How Martin redefined the acoustic guitar with the SC-13E

Martin SC-13E
(Image credit: Martin Guitar)

A funny thing happens when you plug in an acoustic: even the most John Denver- loving, Kumbaya-humming strummers will suddenly want to play like they’re holding a Charvel San Dimas. It’s something that Fred Greene, vice president of product management at C.F. Martin & Co., has seen time and time again.

“I don’t know if it does something psychological or what, but you plug in your guitar, you expect it to play like an electric guitar. You give up all those acoustic features you’d normally come to expect. Obviously, you don’t need all that acoustic volume when you’re plugging it in, and the whole dynamic and the way you play starts to change.”

Martin SC-13E acoustic guitar

(Image credit: Martin)

While Martin has a long history of electric/acoustics with pickups and cutaways, the brand-new SC-13E is unlike any of the company’s previous efforts. With this latest innovative model, Greene believes Martin is giving modern players what they truly want.

“Playability was the number-one thing we wanted to address,” Greene says. “If you’re going to put a cutaway on a guitar, then allow me to actually go down there and play where the cutaway is. The problem with traditional acoustic guitars is you couldn’t do that because the heel was in the way. That means you have to address the entire way the neck and body are connected.”

(Image credit: C.F. Martin & Co.)

The SC-13E boasts Martin’s new patent-pending Sure Align system, which, according to Greene, will make adjusting the action and intonation easier than ever.

“I know it looks like the neck bolts into the guitar, but it doesn’t,” he says. “The bolts on the back of the guitar actually go into a dovetail neck joint and the neck then slides onto that dovetail. 

The bolts hold the dovetail down tight, which then tightens the neck. We also added an adjustment plate that’s accessed from inside the soundhole, where you can tilt the neck forwards and backwards and make adjustments to the action.”

(Image credit: C.F. Martin & Co.)

Translation: Not only is setting up the guitar manageable, the neck can actually slide right off. Greene says there are plans in the works to release different-model necks so players can literally mix and match.

The ability to get the action low and give easy access to all the high notes makes it perfect for electric players looking to mix things up. YouTuber Jared Dines has shown off a huge collection of electric guitars on his channel, but after a recent tour of the Martin factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where he got to spend some quality time with the SC-13E (a few weeks after meeting the guitar at the Winter NAMM Show in January), he says he’s feeling inspired to venture into acoustic territory in upcoming videos.

“The guitar itself is beautifully made,” Dines says. “I’ve never been excited about acoustic guitars, but playing this one, I was actually excited. If it didn’t have acoustic strings, it would feel basically like an electric. The cutaway makes for better lead playing, it’s way more comfortable and the sound is great. It’s got this beautiful sparkle to it.”

Other than being intensely playable, the new model also boasts some fun electronic goodies: Fishman electronics make sure it sounds as good through an amp as it does unplugged, and an in-body tuner makes onstage tuning breaks easy, quiet and discrete.

Of course, building an incredibly playable acoustic guitar means nothing if nobody can actually afford to play it. Selling at a reasonable price tag of $1,499 (street), Greene said affordability was part of the design from day one.

“Yeah, I can make a $10,000 guitar that does all this stuff, but nobody’s gonna buy it because it’s 10 grand! It’s not going to allow some guy who’s shredding on his Ibanez to spend that kind of money on an acoustic guitar.”

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Adam Kovac

Adam is a freelance writer whose work has appeared, aside from Guitar World, in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Esquire and VICE. He spent many years in bands you've never heard of before deciding to leave behind the financial uncertainty of rock'n roll for the lucrative life of journalism. He still finds time to recreate his dreams of stardom in his pop-punk tribute band, Finding Emo.