You can’t judge a book by its cover.
For at least a month, Martin has been teasing that a “New Era” of guitarmaking would be unveiled on January 9, 2024. The wait is finally over. And the game changing instrument in question? The Martin GPCE Inception. Of course, from a distance it doesn’t look too revolutionary. In fact, it looks a lot like Martin’s previous Grand Performance efforts.
But get up close and peek into the soundhole and you’ll quickly see where the GPCE Inception is unique: First you’ll notice dozens of elegantly-placed laser cut holes in the main braces. It’s almost an Art Deco-inspired look.
You’ll then see what Martin has dubbed “sonic channels” in the guitar’s three-piece back. Instead of a traditional flat back with braces, the whole affair inside looks a bit like subtly-carved acoustic paneling. Both of these achievements are a marvel of CNC / laser programming and I can only imagine how many iterations of this model the legendary company went through before they decided on just the proper amount of routing (and laser cutting) for the production model.
These innovations aren’t just for novelty, of course. This guitar is all about sustainability. The woods chosen for the Inception are domestic. By utilizing maple for the back and sides, Martin has (like Taylor) found an easily sourced, proven guitar wood. Same goes for Black walnut. But by going the D-35 three-piece route and making the Black walnut the focal center strip, Martin can source smaller pieces of both species than they would for a standard two-piece back, build more guitars, and capture the best tonal qualities of each species. Underneath that amberburst is a European spruce top.
The holes in the braces and the routed channels surely color the sound to some degree, but they do not result in a dramatically lighter instrument. The test guitar I was sent weighed in at 4.2 pounds, which is about what you’d think a new Martin of this size would weigh. Balance – with a strap or without – was great.
Speaking of tonal qualities, I found the guitar to be a mid-range dream. The 14-fret to the body, 25.4″ scale guitar was a breeze to play. The neck was tapered nicely and the fretwork was impeccable, as expected for a guitar at this price range ($4,000). The Inception definitely won’t be mistaken for a dreadnought if you’re seeking a bluegrass cannon – Martin has you covered elsewhere for those – but it is a great fingerstyle or singer-songwriter’s guitar…especially if you want to be guilt-free about your tonewood choices.
As for the tech, I love the LR Baggs Anthem pickup. It just works. But I can’t profess that you really hear all the innovative holes or “sonic channels” under the hood. It doesn’t unlock a new, previously-unheard tonal palette for the player, but it does allow the company to have more eco-friendly wood choices without compromising on sound. It sounds very much like a perfectly built, cutaway Martin.
This satin-finished instrument should appeal to Martin’s more forward-thinking customers: Singer-songwriters, early adopters of tech, gigging musicians who need to plug in, and non-traditionalists who may otherwise be shopping for guitars coming out of El Cajon, not Nazareth. They’ll get a beautifully sunburst guitar with wood that didn’t come out of a rainforest, a balanced tone, and, more than anything, the fretted instrument world’s most conversation-worthy glimpse inside a soundhole.