Have you ever been in the situation where your ears are telling you one thing while your preconceptions – or perhaps more accurately, prejudices – are sending you an entirely different message.
Let’s wind the clock back to a January day in 2014. I’m sitting in the acoustic guitar room of Andertons Music in Guildford, where I’m playing a Martin DRS1 for the first time.
And my ears are telling me that this is an instrument that I want to spend more time with. It’s not the loudest dreadnought I’ve ever played, but it has a warm , evenly balanced sound that responds well to strumming, flatpicking and – perhaps more surprisingly – my style of fingerpicking (see above). Admittedly the action doesn’t seem particularly low and the neck feel fatter and a bit more clubby than I’m used to, but crucially it is very comfortable to play. And as I sit noodling, watched by an assistant who senses a sale, I become more and more convinced that the sound and feel of this guitar suit me down to the ground.
Those Pesky Preconceptions
Then the preconceptions kick in, for this is not a conventional instrument. I have no problem with the solid Sapele back and sides but I have doubts about the stratabond neck. A fairly standard feature on Martin’s Mexican made instruments, such necks are constructed of thin strips of wood . In other words, its a kind of plywood. It is very rigid (in some ways ways a plus) but for someone used to solid mahogany necks on my acoustics, it looks extremely strange and unfamiliar. Frankly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to live with it. Added to that, the fingerboard is made from a synthetic material (Richlite) as is the bridge. The preconceptions prompt me to ask myself: “Is this a real guitar or a very expensive toy.
My ears win the day and I buy it.
Fast forward to the following week. I’m really not sure about the neck. The Richlite seems hard on my fingers. I think about taking it back to the shop and trying for a swap.
So what happened?
Three years on and its my main gigging guitar. Initially I took it out just occasionally to gigs and continued mainly use my Yamaha LD. Slowly but surely, however, it inveigled its way into my affections. More to the point, I began to regard as the most practical choice for live work.
For one thing it stays in tune supernaturally well. Despite tuners which on the face of it appear to be slightly flimsy, it turned out to be rock solid. I suspect the stiff neck helps (although the downside is probably less resonance), along with a well cut nut. The tuners themselves do the job. It takes a capo well, too.
I also find it easy to get a good plugged-in sound. The pickup system – Fishman – is very simple and the onboard preamp has just two controls (mounted in the soundhole) for tone and volume. But they work. I don’t know if there’s any science to this, but the warmth of acoustic sound seems to offset the natural brightness of the piezzo pickup when the guitar is amplified.
A Handsome Devil
Last but not least. I think the DRSI is a handsome devil thanks to chestnut colour of the Sapele. Yes, it’s simple and there is – for example – no binding on the neck or body. But that stripped down look complements the rootsy music I tend to play.
What Don’t I Like?
I use if for recording, but if you don’t get the mic placement exactly right, it can be a bit boomy. And its natural boom tends to be exacerbated when the original recording is compressed during the mastering process. Get the placement right, however, and its fine.
I use the DRS1 for recording, but it’s not always the right tool. For live work, I’ve found it hard to beat.
Here’s what it sounds like on record.