Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

24 Jul 2022

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele - REVIEW

I've never quite understood why one of the older and more revered ukulele builders lead to such divisive responses to reviews. Here's something of a 'delayed but new' one from Martin Guitars. The T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele.


Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele

Back at the start of 2021 the world was still reeling from the Covid pandemic including the musical instrument market who had been hammered by supply line issues. The NAMM show for the start of 2021 went virtual for the first time which was a new experience for all of us and I was able to take part online from the UK. Martin Guitars reached out to me and graciously invited me to their virtual product launch that included a few new ukes and guitars. That was early 2021. It's now the middle of 2022 and I've literally only now seen this one in the UK for the first time since then. Those supply line issues certainly were painful as these were expected mid 2021..

As the opening line says, Martin instruments are always somewhat odd to review in any case. They patently have a revered history going back many decades now, but I always find that a review of a modern instrument can lead to sneers from the trad Martin crowd that say they are not 'proper' Martin's. I call nonsense on that and frankly don't really care where they are made, only what they sound and play like - and i've never yet been let down by one of the newer models. Martin also don't have a huge amount in their range which I quite like so a new announcement of models can be something of a rarity. But no, this is not made in the USA, rather in their facility in Mexico.

I've looked at a tenor Martin before in the form of their T1K Tenor (don't judge the review style please - was VERY early days of Got A Ukulele!). I think this is their first new tenor since that date and differs quite significantly in that it is made from all solid mahogany not solid koa. Mahogany and koa are the only two woods Martin's are made from so it's nice to see a hog instrument in the bigger scale.  Naturally, it's a very traditional double bout Martin shape and is a deep dark brown in finish with one extra 'touch' - an 'aged' or 'roadworn' finish. Subjective disclosure alert! I really REALLY don't like road worn instruments. I simply don't get why people pay for an instrument to look worn. If I want a worn instrument I'd rather it was done by ME though actually playing the thing, not a guy on a buffing wheel in the manufacturing facility. And so it is here - in patches around the body the darker outer stain has been buffed back to give the effect of wear and tear. It's not 'damage' per-se, but rather just thinner finish patches. And I'm sorry, but I don't like it much. The 'wear' just seems random and not in places that an instrument would naturally wear through play. It looks artificial and odd. Still, the quality of the wood, build and finish is not in question, just what they've done with it.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele body


The bridge is made from morado wood and is the usual extremely small Martin tie bar which is finished exceptionally well. The saddle is made from Tusq and is compensated. Like with other Martin's it sits it its own self contained chamber rather than a slot cut right through the bridge. I have heard stories of some manufacturing flaws with Martin bridges lately and them splitting and falling apart. I can't see any cracks in this one, but do be aware. String spacing here is 40mm

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele bridge


There is no other decoration bar that rubbed outer stain and a simple black and white transfer soundhole ring. The white on that looks a little too stark for the 'road worn' effect and think they should have worked to make the white look a little more aged / yellowed. It stands out too much here.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele decor

Inside is impeccably tidy with thin braces and notched linings. No complaints here.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele inside


The neck is attached to the body in typical Martin style with a secure dove-tail joint and is made from a single piece of mahogany. That tapers to a more western flattened profile rather than rounder far eastern which is certainly welcomed by my hands. What I don't like so much is the skinny 34mm nut width with 27mm G to A. As I always point out this is a subjective thing and it's a combination of profile and width that matters to me. As such the flatter back compensates for this in my hands but I'd still like a wider nut.

Topping the neck is a fingerboard made from Sipo wood which I think looks extremely odd against the darker body and also doesn't match the bridge. I'd long for this to be rosewood or simply stained because I think it just looks way too pale. It's in good condition though to be fair. It is set with 20 frets joined at the 14th and whilst they are dressed ok are on the edge of feeling sharp. In traditional Martin style small outward facing dots are fitted at the 5th, 7th, 10th, double 12th and 15th with a repeat down the side plus an extra dot at the third.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele neck


Beyond the Tusq nut is a typical Martin three pointed crown headstock. I was really disappointed to see that they have stuck with the 'greeting card' sticker for the logo which I still think looks awful and cheap.  What I think also looks odd is how they have applied the 'road wear' to the headstock. Again it's simply not in keeping with what an aged uke would look like. They've simply run the edges of the headstock around a buffing wheel, front and back creating a really artificial finish. I'm sure that shouldn't annoy me as much as it is but I think it's contrived. Hmmmm. One thing I do like about the headstock though is how skinny it is front to back.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele headstock


Tuners are another talking point as they have gone with Graphtech Ratio Tune-a-lele planetary gears. I'm all for any instrument that uses rear facing pegs so that's a tick in the box. Unfortunately for me I absolutely despise the look of these tuners. Yes, they work ok (subject to my comment below), are smooth and light, but... they look like door-knobs. Nope. Don't like them. Another warning with these though, I have seen several reports of people with these having the tuning post snap. In fact I had it happen to me so this isn't just conjecture. I am 'told' that Graphtech have improved the material used to stop this now and I really hope they will or Martin will be getting returns!

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele tuners


Things finish off with a set of Martin Fluorocarbon string and their usual grey/blue nicely finished gig bag made by TKL.  And, in the UK, that is yours for about £450. That makes it pretty cheap as a Martin goes, and whilst people will still always say, 'but, but, it's made in Mexico!' remember that Mexico made instruments are still more expensive than China, particularly when they then go back through Martin HQ in Pennsylvania. I actually think the price is pretty fair.

Martin T1 Streetmaster Tenor Ukulele back


A mixed bag to be sure and I am very much aware that my gripes here are largely subjective ones. The core build is typically decent Martin who have delivered a light (575g) thin topped uke which feels very nice to hold. The looks are not for me and perhaps my dislike of the tuners is irrational, but I can see the underlying quality here. Action set up seems to be very much on the 'playing it safe' side as whilst the nut is ok, i'd personally want to take down the saddle which is clocking just over 2.75mm above the 12th. That's within tolerable limits, but I personally like them lower.

All modern Martin's I have played have done well on the tone stakes and this one is no different. The volume here is excellent and the sustain is very good too.

The T1K I looked at had a very direct clarity of tone, almost a little too bright at times, and this one has the same clarity across the strings, but more balance to the tone on account of the mahogany. Strummed the tone is still direct and clear, but you can sense a woody darker edge than with the koa version. That clarity means you can still get some nice harmonising 'jangle' when strummed quick, but with a touch more of a laid back feel to the sound. It's very attractive.

Fingerpicking is clear as a bell all over the neck and coupled with the sustain allows for expressive play. Again, it's not too bright and in your face, but has a more rounded sound to my ears. The dynamics are also impressive meaning the instrument has a good voice whether played softly or with some power though it is noticeably quieter to my ears played picked.

Being a Martin I expected the sound to impress me, yet this one has left me a bit confused. It's clearly a well made instrument as Martin's usually are, but I think the worn finish is either mis-guided from the off or just badly implemented. It's like they made a perfectly decent mahogany tenor, decided to meddle with it on the buffing machines and spoiled it. Other oddities like the ugly fingerboard, skinny nut and choice of tuners just don't seem very Martin to me. People always quibble at Martin prices but when you bear in mind Mexico is still more expensive than China I can see the value here, but that is not enough to take me over the line of falling in love with it. It IS a very good uke and you may love the looks of it, it which case it has my recommendation. I just can't recommend it to myself!


UKULELE SPECS ROUND UP

Model: Martin T1 Streetmaster 
Scale: Tenor
Body: Solid Mahogany
Bridge: Morado
Saddle: Tusq, compensated
Spacing at saddle: 40mm
Finish: Aged satin
Neck: Mahogany
Fingerboard: Sipo
Frets: 20, 14 to body
Nut: Tusq
Nut width: 34mm, 27mm G to A
Tuners: Graphtech Ratio Tune-a-lele
Weight: 575g
Country of origin: Mexico
Price: (currently) £449

UKULELE PROS

Good core build
Great volume
Good sustain
Very clear, balanced tone
Fair price

UKULELE CONS

Road worn finish doesn't work for me at all
Ugly fingerboard
Narrow nut
Not a fan of the tuners


UKULELE SCORES

Looks - 7.5 out of 10
Fit and finish - 8.5 out of 10
Sound - 9 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL UKULELE SCORE - 8.5 out of 10

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13 comments :

  1. Martin. Not what is was.

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    Replies
    1. Despite me not liking the looks on this one, I disagree - all other modern Martin's I've looked at i thought were superb - and my gripes here are purely cosmetic.

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  2. If only there was a well-made all-solid mahogany tenor with the distinctive looks and warm, rich sound of an old-style Martin, but without the phony aged finish. And if only it had a decent rosewood fingerboard, some attractive open-geared tuners, a comfortable 36mm nut, a transfer instead of a cheap sticker on the headstock, a good quality gig bag and a more affordable price tag of about £250. Something, in fact, like my Sigma SUM-2T. Shame it's discontinued, because it's a cracking uke.

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  3. Considering the price, the only other option I can think of for tuners would be Grover or similar side-facing geared ones. Gotoh UPTs would be lovely, but a significant price increase. Would you rather see it with side-facing geared tuners or these? Either work very well.

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  4. Another good review, Baz. Thanks. As a woodworker I will offer that distressing, aging, relic-ing and aging are very effective ways to create a brand new piece for less money, something its owner will not feel compelled to fuss and fret over or continually wax, polish or chase fingerprints from. It's one where less finishing effort upfront and less maintenance after-the-fact are required and where body oils, dirt, minor dings, scratches, nicks, stains or rub marks from the enjoyment of use are non-starters. It's why garage sale 'antique' furniture is so much in demand. It's low maintenance and very forgiving.

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    Replies
    1. Would have been better if they aged it in a way that actual instruments do wear - not in random ways - and that buffing around the headstock is simply ridiculous!

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    2. I had a C1K for a while. Looked nice, good setup but I could never take to the tone. I much prefer my all laminate Kiwaya. I used to have a Mexican made guitar by Martin and swapped it for a Pennsylvanian one. Wish I hadn’t now

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  5. I’ve had one of these street masters for a few months and I’ve been really happy with it. Think the weathering effect is fairly variable on different individual instruments and for some reason it’s only really minor on mine. My only gripe is the tuners - not that they snap or even cosmetically but that they occasionally seem to turn of their own accord which is frustrating and because they’re enclosed in plastic you can’t exactly open them up to tighten them so it’s not apparent how you can fix that. When I first got it one of them did that and then it stopped and just this week it started again and now it’s stopped again but I’ve just contacted the tuner manufacturer to see how you’re meant to tighten ithem up (if indeed you can). By this point I’m toying with the idea of getting some alternative tuning pegs fitted.

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    Replies
    1. If they work anything like Gotoh UPTs (I think they do) they are not designed to be tightened

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  6. What an odd name for a uke.

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  7. I have to agree overall with this review. My biggest complaint is the finish despite being a big fan of "relic" or "roadworn" guitars. If done right, a properly road worn guitar has the look and feel of an aged instrument without either the additional 60 years or $60,000 to make it happen. In addition, you tend not to agonize over every scratch, scuff and sweat drip. The Streetmaster roadwear is random and not placed anywhere where there'd be actual wear, making it look like a cheap antiqued nightstand that mom did in her basement. I disagree on the tuners. I love the Graphtech friction tuners - Much better than the Grovers that come on the S1. They're smooth and precise and don't stick in places while tuning up or down. Also, the Martin logo looks classy. I think it's embossed, not a sticker. I actually create waterslide decals and I don't see any evidence of a decal border no matter how hard I look. Either way, the T1 sounds and plays superbly and is beautifully made but that "Streetmaster" finish needs to go.

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    Replies
    1. It's not how the tuners work that bothers me as I say - they are indeed super smooth - I just think they look very ugly. Personally, if set correctly, I love the Grover friction pegs on the S1. Far better than cheap pegs. The logo IS a sticker - I can assure you - after I posted this I had two people send me pictures of theirs where parts had come loose and moved through the action of a clip on tuner. A friend had the T1K and same happened to him. If you run your nail over it you can feel the edge and with a bit of effort would be easy to lift it.

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