Martin LXM Tres
Martin Guitars, martinguitars.com
Originally published in Guitar World, December 2009
The Martin LXM Tres is a fun and affordable instrument to add to your collection when you’re looking for new musical ideas.
Do typical American string instruments leave you uninspired? Are you fatigued by the flattop, bored with the banjo, unmoved by the mandolin, disgusted with the Dobro, and unhappy with the ukulele? Maybe it’s time to discover how a little Latin beauty can spice up your life. Our friends in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Central and South America have more variations of string instruments than Eskimos have words for snow. From the bass-like guitarrón and beefy bajo sexto to the guitar’s diminutive cousin the requinto and the exotic allure of an armadillo-backed charango, Latin American string instruments encompass a wide variety of shapes, sizes and string configurations.
The Martin LXM Tres is based on the Cuban tres, which features three courses of doubled strings (like a 12-string guitar) tuned to a C major chord (low to high, G C E, with the G and E string pairs tuned an octave apart and the C string pair tuned in unison). The guitar has a thin neck, like a tenor guitar, and its voice is higher than that of a standard guitar. All of which means the Martin LXM Tres can help you get out of an inspirational rut without requiring that you learn how to play an entirely new instrument. It can also give your rhythm parts an exotic edge when blended with a guitar.
The Martin LXM Tres is the newest addition to Martin’s line of X Series instruments, which are built from renewable alternative materials and affordably priced. The body is made of high-pressure laminate (HPL) material, with the top fabricated to resemble spruce and the back and sides fabricated to resemble mahogany. The neck is made of Stratabond, an impressively strong plywood laminate of hardwood materials that has a supernaturally straight and uniform “grain” pattern.
A slab of either solid East Indian rosewood or solid morado (pau ferro) adorns the fingerboard of the 23-inch-scale neck, which features 20 vintage-style narrow-profile frets. With the fingerboard width measuring 1 1/4 inches at the nut, the neck feels a bit narrow at first, but it actually provides ample fingering space between each of the three courses of strings.
With its simple gold-and-black herringbone rosette, solid headstock and miniaturized square-shoulder Martin guitar shape, the LXM Tres looks more like a good ol’ no-nonsense American instrument than an exotic instrument that originated in the land of Ricky Ricardo and Fidel Castro. Because the neck meets the body at the 14th fret, the LXM Tres gives players more room to move than a traditional tres, which usually has a neck that meets the body at the 10th fret.
The easiest way for the uninitiated to get started with the Tres is to think of the strings as being the same as the D, G and B strings on a guitar when forming chords and playing melodic lines. Once you’ve gotten your head around that, it’s easy to start experimenting with arpeggiated patterns and alternate chord voicings that you may not normally use. While the tres is a traditional Cuban instrument, it will not automatically make you sound like the Buena Vista Social Club, so you may want to study a book like Jon Griffin’s El Tres Cubano, should you feel inspired to explore that direction.
With a body about half the size of a standard guitar, the Martin LXM Tres is not quite as loud, although its treble voice still allows it to stand out when played along with a dreadnought or other acoustic string instruments in an unplugged setting. The tone of the Tres is appropriately bright and jangly. but it also delivers plenty of resonance and depth to keep it from sounding tinny and small.
Every detail of the instrument’s workmanship is immaculate, from the unique beveled edges surrounding the back and top to the buzz-free frets. Despite its low cost, the Tres feels and plays exactly like a Martin should.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Martin LXM Tres is a fun and affordable instrument to add to your collection when you’re looking for new musical ideas. Guitarists can adapt to it in an instant, yet it can provide a lifetime of inspiration and playing satisfaction.
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