Martin DRS2 Review

Hello Rock House.

I am very sorry that I have been away for so long but things come up in life and we have to adjust and change with those things.

Biggest thing that happened was about 5 years ago now I made a decision to stop playing guitar all together. I made the mistake of getting so gear hungry that I over extended myself beyond control. I sold every piece of gear and guitar I had.

Well long story short my awesome wife Jamie noticed that I missed playing and missed it badly, but at the same time she knew I would never begin spending that kind of money again. She suggested that I purchase an acoustic guitar and only that and just play. I took her up on that offer last April and after a ton of research and pricing I decided on a Martin. 
If you are going to play an acoustic guitar, what better name than Martin. I purchased series model DRS2L. That designation stands for Dreadnought road series model 2 and the L is for left handed. Any of you that know or remember me know I am left handed.

I decided it is time to write up a review on this guitar, so some of you can see and know that for a reasonable price and a few upgrades you can have an acoustic that sounds and plays like you payed thousands for it.

Here is the basic breakdown and specs of the Martin DRS2 straight from the Martin website. I am going to add a couple of explanations beside some of the specs in case you may not be familiar with a certain type of wood or other material used on the guitar.  

Model: DRS2
Construction: Mortise/Tenon Neck Joint
Body Size: D-14 Fret
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Rosette: Single Ring
Top Bracing Pattern: A-Frame ''X-1''
Top Braces: Solid Sitka Spruce 5/16''
Back Material: Sapele – Tonally this sounds pretty much like mahogany with just a tiny bit of extra highs.
Back Purfling: none
Side Material: Sapele - Tonally this sounds pretty much like mahogany with just a tiny bit of extra highs.

Endpiece: Black Boltaron
Endpiece Inlay: none
Binding: Black Boltaron
Top Inlay Style: none
Side Inlay: none
Back Inlay: none
Neck Material: Select Hardwood – Many of these came with what is called a stratabond neck which was a quarter sawn high pressure laminated neck. It may sound odd but it did have major advantages such as being almost totally resistant to temperature and humidity changes. However there was a shortage of materials and Martin for now has gone back to an all hard wood neck. I do not know when or if they will be using the stratabond neck on this model in the near future or at all.
Neck Shape: Modified Low Oval
Nut Material: White Corian – Pretty much plastic.
Headstock: Solid/Standard Taper
Headplate: Indian Rosewood Pattern HPL
Heelcap: none
Fingerboard Material: Black Richlite – I have read and researched dozens of definitions for this material and they all seem to be different. Here is what I can tell you from my own experience. It is pretty much as hard as ebony, not as shiny, but it does still have a great deal of sustain and I do not notice any tonal differences between this material and ebony. My favorite thing about this material is the only maintenance needed for it is to be wiped down with a damp cloth from time to time.
Scale Length: 25.4''
Number Of Frets Clear: 14
Number Of Frets Total: 20
Fingerboard Width At Nut: 1-11/16''
Fingerboard Width At 12th Fret: 2-1/8''
Fingerboard Position Inlays: Style 28 w/ White ABS Dots
Fingerboard Binding: none
Finish Back & Sides: Satin
Finish Top: Satin
Finish Neck: Hand Applied Natural Oil Finish
Bridge Material: Black Richlite – same as above fret board material.
Bridge Style: Modern Belly
Bridge String Spacing: 2-1/8''
Saddle: 16'' Radius/Compensated/White Tusq – This is a manmade material, not really plastic, but often referred to as plastic. It is said that the material allows the sound to come through better when plugged into an amplification system. I have tested it against an all bone saddle and noticed no better sound from the Tusq saddle. I did however notice a much better overall tone from the bone saddle.
Tuning Machines: Chrome Enclosed w/ Small Buttons
Recommended Strings: Martin Studio Performance Lifespan Phosphor Bronze Medium Gauge (MSP7200)
Bridge & End Pins: White w/ Black Dots
Pickguard: Black
Case: 345 Hardshell
Interior Label: Paper Label
Electronics: Fishman Sonitone
Other Options: Available left-handed at no additional charge. Love that part...

Now to my experience with my own DRS2L.

Basically I love it. I have made some upgrades. I had a bone nut hand carved for it by a Martin certified luthier as well as adding a Martin compensated bone saddle. I also recently added bone bridge pins. These upgrades cost me about $200.00 for all and that is me actually buying about 3 saddles to experiment with different heights. But this $200.00 cost is well worth every penny. It turned a great sounding full size Martin dreadnought into an awesome sounding one.

I actually have friends that have asked when did I buy a D-18, which by the way is about 3 times the price. It honestly sounds that good. Now if you know Martin guitars very well you would know just by seeing it, that it is not a D-18. It has a flat finish and the D-18 is highly polished, and the tuners are different as well. There are many other differences inside and out, but even at a glance from someone who knows Martin guitars these are easily noticed.

The flat finish is probably my only complaint about the guitar. I am told that it will actually allow the wood to breathe and age better and in time we will see. I just like the polished finish.

When it arrived and I removed it from the box and began playing I noticed right away that this is not at all what most people refer to as a mid or entry level Martin guitar. With medium gauge strings the bass is well controlled and also well heard. You can feel the wood vibrate just as you should with any well-made acoustic. But it does not over power the mids or highs. The tone is very well balanced.

After adding the upgrades, bone saddle and nut and bone bridge pins the sound really came alive. I play around a lot of acoustic guitarists that play D-18’s and even D-28’s and they still have a hard time believing what I paid for my DRS2L, even with the added upgrades.

Full retail is around $1099.00. Street prices range from about $799.00 to around $900.00. The street price difference seems to depend on which neck the guitar has. That is just my own observation. I do not know that for a fact. Mine has the hardwood neck and set me back around $900.00. So I have right at $1200.00 total in it and the sound and volume from it are right up there with Martin models costing $3000.00 or more.

The action was a tad bit high. That was easily fixed when I added the bone saddle, by simply sanding about a 32nd off before installing it. Now the action is dead on 3 32nds on the low E string and 2 32nds on the high e string. I can get it a tiny bit lower if I use light gauge strings. This is a pretty standard string action for most dreadnought body guitars. Martin does leave theirs a tiny bit high from the factory since many of them are played by Bluegrass players or heavy handed pickers that need the action a little higher.

I blow most similar Taylor guitars away when it comes to sound and volume. I am not knocking a Taylor I am just saying for far less money I get better sound.

It is an all solid wood top back and sides and the Fishman Sonitone pickup works great. Martin has the volume and tone dials hidden just inside of the edge of the sound hole so they are easy to reach but no extra holes in the solid body of the guitar. Even the battery is neatly tucked away inside of the body of the guitar. The only way you would know it has electronics is to look at the end pin. I normally only use mine for tuning, as I have not found a reason or need to plug it in yet except for testing. It has plenty of sound unplugged when playing smaller places. But when plugged in to a decent amplifier or PA mixing board it still sounds great. The bass mids and highs are still very well balanced. I just prefer playing unplugged.

And before anyone asks, yes this model is manufactured in the plant in Mexico but you would never know it unless you looked at the label inside of the guitar. As I said before I have had several people that thought I was playing a D-18, the sound is just that good. Now of course it is not a D-18, but for the price I am yet to find a guitar that can match it.

I highly recommend this guitar.

Here are the upgrades I recommend for it to get the best sound. Many may love it as it is right out of the box and that is fine as acoustic guitar tone is personal to each person, what I like you may not. But here are my recommendations none the less.

First order a #2 compensated saddle from Martin, it drops right in. If you want to lower it a bit unless you are educated in how to sand and lower a saddle please let a Martin authorized luthier do it for you. Next you will need a Martin truss rod adjustment wrench. The nut for the truss rod is located at the base of the neck inside of the sound hole and is very hard to reach and adjust with a standard allen wrench. The one from Martin is designed to reach it easily and costs very little. (This is a must with an acoustic guitar) If you are not familiar with how to make truss rod adjustments please let a Martin authorized tech or luthier make any adjustments, and in most cases if you will ask them they will explain to you how to do this. There is also a ton of videos and reading material that will help you understand all of this much better. Some of which you will find using the links I have listed below. I would also have a Martin certified luthier carve a bone nut and install it. It really does balance the sound better. Lastly order a set of bone bridge pins. The all bone set up is very well rounded with great volume and tone, and also increases harmonics.

My saddle from Martin was about $25.00 with shipping. I did the height adjustments and installation myself. The nut cost me $40.00. I had it hand carved from a bone blank by a local Martin luthier. I DO NOT recommend that you try anything with the nut yourself unless you are very well trained in how to do this. Far too many things can be broken trying this yourself. My bone bridge pins I ordered from Maury’s Music and were about $39.00 with shipping. I will include links for all at the end of this.  

After that just play and listen.

Dollar for dollar I have not yet found a better deal from any company for an all solid wood constructed electric acoustic guitar. And this is a Martin, which means they stand behind it for life. Which brings me to why I kept saying please use a Martin authorized technician or luthier. They will only warranty parts made or installed by their authorized people. And if you use someone not Martin authorized and they happen to break something then you will be stuck paying for the repair. I really can’t stress that enough.

Go online and check the Youtube videos of this guitar, check the reviews. It really is a great guitar at a decent price. And as for those that call it an entry level Martin, I will put my Martin DRS2L against any standard dreadnought out there. There is nothing entry level about this guitar.


Terry White

Here are some links for items mentioned in this review. I am not advertising for them, just letting you know where I got my parts from, most of which Martin support recommended to me. Also some other links you may want to check out for information on acoustic guitars and what is used for the best sound. And some is just all around good reading material.

Here are some random photos of my DRS2L as it was being upgraded, some of the work I did myself such as saddle word and bridge pins. The nut was done by a Martin authorized luthier.

This is the new nut installed and the stock nut sitting in front of it laying on the strings.

This is the new nut installed cleaned and polished ready to go. It took about 2 hours.

Just in case you may have wanted to know what it looks like under your nut this is after the stock nut was removed. Removing it was very quick and simple for a trained luthier. It took him about a minute to remove it.

And this is the bone bridge pins with the black dot ebony inlays I got from Maury’s Music after I installed them. As simple as changing strings. If you call them be sure you talk to Angelo or Maury to be sure you are getting the correct parts.

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