Review: C.F. Martin & Co. Performing Artist Series GPCPA1
(Matt Griffith | Posted 2010-07-01)
If the Performing Artist Series GPCPA1 from C.F. Martin & Co. doesnít look familiar, itís because Martin has designed this guitar from headstock to tail piece, including an all-new body. The ruler of the dreadnought world wants a piece of the quickly growing Auditorium bodied guitar market that is dominated by rival Taylor Guitars. Aesthetically, the guitar is stunning. For back and sides it has a beautiful piece of East Indian Rosewood that displays some characteristics of darker rosewood like Honduran or Madagascar. The soundboard is straight forward Sitka Spruce and is bound with a magnificent strip of Ovangkol. The headstock inlay is the classic style 45 which pops with the dark Ebony faceplate behind. Both the fingerboard and bridge are also Ebony. It has a bone nut and a compensated tusq saddle. It sports gold plated Grover style tuning machines, and matching strap buttons. The body is similar to Martinís Orchestra Model Cutaway but with a few unique differences. The cut-away is much deeper which makes for easy access to frets 14 through 20. The lower bout is just under 16 inches which makes it slightly larger bodied than the OMC. It is braced with Martinís Hybrid ďXĒ Scalloped system.
Unplugged, the GPCPA1 is very well balanced and has a sweet warm tone. It certainly wonít knock you off your chair like an HD-28LSV or one of Martinís Adirondack soundboard dreadnoughts, but it has clear, moderate projection. The upside of its moderate projection volume is that the bass is not overly boomy and the treble isnít tinny which makes it easy to record. It has great response and clarity for fingerstyle and light to medium strumming. However, it does not respond as well to heavy strumming and loses clarity. If you are flatpicker, you better stick with the dreadnoughts.
When it comes to playability, there are some pros and cons. The Martin has a slim tapered neck which makes access to the upper registers a dream. The action on this particular guitar was low, too low. With the narrow neck and extremely low action, the 1st E string slips off the fingerboard when you play aggressive hammer-ons. I donít want to see Martin go the way of Taylor and set up every guitar with an extremely low action to lure buyers that are intimidated by a proper action. There must be a sweet spot to be achieved somewhere between low action and overall playability. This is not necessarily a mark against the guitar because it can be fixed in setup but nonetheless a turn off for some buyers. It would probably help the PAS project as well with a little more room to breathe. But donít let that scare you, with a proper setup the guitar will play beautifully.
Where the GPCPA1 truly shines is in its electronics. It is equipped with a Fishman F1 Aural Imaging pickup. The pickupís arsenal includes; chromatic tuner, selectable image, blend, three band E.Q., phase, compressor, anti-feedback, and volume. All of these are controlled with two small knobs and a small LCD. The tuner is very accurate and easy to use, even when in a high volume setting. The phase control, which is changed by pressing the volume button, acts as low cut when turned to the minus setting and helps if you are having low end feedback issues. The Aural Imaging is a digital representation of nine different samples from the guitar through legendary microphones such as the Nueman U-87. I couldnít find a list of the mics they used, or which image represents which mic. A list of this sort would be useful to consumers. Once you find the image you like, you can select the blend between imaging and the pickup. My favorite was image 8 with the blend right in the middle. The E.Q. is very responsive which makes it easy to get the sound your ear craves, whether that be dark and woody or bright and clear. To my ear, the compressor didnít seem to do much. If it was turned to the highest setting, i.e. most compression, it cut some of the highs but didnít seem to adjust or harness my level at all. However, the anti-feedback is functional and will prove quite useful in high volume situations. The most noticeable thing it does is cut some low and low-mid frequencies. The control is either on or off and when used in tandem with the minus phase setting should keep you from feeding back in most situations. It takes a lot of bass out but it is worth it to keep from blowing your ears and fighting feedback all night. The location of the input and the battery compartment are absolutely genius. The strap button is only a strap button, and the input is only an input, they are completely separate. The battery compartment is in between and easily accessible. Overall this is a fantastic setup. My one word of warning; this is not a plug in and play system. There is a userís manual for the pickup included. Read it. There is also an instructional DVD included. Watch it. There is a basic video as well as a more in depth one. To me, the in depth video is still pretty basic but it does help users with basic use of each function. For those who have an aversion to reading manuals, watch the video twice. Learn what all the controls do and find the sound you like before itís show time. It will take some getting used to, but I think you will find it worthwhile.
This guitar is a great instrument and a step in the right direction for Martin. MSRP is $3999 and it has a street price of $2999. The pickup is a fantastic piece of technology and when used correctly can be very powerful. With a proper setup this guitar will be a great option for most guitarists.
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