Martin LX1 – A Thorough Review Of The Best 3/4 Sized Acoustic Guitar

martin lx1 review
  • Fretboard: Richlite
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Neck: Rust Birch Stratabond
  • Body: HPL Mahogany
  • 3/4 body size

Quick Summary

With all factors considered, the Little Martin LX1 is a good acoustic guitar in all dimensions.

It’s a great guitar for beginners, and for a child who may or may not commit to the hobby, you can’t do better. With its reliable sound, durable construction, and affordable price, the Little Martin is not going to let you down.

The longer you play it, the better it will sound.

You can travel with it for years, trusting that the quality materials will stand the test of time, weather bumps and bangs, and stay true through changes in humidity.

Pros

  • Sustainable, eco-friendly materials
  • Loud, full tone
  • Durable, weather-resistant

Cons

  • Unnatural fretboard
  • Tinny high end
  • No fret inlays

Martin LX1 acoustic guitar – in-depth review

A few weeks ago when I asked my longtime friend, a professional musician and my first guitar teacher, if he had any advice for beginner guitarists choosing a first instrument, he said, “Buy a Martin.”

Great advice, except most Martin guitars will typically be a bit out of budget for many beginners.

That is, until you consider the Martin LX1, a small acoustic with big potential.

At less than ¾ the size of a standard dreadnought, the Little Martin is a great guitar for children, travelers, or anyone who wants the full acoustic experience without the full heft.

Construction

The LX1 is a stand-out in the realm of beginner acoustics in that it is one of the few at this price point that are built to last.

It’s not designed to be just a stepping stone on the way to a better guitar; it’s made with years of playing in mind, developed with materials that get better with age.

It’s a solid instrument ready for road testing, able to stand up to the rigors of travel and the bumps and bangs of inexperienced players.

Body

Martin has been a leading name in acoustic guitars for a long time, and they don’t hold that reputation by using cheap or shoddy materials.

The Little Martin LX1 is built from some of the best time-tested woods utilized by talented luthiers. The first giveaway that this is a quality instrument is the SOLID sitka spruce top.

Browsing any catalog of beginner acoustics, you’ll find the majority are made with laminate tops in a bid to save on production costs, as they are far easier to source and craft than solid wood. Martin knows that a quality soundboard is the key to great tone, so they cut no corners here, and keep the build sturdy with non-scalloped X-bracing.

The modified concert body is a great intermediate size that suits children and adults alike.

The back and sides are made of high-pressure laminate (HPL) mahogany.

HPL is a durable, high quality composite of several layers of very thin wood sealed with phenolic resin, then submitted to up to 2,000 pounds of pressure.

It is used in a wide range of applications, from countertops to ship walls to Martin guitars. HPL is highly water- and weather-resistant, giving players the peace of mind that the LX1 will not easily warp when subjected to rapid changes in humidity.

In an age of mass-produced guitars, Martin has set their sights on sustainable crafting practices, utilizing elements that reduce their eco-footprint while maintaining the quality they have been known for since their founding in 1833.

In addition to the laminate back and sides, they incorporate FSC Sustainable Wood Certified into the Little Martin with a Richlite bridge. Richlite is similar to HPL mahogany– essentially layers of paper sealed with phenolic resin and high pressure.

As a guitar material, many compare it to ebony in both appearance and tone. In the LX1, these composite materials are chosen to deliver a durable high-quality instrument that keeps costs and environmental harm as low as possible.

Neck/Fretboard

There are different names for the material of the Little Martin neck, but we’ll call it Stratabond.

It’s quite similar to other HPL woods, durable, low-cost, and weather-resistant.

The Little Martin’s Stratabond variant is rust birch wood, with an appearance and resonant properties along the same lines as mahogany.

Experienced guitarists who are wood purists may start to be turned off by the LX1 at this point, but you’ll have to play the LX1 to understand how laminates can be used to form high performing instruments.

The fretboard is Richlite, which for some may be a deal breaker.

I hesitated to pick up the LX1 for this same reason, but after getting over my initial distaste to the unusual material, I think it’s a great fingerboard.

Considering the benefits of forest conservation, I now play a Richlite fretboard with the same pleasure as ebony or rosewood.

This small guitar has twenty frets spaced over a 23” scale length, and the neck joins the body at the 14th fret with a strong and reliable mortise and tenon joint.

It gives a full range for playing most styles of music, and fits comfortably in hands of any size. A note for beginners: the LX1 has no fret inlays, which are often useful for remembering correct finger placements and chord shapes.

While not a huge problem, this lack of visual guides may slow the learning process a little bit.

Head

The headstock of the Little Martin is made of the same HPL as the body and sides, shaped with the Martin original LX taper profile.

Another synthetic material, corian, composes the nut, but this has no obvious disadvantage.

Importantly, the tuning machines are chrome-plated steel, a mark of quality in beginner acoustics which quite often have cheap plastic tuners.

Don’t be turned away by the lack of pure woods in the LX1, as you’ll find once you play it that Martin has developed the perfect formula for a reliable and affordable entry-level guitar using many laminates and synthetics.

Ecological conservation aside, the benefits are many while the detriments are few.

Sound

For a small guitar, the volume of the LX1 is surprising. I have a cheap dreadnought I like to travel with which can barely hold its own against the Little Martin.

The sitka spruce soundboard ensures a bright tone through every register, dampened by the mahogany back and sides just enough to bring a cool, even sound up and down the fretboard. It skirts the common problem many smaller budget acoustics have of sounding empty and tinny, although the very highest notes can have a bit of a twangy glass feel when played at loud volumes.

If you’re a heavy handed player, you’ll appreciate the responsiveness of the low and middle ends. Whether picked or fingered, these lower registers sing clear and warm without overpowering the high end.

It’s great for beginner guitarists in that there is a clear distinction between notes; no muddiness and no fret buzz, but also not much harmonic complexity. This might make for a boring tone depending on your ear, but all in all it’s hard to find much to complain about in the Little Martin’s sound.

It’s a good guitar for styles and genres heavy with full open chords like country or folk, but may be too bright for music thick with power chords or for learning complex solos.

Playability

Intermediate to advanced players will have a fun time playing the LX1. Its small body and short scale length make every fret easy to access, giving you a guitar that you can play with confidence.

For children or players with small statures, sure, there are guitars even more mini than the Little Martin, but none that sound as good. With patience and practice, it’s a guitar that you can use to really hone in on your particular playing style.

The Richlite fretboard is smooth and responsive, so much so that it’s hard to tell apart from natural wood fretboards.

Appearance

The Little Martin is a classic looking acoustic guitar with a natural hand rubbed top finish, unfinished back and sides, and a headstock overlaid to match the mahogany body.

There are no variations to this theme, but when choosing a beginner acoustic, sound and playability should be the focus.

Disadvantages

There isn’t a lot of bad to say about the LX1. It doesn’t boast past its capabilities, and performs as it should, and even better than one could expect from a guitar of this size and price. There are a few things worth mentioning however.

As a player who spends a lot of time in the higher registers, I really dislike a tinny treble, which is what you get with the Little Martin. It’s the biggest problem with this guitar for me, bringing back memories of the toys we had to perform with in my high school music classes.

And, while I appreciate the sustainable wood aspects of this instrument, I am myself more of a wood purist, and would at least prefer a fretboard of real wood. Essentially, that’s just a matter of preference, as there really isn’t much of a noticeable difference in tone or playability with the Richlite.

It’s a loud guitar for its size, but it’s still not going to sing above a bunch of clamor. You could play an open mic with it, but I wouldn’t take it on stage for a professional show.
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