really shines through with every iteration of a Martin guitar.
It’s not the cheapest Martin acoustic out there due to the inclusion of solid woods on the back and sides, but the extra tone quality is certainly worth the higher cost.
The guitar has a minimalist design that may not appeal to some players, but we love it; it is iconic and has no unnecessary frills and features. The pickup sounds good and has discreet, easily accessible controls that also stick with the minimal aesthetic.
The guitar looks feels and sounds awesome, and we think it’s a great guitar for this price range. In the end, it’s up to you, the player, to decide, but there is little to be disappointed with when buying a Martin.