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Martin may be best known for its timeless, classic steel-string acoustic models, but the company remains a relentless and adventurous innovator that continues to influence acoustic guitar design. A perfect example is the Performing Artist Series, which Martin introduced a few years ago with considerable acclaim and success.
Martin recently added several inexpensive PA5 Black models to its Performing Artist Series, featuring sustainable composite-material construction, versatile Fishman pickup/preamp systems and alluring black finishes that make Martin’s Black models equally appealing to players looking for maximum value, eco-friendly design and cool looks to enhance their stage image.
I checked out the DCPA5 Black Dreadnought and OMCPA5 Black Orchestra Model, which share identical features but offer different sonic characteristics due to their contrasting body shapes.
The PA5 Black models in Martin’s Performing Artist Series are notable for being constructed almost exclusively from fabricated materials that are both environmentally sustainable and cost effective. The back, sides and top are all constructed from HPL (High-Pressure Laminate) materials with a Jett Black textured finish and the top is braced with 5/16-inch solid Sitka spruce braces. The neck is Stratabond, which is made from thin layers of resin-impregnated hardwood and provides even greater strength and stiffness than common tone woods, while the fingerboard and belly bridge are Richlite, a cellulose fiber/phenolic-resin composite that looks and feels like ebony. The neck shape is Martin’s Performing Artist profile, which has a slim, flat, rounded C-shape profile similar to many modern electric guitars.
Both the DCPA5 Black Dreadnought and OMCPA5 Black Orchestra Model have moderately deep cutaways that provide easy playing access from the 14th fret, where the neck meets the body, all the way to the uppermost (20th) fret. The scale is Martin’s traditional 25.4-inch length, and the fingerboard is 1 3/4 inches wide at the nut. Keeping with the basic black aesthetics, the nut is black Corian and the compensated saddle is black Tusq.
Both models are also equipped with a Fishman F1 Analog pickup-and-preamp system. This elegantly simple system features individual tone and volume knobs and a small round display mounted on the side of the upper bout. A phase control is engaged by pressing and releasing the tone knob several times, and the chromatic tuner function is activated by holding down the volume knob for two seconds.
Although the DCPA5 Black Dreadnought and OMCPA5 Black Orchestra Model have virtually identical construction, the contrasting body shapes produce surprisingly different tonal characteristics. The DCPA5 Black delivers the characteristic bass boom and brilliant treble that Martin dreadnoughts are known for, while the OMCPA5 has a much more balanced overall tone, with richer midrange and less assertive bass. Both produce outstanding volume projection and can handle aggressive rhythmic strumming without overdriving the guitars’ tops. While both models lack the harmonic complexity and deep reverb-like resonance that makes Martin’s flagship models worth the extra bucks, they offer the basic character and tonal fingerprint that distinguish Martin guitars from their competitors.
The Fishman F1 Analog system may feature just a standard undersaddle pickup and a streamlined preamp system, but it produces warm, natural-sounding acoustic tone through a standard sound system or acoustic-electric guitar amplifier. Both guitars have a focused tonal character that complements amplification, avoiding the stray overtones and wider frequency ranges that often result in feedback problems.
Both Black models provide very comfortable playability that will please both traditional acoustic players and guitarists making the transition from electric instruments. The rock-solid neck keeps the guitar perfectly in tune even when subjected to extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations, and the overall construction is robust enough to handle the most challenging stage performance conditions.
List Price $1,099
Manufacturer C.F. Martin & Co., martinguitar.com
Eco-friendly, sustainable materials—like the Stratabond neck, Richlite fingerboard and bridge, and HPL back, sides and top—provide genuine Martin tone for a fraction of the price.
The Fishman F1 Analog pickup/preamp system offers tone, volume, phase and tuner functions with simple, elegant control knobs that preserve the guitar’s streamlined looks.
The Bottom Line
Martin’s new Performing Artist Series Black models are perfect for their intended audience—guitarists looking for solid, reliable instruments to play on stage that deliver warm, expressive acoustic tone both unplugged and amplified.