Martin DCPA4 Siris Review

AG 237 September 2012 Cover

Posted by Teja Gerken

Martin has long been a forward-thinking entity, but few of its attempts to shake up the direction determined some 80 years ago by now iconic instruments like the OM and D-28 have garnered as much success as the Performing Artist series, which Martin first introduced in 2010. Designed for live performance and for players who are used to electric guitars, the series features proprietary Fishman electronics and a neck geometry that is slightly narrower in the upper frets region than standard Martins. Elements of the Performing Artist series have been so popular that long-running models such as the current D-18 and OM-21 now have Performing Artist neck specs, and new models have been introduced at almost every price point. We received for review the recently introduced DCPA4 Siris, an acoustic-electric cutaway dreadnought with back and sides made of the little-known siris, an Indian tonewood that is sometimes referred to as “East Indian walnut.”

A Modern Dreadnought

There’s nothing “vintage” about the looks of the DCPA4 Siris. Its dreadnought body includes a cutaway that allows full barre chords at the 14th fret as well as easy single-note access all the way to the final 20th fret, and the fingerboard’s position markers are set into its bass side, between the fifth and sixth strings. The single-layer white ivoroid body binding is similar in color to the Sitka spruce top, which makes it look (from a distance) as if there were no binding on the top. Like all Performing Artist models, the DCPA4 Siris’s bridge is distinguished from Martin’s standard design by two points behind the bridge pins.

The color and grain pattern of the siris used for the back and sides are indeed comparable to some examples of walnut, with a three-dimensional sheen to the striping that is also reminiscent of some varieties of mahogany. According to Martin’s Dick Boak, siris is “marginally lighter in weight and density than East Indian rosewood.” For the DCPA4 Siris, Martin used a three-piece back (similar to the D-35’s), using a wedge-shaped piece of Indian rosewood for the center section. Martin identifies the wood used for the guitar’s neck as “select hardwood,” and the neck on our review guitar looked very much like mahogany. Even though the fingerboard and bridge look like ebony, they’re actually crafted from Richlite, a composite material made from paper fiber and special resin, then baked under pressure. The guitar is constructed using the mortise-and-tenon neck joint and hybrid X-bracing (which uses an A-frame shape to support the fingerboard extension) familiar from many models in Martin’s 16 series. All of Martin’s Performing Artist models share a modified neck geometry that has less taper between the nut and the 20th fret than more traditional Martins, resulting in a slightly slimmer feel.

Dynamic Voice

The DCPA4 Siris’s feel reflects its fusion of traditional and contemporary specs. While the dreadnought body depth requires the picking arm to extend a bit more than with smaller guitars, the guitar’s slightly wider, thin-profile neck (combined with low action and excellent fretwork) makes it easier to play than a typical vintage-style neck. Beginning by playing fingerstyle, I found that the guitar required a bit of force to coax out the best tone, but it sounded rich and full, with plenty of volume, and the Martin-typical sustain helped bring out melody lines on the treble strings. Dropping the sixth string to D produced a big voice, especially on a fingerstyle arrangement of the Sonny Rollins standard “St. Thomas.”

But, as one might expect of a dreadnought, the guitar really came alive with a flatpick. It sounded great when I strummed big chords across all six strings, but I especially enjoyed playing single-note lines and smaller chords up the neck, because the DCPA4 Siris’s punchy sound provided definition and clarity. These qualities were particularly noticeable when I used the guitar in a jam with a guitar-strumming vocalist. In this context, lead lines and fills had their own tonal qualities, never muddying up the other guitar’s sound. I also appreciated the Martin’s dynamic range, which allowed both a gentle doubling of my playing partner’s chord voicings and a solo voice that stood out in terms of volume and tonal character.

Exclusive Fishman Electronics

Designed as a stage guitar, the DCPA4 Siris is equipped with Fishman F1 Analog electronics, a setup that is currently exclusive to Martin. The F1 Analog consists of Fishman’s Sonicore undersaddle pickup (a coaxial cable design) and a preamp mounted in the side of the guitar. Rather than a big panel with multiple sliders and knobs, the F1 Analog has two multifunction controls and a small display for a built-in chromatic tuner. The system’s nine-volt battery is accessible through a door at the endblock, and instead of an endpin-jack, the DCPA4 Siris has a separate strap pin and output jack integrated into a plastic assembly.

The primary functions of the preamp’s two knobs are to control volume and tone. Both include a push function; on the volume knob, this activates the tuner, while a push on the tone control reverses the phase. The onboard tuner works very well; I liked that it functions whether the guitar is plugged in or not and that activating it mutes the output signal. But holding the button for two seconds felt surprisingly long when I tried to quickly tweak an out-of-tune string during a jam; I would prefer a more immediate response.

The tone control’s design is noteworthy. Rather than simply adding bass one way and treble the other way, as with many one-knob EQs, Fishman opted for a more sophisticated multi-band approach. Turned completely counterclockwise, the control leaves the signal flat; turning it up dials in a “mid-scoop” tone, i.e., decreased mids and increased bass and treble.

Played though a Fishman Loudbox 100 amp, the system produced had a punchy sound with a somewhat bright voice rather than a completely accurate reproduction of the DCPA4 Siris’s acoustic sound. This would be an advantage for playing in a band and at high volumes, because it ensures the ability to cut through the mix and avoids feedback problems. I did wish for a bit more onboard control over the guitar’s amplified sound because the preamp’s tonal variations were subtle. But a slight dip of the highs on the amp produced a more natural voice suited for unaccompanied playing.

The DCPA4 Siris proves that Martin can still come up with refreshing new variations on its venerable dreadnought. The guitar has a modern look, beautiful woods, and a versatile sound that would be at home in many styles.

SPECS:  Cutaway dreadnought body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid siris sides. Solid siris and Indian rosewood back. Select hardwood neck with mortise and tenon joint. Richlite fingerboard and bridge. Scalloped hybrid X-bracing. 25.4-inch scale. 1 3/4-inch nut width.  2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Corian nut and Tusq saddle. Gloss top finish and satin back, sides, and neck finish. Closed-back gold tuners. Fishman F1 Analog electronics. Light gauge Martin SP Lifespan phosphor bronze strings. Made in the USA. Left-handed version available.

PRICE: $1,849 list/$1,399 street.

MAKER: C.F. Martin and Co.: (610) 759-2837; martinguitar.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar September 2012

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