Pros: easy playability; good quality control; good sound; it's a Martin!
Cons: sound of some samples not distinctive; other very good guitars in the same price range
Note: Please be sure to read the "update" at the end of this review. I was more impressed with recent samples of this guitar than I was with the earlier samples I played back in 2002.
The DXM is the least expensive full-sized Martin guitar I know of. At Guitar Center, it costs about $30 less than the DX-1, which I favorably reviewed several weeks ago. The DXM is a laminate guitar in the dreadnought style. Its back and sides are made of what Martin calls "mahogany grained high pressure laminate," and the top is made of "spruce grained high pressure laminate." The back is one-piece, and the fingerboard is made of morado wood, which the Martin website describes as "Bolivian rosewood."
Like the DX-1, the DXM has NO finish. It looks like a matte guitar, but apparently it is wood with no lacquer at all. Neck width is 1 11/16 at the nut (where the fingerboard meets the headstock), and scale length is 25.4, which is typical of Martin dreadnought guitars. The single ring herringbone decal rosette gives the guitar a somewhat humble appearance, but it does have the familiar Martin headstock and logo. Retail price of the Martin DXM is about $599, but you can generally pick one up at your local Guitar Center for about $419.
So how does the DXM compare with my favorite inexpensive guitars, including the Martin DX-1, the Taylor Big Baby, and the Seagull S6 Spruce?
The DXM is a very playable guitar. The neck is thinner and less cumbersome than those of Martin's standard dreadnoughts, like the D-28. And the fingerboard, though not as smooth and fast as the ebony of the Taylor Big Baby or the synthetic fingerboard of the DX-1, was still quite playable.
The DXM was not as lively as the Seagull S6 or the DX-1, so I had to play a bit harder to get decent projection. Hammers and pulls were easy to do, but didn't yield a particularly authoritative sound. The action on the samples I've played varied from medium low to medium high. You should get the store to adjust the truss rod to your liking if it's not set right. There was minimal string buzz on most of the samples I played.
Overall, the sound of the DXM is OK, but it didn't grab me by the heartstrings or the cajones. Some guitars, even inexpensive ones, have something about them that makes them distinctive or inviting, but the DXM does not, at least not for me.
Its sound was not as bright and lively as that of the Seagull, which I'd have no reservations about bluegrassing. And it was not as rich and balanced as that of the DX-1, whose sound I find to be seductive when I'm playing solo stuff. It WAS fuller and more convincing than that of the Taylor Big Baby, but there's something about the Big Baby that makes me laugh when I find a good one.
The DXM was just...there. It wasn't bad, as the Gibson 45RS was bad, but it didn't make me want to keep playing like the others did.
Sustain and responsiveness of the DXM were just average as well.
I consider the Seagull S6 and the Martin DX-1 to be giant killers at their respective prices. And the Taylor Big Baby, while not as full sounding as the others (or even the DXM), is still a good deal at its usual sale price. The DXM is just a decent sounding guitar.
One thing I DO like about the DXM is that all of the samples I've played have had good, straight necks and true intonation. Quality control seems to be pretty good. Another positive is that it IS an easy-playing guitar, and as such might be a good starter guitar for someone who wants to own a real live Martin that looks almost like a standard Martin dreadnought.
The DXM is also less peculiar-looking than the Martin DX-1, which has absolutely NO binding between the top and sides (though I actually like the weird look of the DX-1, with its dark, mysterious synthetic fingerboard and woody appearance).
I'm going to slap a boring three star rating on this one, and recommend that folks play the Martin DX-1 and Seagull S6 Spruce first, and then check out the DXM. The Taylor Big Baby is also worth a play in the under $500 price range, though I think the DX-1 and S6 are better.
As always, I recommend you play the PARTICULAR instrument you're interested in before buying. No two guitars of the same make and model sound exactly the same.
July 2005 Update: Since I wrote this review, I've had a chance to play several DXMs that DID sound really good. The sound of these instruments was full and balanced, and I've actually enjoyed playing them as much as some D-16GTs that were on hand for comparison. No, the sustain was not as good as that of a Taylor or Larrivee, and they were not as bright or loud as the Seagull, but the sound of the better ones was balanced, woody, and pleasing in the Martin tradition.
The lesson? You must play the INDIVIDUAL instrument you're interested in before buying.
I'm going to up my rating to four stars, and change my recommendation from "no" to "yes."