Price: $2,599 retail; $1,999 street
Likes: unplugged and plugged in sound
Dislikes: I would be nitpicking
More info: Martin DCPA3
by John Gatski
Plugged-in acoustic guitars are an essential part of playing music these days — whether live or recording. In my opinion, the electronics side of the equation is the great equalizer, so to speak. Even lower-cost instruments with onboard pickups can do the trick on a gig or a home-recording session. But to my ears, the exceptional acoustic-electric guitar is one that has the classic acoustic sound, as well as the plugged-in option. My kind of acoustic/electric is the Martin DCPA3 Performing Artist cutaway Dreadnaught reviewed here.
A further evolution of the 16 Series that Martin created in the 1990s, the DCPA3 is an all solid-wood, full-sized cutaway Dreadnaught guitar with onboard Fishman Aura F1 pickup, controls and tuner. The Performing Artist Series guitars are built with modern methods and use a variety of renewable materials and cost-saving design elements in their construction. Hence, they are not as expensive as the traditional-built acoustics. Other PA models also include an 0M-sized cutaway and an Grand Performance cutaway in mahogany, sapele and rosewood bodies. I have played a variety of 16 series guitars since the mid-1990s (even have owned a few), and have marveled at how they sounded at often half the price of a traditional D18, 28 or 35 model.
The DCPA3‘s solid Indian rosewood back and sides and solid sitka spruce top are very much like the traditional, iconic D28. But the DCPA3 utilizes Martin’s mortise-and-tenon, bolt-on neck and the hybrid A-frame bracing of the 16 Series to keep the costs down — as well as give it its own unique acoustic sound with a strummed versatility that the traditional Dreadnaught does not have. Yet the tone still is characteristically Martin.
Aura F1 Onboard Controls
The guitar sports a 25.5-inch scale neck made of “select hardwood”, which is typically Spanish Cedar or genuine mahogany these days. The fretboard measures a comfortable 1 3/4 inches at the nut and 2 1/8 inches at the 12th fret. Although Martin guitar necks were predominately Honduran mahogany from the early 1920s, shortages of that wood has forced Martin and other guitar makers to supplement with other woods, such as Spanish cedar. With Martin, the Honduran mahogany necks are still used on standard models, if available. The more readily-available cedar looks similar to mahogany and is just about as stiff. In fact, Martin used cedar necks in the 19th and early 20th century.
The guitar easily fits into the acoustic strumming world of singer songwriters, Folk, Pop, Country, and Gospel; or you can plug in and amplify the instrument from its pickup or add familiar mic flavors from the digital sample images, courtesy of Fishman.
The neck features a rosewood-veneered DCPA3 headstock with Martin-labeled Gotoh tuners. The MOP fret markers are a bit unique in that they are arrayed on the bass string side. The fretboard (and bridge) is made from a synthetic substance called Richlite, which is hardened paper and resin synthetic material that is considered renewable and, thus, green. It is now showing up on more and more guitars. It looks like ebony and is said to be quite hard, which give a slightly “brighter” character over traditional ebony or rosewood.
The body wood on this DCPA3 sample had great visual appeal with tight-grained Sitka top, devoid of the marked light and dark banding that I see more and more these days on sitka guitar tops. The DCPA3's body and neck binding are made from a durable plastic, Boltaron. There is no decorative back strip to separate the two-piece rosewood back, which I think looks pretty darn cool. The nut is made from white Corian and the saddle from Tusq; both are synthetic materials said to be as dense and hard as bone or ivory.
The guitar top is is finished in a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer — while the back, sides and neck are sprayed with a satin lacquer that gives it a more natural feel. The lower bout metal strap pin doubles as the cable jack. The battery compartment also is housed inside the end-pin. The other strap holder is mounted on the neck heel via a wood screw.
Inside the guitar is a work of perfection: no stray glue traces, the perfing was straight and properly spaced. The test guitar also was properly hydrated right out of the box (the inside wood was naturally dark instead of chalky grey); a too-dry guitar has a thinner sound than a properly hydrated guitar, and often the wood shrinks causing the fret edges to be felt by playing hands.
The electronics are mounted on the under side of the top side above the sound hole with two controls and a small LED display. The DCPA3’s electric side features the well-regarded Fishman F1 Aura pickup/digital preamp system. The preamp system features an undersaddle pickup and digitally sampled 24-bit “images” or sounds of the guitar recorded with nine notable microphones. They include: DPA 4011, AKG C414-B, Neumann U87, Schoeps, CMC64g, Neumann KM84, Shure SM57, Groove Tubes Velo 8T ribbon mic and Earthworks QTC30.
An inside look
Other features include tuner, phase control, EQ and compressor, as well as anti-feedback reduction so you can crank it up on stage without squeal. With just two buttons on the top side of the DCPA3, there is a bit of a learning curve to engage all the functions. (Like learning to set all the functions on your digital clock) But after a few days usage, I was comfortable selecting the various function and mic images I wanted. The included manual explains the various combination of button pushes to get the desired function. If you can operate an iPhone...
The Martin DCPA3 has a nice feel, and the Performing Artist profile neck is perfect — with low action and the 1 3/4”-to-2 1/8 fretboard is easy to find your way around. In fact, this is one of the best feeling necks that I have ever played on an acoustic guitar! Martin should be commended for the setup; the neck set was perfect with a medium-high saddle; yet the action was so playable. Frets were comfortable as well with no sharp edges. Intonation to the 12th fret was spot on.
With the onboard electronics, the guitar felt a little heavier than a non-electronics laden Martin D-sized acoustic, but it still is pretty easy to maneuver and the DCPA3 felt well balanced when using a strap.
The guitar comes with Martin’s LifeSpan phosphor bronze light gauge strings, which are treated (not coated) to keep them from dulling too quickly from sweat, oil, etc. They come on all non-custom models The strings have a nice balanced sound, but to my ears they did not seem as loud as the same gauge standard Martin’s SP strings, which I eventually replaced them with.
I have played a number of the A-frame braced rosewood Martins with cutaways, and the DCPA3 is very similarly voiced. It has that warm bottom end and lower midrange that personifies the rosewood spruce Martin sound. Finger picking and strumming produces rich tones with just enough top end to make it cut. A pick adds more top end
I have played a number of the A-frame braced rosewood Martins with cutaways, and the DCPA3 is very similarly voiced. It has that warm bottom end and lower midrange that personifies the rosewood spruce Martin sound. Finger picking and strumming produces rich tones with just enough top end to make it cut. A pick adds more top end, but this guitar is not a bright sounding guitar; it has that rich bottom end/midrange sound that you expect from a Martin, but it not as bass bloomy as an HD-28 or my J-40 rosewood Martin jumbo
The hybrid A-framed bracing allows the guitar to be loud enough for playing without amplification and a considerable degree of openness. The Martin that have this bracing always have a bit of low midrange growl, and the DCPA3 was no exception. With moderate to hard strumming, I measured an 87 dB level at 1 meter using an audio analyzer/level meter. Not as loud as a HD28 or D-45, but good enough to play without electronics in small to medium settings.
As mentioned, the supplied review sample had a superb feeling neck — with its “performing artist” profile, providing a low-fast action that rivals any Taylor or Takamine I have played. With may large hands, the positioning on the lower frets felt much less cramped than my Martin J-40’s standard “low-profile” neck — with is slightly narrower dimensions at the nut.
Played through a Yamaha StagePAS portable PA system and my Fender Deluxe 90 solid-state guitar amp (with Eminence classic speaker) that I use for electric-acoustics, I found the under saddle pickup typical of this kind of acoustic guitar transducer: crisp and midrange focused without EQ. Blending in the onboard digital mic “images,” opens it up a bit, and was my preferred recording mode.
By engaging the Fishman mic image modes, a new sonic palette emerges from the DCPA3. Although I am ordinarily a fan of traditional miking methods, I liked the DPA-4011 “image” for that transparent mic’d sound and the Neumann U87, with the compressor engaged, to get a fuller sound.
By engaging the Fishman mic image modes, a new sonic palette emerges from the DCPA3. Although I am ordinarily a fan of traditional miking methods, I liked the DPA-4011 “image” for that transparent mic’d sound and the Neumann U87, with the compressor engaged, to get a fuller sound. Some of the other modes seemed a little too bright for my ears, so I EQ’d the amp and left the EQ flat on the Aura.
By the way, the onboard tuner is excellent; it was easy to tune exactly on pitch with easy nudges of the tuners. The Martin held its tune — even in the fluctuating temperatures of the fickle Washington DC winters.
In our opinion...
All in all, I think the Martin DCPA3 is a perfect electric-acoustic for those that want the Martin tone with slightly livelier air and a full-featured on-board pickup/preamp system. The guitar easily fits into the acoustic strumming world of singer songwriters, Folk, Pop, Country, and Gospel; or you can plug in and amplify the instrument from its pickup or add familiar mic flavors from the digital sample images, courtesy of Fishman. Based on its performance, cost and the fact that Martin still manufactures in the USA, the DCPA3 gets an Everything Guitar Network Grade A award.
John Gatski is publisher/editor of the Everything Guitar Network, and has reviewed guitars and guitar-related products since 1998 A basic rhythm player, Mr. Gatski also collects guitars and restores vintage guitar amps for his own pleasure. He also is publisher/editor of the hi-fi, home cinema, home recording studio review site, Everything Audio Network. Reach him via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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