Pros: that big Martin rosewood dreadnought sound; built like a tank
Cons: bass notes can overwhelm treble notes on some D-35s
The Martin D-35 dreadnought guitar came into being in 1965. It was born as a result of a shortage of Brazilian rosewood, the three-piece back allowing Martin to use smaller pieces in the manufacture of the guitar. Basically, the D-35 was supposed to be as close to a D-28 (Martin's classic dreadnought) as possible, but the three-piece back necessitated a different back-bracing pattern, and yielded a somewhat different sound.
Today's D-35s are made of Indian, not Brazilian, rosewood, and have adjustable truss rods, which the early D-35s did not have. But they are still big, strong, rosewood dreadnought guitars, with a distinctive sound and high quality build. I've played several D-35s (one of my bluegrass band members plays one), so I thought I'd write a review.
The D-35 is a tank of a guitar with a rich, bassy tone. To me, it sounds like an even beefier D-28, though Walter Carter, in "The Martin Book," claims that the original D-35s sounded LESS boomy than the D-28.
The current D-35 has Indian rosewood back and sides, a spruce top, and a high quality ebony fingerboard. The binding is light in color, including the binding up the side of the fingerboard, and the classic Martin pick guard is black, rather than tortoise.
The scale length on the D-35 is 25.4", and the fingerboard width at the nut is the usual 1 11/16".
Fingerboard inlays are the familiar medium sized circles, and the rosette is a typical multi-ring design. A D-35 is a heavy, solidly built guitar. I'm not sure if it's actually heavier than a D-28, but it FEELS heavier to me. As mentioned, the D-35 differs from the classic Martin D-28 in that the D-35 has a three piece back, rather than the two piece back of the D-28.
The retail price of the current D-35 is $2599, but you can get one for about $1800.
All Martin D-35s made since 1985 have adjustable truss rods. The switch from Brazilian to Indian rosewood took place in 1969.
If you've ever played a D-28 or HD-28, you know pretty much what a D-35 plays like. The neck is fairly thick (thicker than on my D-16, I believe) but the high quality ebony fingerboard and overall solid feel make playing pretty easy.
Hammers and pulls are easy to do, and they yield good sound, especially in the bass strings. Chords played up the neck are in tune, and are easy to execute.
Because this is a solidly built guitar, it tends to stay in tune through hard playing, and there is less tweaking when you move to alternative tunings than with many other guitars.
What can I say? This thing sounds like a big Martin rosewood dreadnought guitar. In my experience, most D-35s are a little bassier and maybe a bit more uncouth that D-28, but since that's not SUPPOSED to be the case, I urge you to play the two side-by-side and see what you think.
The D-35s I've played have been loud, quite responsive, and very full-sounding. These are manly sounding guitars, with the dreadnought sound others try to imitate or build upon. They are great for accompanying vocals or for bluegrass flatpicking. A Taylor 710 or Larrivee D-09 sounds like a sissy if you've been playing a Martin D-28 or D-35.
A possible problem with D-35s (and D-28s as well) is that the bass notes can overwhelm the treble notes, making this guitar less than ideal for delicate fingerpicking tunes. Santa Cruz's lineup of rosewood dreadnought guitars, based on classic Martin designs, has tried to remedy this potential problem, and their rosewood dreadnoughts are brighter and more balanced than Martin's. But many people still prefer the big, ballsy sound of a Martin. If you're mostly a fingerpicker, but you want that Martin rosewood bass resonance, you might want to consider a smaller guitar like the rosewood Martin 000-28 or OM-28. For fingerpicking, I actually prefer mahogany guitars in general, since they tend to sound a bit "tighter," but a smaller 000 or OM style rosewood guitar will sound less bassy than a rosewood dreadnought.
How does the sound of a D-35 differ from that of a D-28? That's difficult to say. As I mentioned, in my experience, D-35s tend to sound even bigger and more uncouth than D-28s. But the other day I played a D-35 and a D-28 side-by-side and could hardly tell the difference. And today, I played a friend's 1971 D-35, and it was one of the best-balanced Martin dreadnoughts I've ever played. The bass was rich and full, but it did NOT overwhelm the treble on most tunes. To be honest, there may be as much variation within a given model number as there is between a good D-35 and D-28.
The Martin D-35 is a heavy, solidly build Martin rosewood guitar. The primary difference between it and the classic D-28 is the 35's 3-piece back. If you want "that Martin sound," I recommend you play several samples of both and see which you prefer.
If you want a bit more projection, and and a bit more sensitivity, check out Martin's HD-28 and HD-35 as well. And if you want a slightly less bassy tone, check out Santa Cruz's D and D Pre-War models.