This Martin D-28, officially dubbed the Westside Custom Edition XII or WCE XII for short, is one of a series of special-run models commissioned by Westside Distribution in Glasgow.
Westside has represented Martin in the UK since 2003, and their gradually-expanding WCE line now includes 13 different models.
It’s a fascinating baker’s dozen which encompasses six value-packed X Series guitars, two mahogany 15 Series models, two specially-tweaked Vintage Series guitars – a 000 and a D-28 – and finally two Deluxe offerings, an OM-28 and our review guitar, a D-28 Deluxe.
Lifting the WCE XII from its case – a standard thermoplastic item but finished in a tasteful pale blue, a special Westside request designed to evoke Martin cases of the ’60s – the first thing you’ll notice is the weight. It’s a light one; really light, and that bodes well.
The woods are perfectly standard for a Style 28: straight-grained, chocolatey East Indian rosewood for the back and sides and pleasantly even-grained Sitka spruce, cut just a few degrees off the quarter, for the top.
The body is finished in gloss nitro all over. The satin-finish neck with its dart-shaped volute behind the nut – which for the regular D-28 is promised only as ‘select hardwood’ in the Martin catalogue – is genuine mahogany, while the bridge and fingerboard are ebony.
The body is bound back and front in plastic, and Martin’s Boltaron binding and heel-cap material, as ever, does have a touch of the refrigerator-white about it.
While on the subject of plastic, let’s note yet again that Martin persists in releasing its guitars with their bridge-pins and strap-buttons not completely fitted, so they protrude far more than they need to. Pedantic? Us? Well… yes.
The WCE is a fast, easy player. The nut is the standard 1 11/16" wide but there’s plenty of finger-room on the fairly flat fingerboard, and the low, narrow frets make for an accurate and vintage-feeling playing surface.
The neck carve is Martin’s slim low profile, while the 2 1/8" string spacing at the bridge will be perfect for flatpickers and generous enough for the majority of fingerpickers. Neck set and fingerboard relief are spot-on, and although the nut slots could come down a touch, it’s a very playable factory set-up.
So far, so D-28… but look closer and the Westside details emerge. The headstock logo is a the old vintage-style one; the open-backed tuners have butterbean knobs. The black pickguard is extra-luxurious, being hand-bevelled – a real quality touch. Inside, the special label is hand-signed by Chris Martin III.
The biggest alteration is invisible without a mirror. The WCE XII comes with scalloped 1/4"-wide bracing… not the same X-bracing as found on the D-28, nor the HD-28, nor the D-35, but actually the HD-35. Narrow, scalloped X-bracing should make for a guitar that comes out of the traps like a rocket… and we’re about to find out.
Assessing brand-new acoustics is always a matter of balancing the present with the probable future. First impressions: loud, open, bright, and loud again. After just a few minutes, the XII’s underlying colours begin to shine through.
Though the bottom end seems zingy and extrovert, it’s bigger and bassier out front than to the player; the mids have plenty of attack, but they’re backed with a satisfying thump and whomp, a mellow bloom that fattens the notes and fills the room.
Up the neck, the unwound strings combine a silvery sweetness with a solid, pure follow-through. So while there’s some expected youthful zing – and even, with a hard-hit pick, some crash – there’s a genuine sense of depth and subtlety.
Flatpicked, this D-28 would suit a really confident player; strummed, it’s so lively that it could drown a lesser voice; fingerpicked, it shows a high level of sensitivity, balance and sheer volume for a brand-new dread.
We decided to leave bluegrass G-runs for the future owner and spent a considerable amount of time shifting a capo further and further up the neck and enjoying the XII’s crisp eagerness and balance with bare fingers alone.
This D-28 impresses on two fronts. First, Westside’s ‘Deluxe’ tweaks add a unique flavour without detracting one iota from the hard-to-improve D-28 formula; and secondly, by golly, Martin knows – perhaps as well as they ever did – how to make an effective factory dreadnought.
This HD-35-braced model is awake and alive right out of the box, with a big, grand, complex, super-sustaining sound that’s packed with overtones.
Flatpicking specialist? Not a bit of it. Whether your tastes run to thumbpicked Merle Travis, haunting Celtic or new age drop tunings, this D will fight a fingerpicking competition with any number of small-shop names.
A standard D-28 has a suggested price of £2145, this one is £675 more – but it’s a good guitar, and it’s got the makings of a very good one indeed.