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Martin CF-1 Jazz Guitar

As I reviewed one of Martin's new premium jazz guitars, the CF-1, the words "simplicity" and "irresistible" came to mind.

Fast FactsPrice: $4,499

Player Style: Fingerstyle of picked jazz

Recommended Venues: Studio, live

Body Size: Archtop orchestra model with 3-inch thick body

Body Material: Laminated Flame maple back, solid Flame maple sides, laminated Alpine spruce top, Flame maple neck

Scale Length: 24.9 inches

Electronics: One floating Kent Armstrong mini-jazz pickup

Special Features: Solid ebony pickguard, tailpiece and bridge

Contact: www.martinguitar.comAs I reviewed one of Martin’s new premium jazz guitars, the CF-1, the words “simplicity” and “irresistible” came to mind.

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As I look at it, there is a simplicity of design that is rare in today’s guitars. No fancy inlays or bindings — just a very well-turned joint between top, sides and back. Really striking is the absence of fingerboard inlays – just side dots. The ebony bridge, tailpiece and pickguard are elegantly simple, and the ebony buttons on the Gotoh tuning machines make them virtually disappear.

The irresistibility came when I played it on a number of gigs and found that CF-1’s sound and playability tailor-made for real professional players like me.


The CF-1 is Martin’s first archtop jazz guitar in many years. Designed for Martin by luthier Dale Unger and produced at the Martin factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, it retails for a reasonable $4,200. The CF-1 is available with a natural blonde finish or in sunburst and features a laminated Alpine spruce top; the back is constructed of laminated flamed maple and the sides are solid maple.

The very comfortable U-shaped mahogany set-in neck features a 1-3/4-inch fingerboard width at the nut and a 2-1/8-inch width at the 12th fret. With a 3-inch body depth body and 14 frets in the clear, I was completely at home with this jazz guitar. Other features include solid black ebony heel cap, solid ebony pick guard, and floating solid ebony bridge. The tailpiece is also solid ebony.

To minimize the effect on acoustic tone, the Kent Armstrong floating pickup is attached to the neck; it does not touch the top. The wires from the pickup go straight to the volume pot and the end-jack, where the cable is plugged in. There is only one control: the pick guard-mounted volume. Any tone tweaks have to be done via the amp or an outboard preamplifier.

The Audition

When I first played this guitar, I was totally impressed. I have played a lot of jazz guitars in my 30 plus year career, solid wood and otherwise, and this Martin ranks up there with the best. Although the top is laminated, the tone is clear and vibrant with tremendous projection.

The electric tone was detailed, friendly and familiar. The familiarity comes from my frequent playing of guitars with the Kent Armstrong floating pickup. They have a warm, balanced tone that is ideal for almost any jazz style. Kent has been my “go to” guy for several unusual pickup requests in the past and has kept his standards high with this guitar as well.

Prior to writing this review, I played three live gigs with the CF-1, each very different and very revealing. The first was a solo gig where I had some difficulties with amplification. After a little deliberation, I decided to play the gig with no amp. It is not often that a guitar, especially one with a laminated top, is strong enough on its own to play a whole program without any amplification, but the CF-1 did just fine.

I later did a quartet gig with guitarist and luthier Doug Proper. Doug plays a custom-made, all-solid-wood Dale Unger seven string, a nice coincidence for our purpose. The Martin more than held its own, and the blend between the two instruments was remarkable.

Because of the floating pickup and wide open sound of the CF-1, the guitar may be more susceptible to feedback, so I did not crank the amp all the way. For those who want the character of the CF-1, but with more volume, the Martin CF-2 has its two Seymour Duncan humbuckers pickups mounted in the top. These types of guitars tend to be less prone to feedback than jazz guitars with a floating pickup.

Finally, I played the CF-1 in a concert hall setting for a duo performance with Ali Ryerson, a renowned flutist I have played with for several years. During this gig, I found that the CF-1’s reliable intonation all the way up the neck is a rarity for a jazz guitar (or most any unmodified guitar). I also noticed that the acoustic sound was very rich in this particular hall. All in all, the guitar performed beautifully.

The Martin CF-1 also is a great studio guitar. I recommend two B & K (now DPA) cardioid condensers — one aimed at the twelfth fret from about 12 inches and one at the same distance from the lower f -hole. To complete the miking scheme, plug the guitar into a small tube amp and mic it with the Neumann TLM103.

My only change I would make to the CF-1 is a tone control. While I love the purity of just one pot, the real world occasionally demands a little more tonal flexibility. I pretty much left the guitar in stock form during the review, but I did try some different strings, replacing the installed light jazz strings for a set of round wound .012’s from GHS.

The GHS strings enable a stronger electric tone, but the Martin strings sounded a little better when playing the CF-1 acoustically. For me, the change was not a bad tradeoff since I play almost exclusively with an amp.

The verdict

The Martin CF-1 is one amazing jazz guitar. Whether you are a journeyman or an expert, the live or recording tone, easy playability and hand-build quality make this made-in-U.S.A. Martin quite a bargain.