Pros: easy playability; good sound; well-built; small enough for a child to learn on; cost-effective
Cons: not particularly loud
The Martin LX1E is the acoustic-electric version of the LX1, one of the "Little Martins" offered by Martin Guitar Company as a beginner or travel guitar. I assume Martin came up with the "Little Martin" in response to the popularity of Taylor's "Baby" and "Big Baby" guitars, and I've been favorably impressed with every Little Martin I've played.
For the record, the Little Martin now comes in several versions, and it's getting a bit hard to keep up with them all. This includes mahogany laminate with laminate spruce top, mahogany laminate with solid spruce top, an all-koa laminate version, and several others. I believe that the LXME and LX1E are the only versions that come with electronics, but I'm not sure. Retail price of the Martin LX1E is $499, and real world (Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, etc.) price is $399. The Little Martin LX1E comes with a "gig bag" rather than the hard shell case that comes with more expensive guitars.
The Martin LX1E is a more-or-less 3/4 sized guitar. Martin calls it a "modified 0-14 fret" style guitar--it's roughly the same size as a Taylor Baby with a slightly smaller upper bout. The back and sides are mahogany laminate, and the top is solid spruce. The fingerboards of some samples I've played were (I believe) morado, a relatively inexpensive South American hardwood, but Martin's website now says "Richlite" for the fingerboard of the LX1E. Richlite is apparently a synthetic materal made a least in part from wood products. The bottom line is that it's probably a good idea to check the individual instrument you're considering, and see if the fingerboard is to your liking. My hunch is that Martin uses whatever is most cost-effective at the time. Fingerboard width is the standard 1 11/16" at the nut, and the scale length is a relatively short 23". There are 14 frets clear of the body, as is the case with most steel string acoustic guitars.
Construction quality has been good on all samples of the LX1E I've played. I'm not sure where it's assembled (probably overseas somewhere, or maybe Mexico), but the construction quality seems to conform to Martin's high standards. It feels well put together, and I've never seen any random glue spots, gaps or bad seams.
Playability of the LX1E is good. In spite of their small size (or perhaps because of it), they feel comfortable in my lap, and the action has been low to medium on all of the samples I've played. Intonation up the neck has been good, and the LX1s and 1Es I've played handled a capo pretty well. Because of the short scale length, bends are easy to do, but the short scale length also means you can bend chords out of tune if you play with too heavy a hand. The "low oval" neck shape is easy to wrap around and doesn't call attention to itself. Overall, the guitar feels small but not cheap--it feels solid.
The sound of the Martin LX1E is deeper and more woody than that of a Baby Taylor, which just sounds small to me. Compared to the Taylor Big Baby (a fairer comparison, in my opinion), the Martin LX1E sounds a bit woodier, while the Taylor Big Baby sounds a bit airier and more delicate. Both sound surprisingly good to me for the price.
Compared to the laminate top Martin LXME, the LX1E sounds a bit livelier, but the two are quite similar overall. If you're going to be banging your guitar around a bit (taking it on camputs and such like), the LXME might be a better option, as I've heard that the laminate top is a bit stronger (resisting scratches and dings better) than the solid spruce top. An advantage of the solid spruce top is that its sound will improve with age-- not the case with a laminate top.
Don't expect the volume of sound generated by the LX1E to compete with larger guitars, including OM-style guitars. It isn't a loud guitar, though I thought it projected well for its size.
Amplified, the LX1E sounds surprisingly good for an inexpensive guitar. I played it through a small amplifier that was in the acoustic guitar room at Guitar Center, and it sounded fine. The controls are simple: there's a volume knob, a contour knob (raises lows and highs, relative to the midrange), and a phase button. There's also a tuner built into the guitar (which I didn't use).
There's no binding or fancy ornamentation on this guitar, but it's still an attractive little instrument, with the classic Martin look, though scaled way down.
Overall, I do recommend the LX1E if you're looking for a small guitar with electronics. It plays well, sounds good, and is small enough that a younger player can wrap around it easily. Its small size also means you hould be able to carry it on an airplane without being hassled.