Martin S1 Full Review

12

June 17, 2011 by Tim


Ding dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead, ding dong the wicked witch is dead!!! By the witch I mean the Martin SO uke that we have had to wonder about for the past few years. I felt like Martin was missing the boat this whole time with only having one production uke and it was not worth $300, maybe $150 tops.

Yes the S1 is made in Mexico, and that pisses some off, but that is what they have to do to keep costs down. Otherwise I think this uke would be $500+. I have to applaud them for making a great sounding uke and going back to the drawing board to make the S1, and the other new ones that just came out recently, and finally joining the ukulele party…again.

Funny story about how I was able to get the S1 just before winter NAMM where the announced it. Last summer NAMM while I was in Nashville I received a random e-mail from Martin guitars that they are coming out with the S1 and replacing the SO. Not an hour later I receive another e-mail saying that the last e-mail was not suppose to go out. I had to ask when I got there. I made b-line to Martins booth and asked, and was told to not speak of it, and I didn’t really tell too many people. At least I did not put it up on Ukeeku.com. It was hard news to keep to myself. Well….over time I kept e-mailing randomly asking about it and I think I broke them down. 1 week before I was to leave for winter NAMM I get the S1 and was told that I need to put something about it on my site no earlier than 10 am the first day of the show. How was I going to make it to NAMM, be at the Martin Booth and also publish it just as they announced it? Work iPad to the rescue. I had it written and just before I walked in the door I hit publish. One of the best hit days in the history of Ukeeku.com. 5 months later and I am getting around to reviewing it. I think subconsciously I did not want to send it back, but all good things must come to an end.

Read on to see what I thought

Specs:
Soprano : 17 Fret
Tuners: Grover Friction tuners with white buttons
Nut & saddle: Bone
Top: Single Piece Solid Mahogany
Sides: Solid Mahogany
Back: Single Piece Solid Mahogany
Neck: Mahogany with a Morado fretboard
String Attachment: Knot in a slit
Finish: Satin
Case: Padded Gig bag
Full Specs:
http://www.martinguitar.com/ukuleles/ukuleles.php?uke=S1 Uke

Looks

First look: (4) By no means do I think the S1 looks cheap or ugly, it just looks plain. No bling or binding. The only inlay is around the soundhole. I commend them for using the nice gold martin lettering, it is raised, it is not just printed on, it is placed. One thing that does shine on it is the wood, it is really nice and has a lot of contrast. It actually changes color depending on the angle you look at it. If it had binding it would get a 5, but that jacks the price up another $150. Also what is up with the microscopic fret markers?

Fit and Finish: (5) I have never seen or played a Martin instrument that was not perfect in the fit and finish, well except a new SO, but that is in the past. The S1 is super nice and well made. The bracing does not let the bridge pull the bridge up at all, and it still sounds great. Every joint is tight, no glue marks, and the finish is perfect.

Sound:

Sound Type: Warm but forward. I think that the sound is what an old SO sounded like when it was new. It is the ukulele sound that you would expect if you did not play ukulele, and thought that they should sound like a full mature instrument.

Intonation: (5) With the ultra thin bridge there is no room to compensate it at all, and yet it is perfect from the nut down. I have found that many brands cannot get sopranos right to save their souls. This is something that makes it a little more, and it is worth not having to have it setup after you get it.

Volume: (5) Many sopranos are meek and don’t project at all. the few that really do project have an arched back and super light bracing. The S1 holds its own to all others and is actually loud, but still retains a nice warm sound.

Sustain: (5)  Long and nice like it should be for a well made instrument.

Feel:

String Height: (Medium) Setup perfectly. Not low like an electric, and not high so it won’t buzz if there is an issue. Seems to be setup perfectly.

Neck Radius Depth: (5/8″) Basic C shaped neck,

Frets: (5) No binding and it is still smooth as butter.

Tuning: (5) I am happy to see that Martin did not fall like the gaggle of other makers that use geared tuners and stayed true to the friction tuners. The Grovers are really nice once you find the right tension for the screw.

Comfort: (5) Still not as light as some of the old Martins, but pretty light and balanced. The edges are still crisp but it is comfortable to hold and play.

Sound Hole Smell: Like a new Martin. I have a Martin DC16-GTE (For sale for $1000) and it smelled just like this uke does. I think it is their oil or something that gives it that signature Martin smell. I think they should bottle it and sell it as a cologne or perfume. I would buy it.

Final Thoughts

My thing about this uke is that I want it to be better for the price, or at least look a little nicer. I can get a solid wood uke that sounds the same for about $100 less. You do pay for the name and what comes with that. The expectation of quality and perfection that they seem to have come back to on the ukuleles. I think my issue is that I feel Martin may be coming back to the regular consumer ukulele world a little late. Why did they not do this 3 years ago when it started to get hot again? The OXK was a great step and showed that they are watching the market, and the S1 is in the same vain. Thank you Martin for coming back and showing us that you care about uke players that can’t afford a $5000 ukulele, but I hope that it is not too little to late with the S1 and the others that were just announced.

Oh, one other funny thing. When I was at winter NAMM I asked “So can you show me the concert and tenor versions?” They looked at me like I was am international spy. I took that as there was something in the works and they could not tell me otherwise Chris would have to take me out.

If you think Martin is not serious about ukes, here is 14 minute video they just made, but they don’t talk about the S1 at all…so, yeah, take that how you want to.

All Rating on a scale of 1-5
Click here for an explanation of reviews

First Look 4
Fit and Finish 5
Sound Type Warm and Forward
Intonation 5
Volume 5
Sustain 5
String Height Medium
Neck Radius Depth 5/8″
Frets 5
Tuning 5
Comfort 5
Sound Hole Smell Like a new Martin

Places to buy on the web:

Elderly – $379
Sweet Water – $379

HD Audio Sample:

Gallery:

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12 thoughts on “Martin S1 Full Review

  1. Tim says:

    It was very nice when I played it at UWC. But then everything sounded great there, Isn’t S1 an older model designation?

  2. Katie Smith says:

    Please keep after them about the concert and the tenors. I would love to have a concert sized Martin some day. I currently have a Martin tenor which i adore but he needs a little bro.
    I enjoy your blog very much
    Thanks and have a good day
    katie

  3. Paul Cote says:

    I am wondering how it sounds compared to the OXK?

    • JMAC says:

      I have had an OXK for a while and recently acquired an S1. I didn’t find the sound dramatically different and both sound good. The S1 has a slightly more mellow sound due to the mahogany body but the OXK sounds surprisingly good for laminate. But both are well made, have excellent intonation, and good volume. The main difference is the appearance. The solid mahogany on the S1 looks so much better than the OXK, particularly on the neck. If your budget is tight the OXK is a bargain but if you can spare the extra $100 or so you will not be sorry you bought an S1.

  4. Joni says:

    Ooooh, I love the plainness of this uke. It’s as a Martin should be. And Soprano size is absolutely classic. How did I miss getting to try this thing out at UWC? I think I’d like it.

  5. Karl says:

    Just got one of these yesterday, it is awesome. It is the best uke I have ever had the chance to play, including some vintage martins(not in the best condition) and other ukes costing twice as much, they were fancier but to any serious player sound and playability win over everything. It is also twice as easy to play as my other ukes, I have always struggled to bar the first fret easily but on this it is right every time. I haven’t changed the strings on it yet, I have never liked martin strings on my other ukes, they always sound cheap, but on this they make beautiful sounds. I will try others eventually but for now I can’t complain.
    If you have a spare $500 get this uke.

  6. JMAC says:

    Island Guitars had examples of the new Martin Concert and Tenor ukes at their booth at the 41st Annual Ukulele Festival in Waikiki last weekend. They sound and play great and are beautifully made. Not as inexpensive as the S1 but about what you’d expect for a Martin. I couldn’t afford a concert but Island Guitars made me a good deal on an S1 and I’ve been enjoying it since. I’ll soon replace the enormous “one size fits all” gig bag with a proper case and will enjoy the S1 for years. Aloha!

  7. Chris says:

    I just picked one of these up at the local Guitar Center. It had a small nick on the back and they gave me a great deal on it. I am pleased as punch! It is clear as a bell and great to play. I know this sounds crazy but I’m a better ukulele player with it! I think it would have been over priced if I paid the MSRP but for $300 it is top notch.

  8. Phillip says:

    I have one. Love it. It came with the gig bag, but I want to keep it for the long haul and protect it, so can anyone point me to a site where I can get a hard case for it? Cheers.

    • Tim Clark says:

      should fit in any soprano uke case. mainlandukes.com elderly.com ebay

      • Karl says:

        please note, it will not fit in Stagg ukulele cases, they are made for peanut shaped ukuleles. I really like the freemont rectangular cases from elderly- I have a custom made uke in one at the moment exactly the same size as my S1 and it fits really snugly, and looks cooler than my other cases (Kala – rigid foam, anuenue and tgi (both uke shaped)) which will also fit but not as securely. For a cheap option the “HARDSHELL UKULELE CASE (SOPRANO)” from elderly are really good and probably the best for protection and have external pockets but don’t look that good. These can be bought from pretty much anywhere and are labelled with loads of different companies. Mine was sold as a Kala but has no logo’s anywhere.

  9. Chris says:

    I have this uke and it is the best money I have ever spent. I also have it in the freemont rectangular soprano ukulele case from elderly, (it fits like a glove).
    I don’t know that it makes me play better, but I certainly enjoy playing it more and therefor play more often. Go to your local store and try one out.

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