Martin guitars are bulletproof instruments that can handle some intricate playing and the occasional impact without experiencing significant damage. Although many of them get made in the United States, many are manufactured or assembled in Mexico.
When musicians compare a Mexican Martin to one built in the United States, they often detect subtle differences in tone and quality. Although that might be true for the Martin HPL models, anything from the X-Series, or even a DX1, will deliver excellent results.
Another factor to consider is the guarantee that you receive with your investment. All X-Series Martins come with a limited lifetime warranty.
Although there can be occasional quality inconsistencies with Mexican Martins, don’t let the fact that it was made in Mexico stop you from investing in this brand.
Mexican Martins: My Thoughts
Some Martins are made or assembled in Mexico. Although the actual models are subject to change at any time, the LX models, some of the Road guitars, and a few of the X-Series are Mexican, as are all Martin strings. These instruments produce smooth playing, but they are often made with cheaper materials.
The issue that many musicians have with Mexican Martins is the use of HPL for the top, sides, or back (if not all three) of the instrument body. HPL stands for “high pressure laminate.”
This material comprises several compressed layers that go through high-pressure settings to create a rigid, form-retaining product.
HPL sheets use wood fibers or a paper center, followed by two top layers. Its core is then soaked with phenolic resin to create a usable surface. When the materials go through the production process, the heat and compression from the thermoset make the materials hard and dense.
When HPL is made correctly, the top layers are so dense and hard that moisture or sunlight cannot penetrate the surface. That’s why the first sheets of the substance were used for residential and commercial cladding, such as exterior panels or fascia boards.
Martin uses hardwood processing tools to cut and shape the material into the components for its guitars. It bonds like most other wood products, even though it’s closer to a plastic product than an organic item.
Since it isn’t spruce or alder like most cheaper guitars, the resonance that comes from a Mexican Martin is a little different.
Although the untrained ear might not detect the differences, you can tell the HPL tends to sound hollower, have less sustain, and a note shape that isn’t always pleasing to the listener.
Even if you get an X-Series Martin with a “1” in the model number, you’ll still have HPL for the sides and the back. When you grab one with an “M” in the identifier, it has an HPL top.
Does HPL deliver a good sound for the money? If you’re a beginner, you’ll have lots of happy learning and playing moments. When you’re ready to take your playing to the next level, it might be better to go with a solid wood option.
Here’s Why I’m Not a Fan of the Mexican Martins
The issue with the Mexican Martin guitars for me is the fact that HPL is almost impossible to repair.
These instruments are incredibly resilient. You can bash one into the side of a door without the guitar picking up a scratch. It stands up to more environments better than a solid wood product without needing to worry about humidity, expansion, or contraction.
Although the HPL surface is hard, it isn’t 100% impenetrable. You can run into significant problems with this material when it splits or takes a puncture.
Many luthiers won’t even attempt to restore the product because the cost of the work exceeds the instrument’s price.
◼️ Pros and Cons of Using HPL for Guitars
We can argue about tone all day for a year without finding any resolution. How an instrument shapes notes and phrases involve how the musician produces sound for the listener to enjoy. It will always be a subjective conversation where multiple “right” answers are possible.
That’s why it is better to look at the pros and cons of using HPL to make guitars under the Martin brand. Here are the different points to consider if you’re thinking about picking up one of these instruments soon.
|What Are the Pros of Using HPL for Guitars?||What Are the Cons of Using HPL for Guitars?|
|• Working with HPL makes the guitar more predictable and consistent. That makes the assembly work faster, reducing the overall labor that goes into the instrument.|
• Pricing for HPL guitars is significantly cheaper than their all-wood counterparts because it involves less workmanship and more affordable materials for its construction.
• The guitar is built from a more sustainable approach, preserving our trees and forests for other needs. It won’t be the same to a purist, but this is the nature of today’s world.
• If your home is in a place that hates guitars, having an HPL guitar will feel like a blessing from above. It can get wet without much of a problem (within reason), handles heat better, and the surface is resistant to pick wear and scratches.
• There is no actual finish on these Martin guitars, which means there’s nothing to crack or check during temperature fluctuations.
|• Although HPL creates a hard surface for the manufacturing process, it also becomes brittle. If you give it a hard smack in the wrong place, you can end up with a shatter instrument.|
• HPL guitars are challenging to repair. It would be fair to say that Martin makes this instrument on the idea that if it breaks, you’ll buy a new one to replace it.
• The material tends to be thin, butting up against the neighboring pieces in the instrument to cause multiple problems during an impact.
• You cannot use wood glues to repair a broken HPL instrument. Since it is a resin-based product, you’re stuck with epoxy that can get messy – and change the tone dynamics of the instrument.
• It is impossible to get a seamless repair completed when restoring an HPL instrument. It looks like you put together a jigsaw puzzle and came out of the experience with something that looked like a guitar.
HPL guitars indeed come with several advantages. Although they can be uniquely challenging from a repair viewpoint, their benefits shouldn’t be automatically disregarded. Their toughness is a significant advantage – up to a point.
It is more affordable to buy Mexican Martins than other all-wood guitars. Although you can get kits or beginner setups that use alder or birch when you want to play an acoustic model, durability is often lacking on those instruments.
Once you string up one of these Martins, you’ll discover that the note, tone, and shape tend to be consistent. It will hold whatever tuning you prefer to give it consistently, even if you’re playing in somewhat adverse conditions.
A Final Thought on Mexican Martins
Mexican Martins are getting produced in more significant numbers because the lower labor costs translate into a cheaper guitar for the average consumer. Adding HPL into that mix takes the price down even more. You’ll get an affordable instrument that you can play for almost forever.
I have one of the Mexican Martins in my collection at home. It’s an X-Series DC-X2E Martin that offers a Sitka spruce top and HPL for the sides and back. I feel that this combination provides a better richness within the bass frequencies without taking away the crispness I want in the midrange.
I’ll be the first to admit that the HPL causes the high end to feel a little tinny. You can update that problem by swapping out the stock strings with something you prefer.
I also love how the Martin X-Series DC-X2E incorporates electronics to ensure I can connect to whatever sound system is available. It lets me play campfire-style when I’m with friends or offer a more formalized performance.
You’ll discover that the Mexican Martins can handle almost any genre. It works better for folk, country, or jazz, but I’ve played everything from rock to bluegrass without an issue.
The bottom line for me involves the performance of the guitar. It doesn’t matter if the instrument is manufactured in the United States, Mexico, Korea, Japan, China, or Australia. If the guitar can play, then play it.
When you have an HPL guitar, you have something that can travel with you effectively, head to the beach, or play a gig in front of a rowdy stage.
Some musicians might refer to Mexican Martins as being made from sawdust, but it still delivers the results you want.
It’s an excellent all-around instrument that lets you reserve your $3,000 ones for those studio recording sessions or live concerts where a first impression matters.