Hello, I own a Martin Custom X Series acoustic guitar, model DXJ,
which is basically the same as a DXM.

It has a stratabond neck, and the back of it is a bit rough.

Can I simply sand it down with fine sandpaper, then finish

it off with the special lemon oil that I use for the fretboard?


Also, the sound of the guitar seems a bit muffled. Is that

because the whole body is made out of HPL (high-pressure laminate)?


Thank you for all your advice,



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Yep, you can sand it with fine paper, up to around 600 grit if  you want, and use a bit of wax or oil to top it off.  One of the reasons they use that impregnated wood is that there's no finish applied or needed.


Of course, it doesn't sound like a wood guitar - it's made of counter top material.  Considering that it's a phenolic resin pressure bonded laminate, it does sound much better than I'd ever have expected. . .

yea but it says 'MARTIN' on it so it has to sound good !!!  lol

what are you trying to say?



He's trying to say that Martin are in the process of trading their good name in return for making a fast buck. These "HPL" built guitars have no valid right to carry the Martin name on the headstock. HPL is called formica normally, it's used for kitchen work surfaces. But for guitars?

A lot of people who don't know better think "Oh wow, a Martin, it must be a good guitar! " And a real Martin, made out of wood is, or can be, a good guitar. But these kitchen top Martins were invented to tempt people to buy a Martin at a price point that makes it affordable to a much wider customer base than the traditional Martins. It's the same principal as practiced by Fender and Takamine, to name two examples. They produce in china, and although Squier (Fender) make some amazing guitars for the money, they're electric guitars, and much easier to make cheaply. I've never heard a china Tak. that was even remotely comparable to a japanese Takamine. They're pretty awful, but people buy 'em.

They don't ask why a Takamine only costs €350, the main thing is that it says Takamine on the headstock, like the guitars they saw on stage at the last Eagles concert. But the Eagles play japanese Taks for around €2000.... But who cares about the tone? A lot of people who buy this junk can't tell the difference anyway...The kitchen top Martins have little tone, little sustain, and look awful without binding. They bear no relationship to a real Martin, except for the name on the headstock. But hey, they're cheap, and it's a Martin. So, rant mode off: Please don't take it personally, but I had to get it off my chest, and it's only my opinion after all, YMMV

Grahame, I know that a lot of it is that name that people want.  At the local artisans show I did in March, had a very competent player come by, play on a guitar I was willing to work with her on, said, and this is as direct a quote as I can remember "It's so much better than my Martin."  How much was said Martin, I asked.  "4,000 grand, but nobody in the audience knows what a Flat Cat is."  Really?  She was concerned that the audience would care that she didn't have a name-brand item, rather than something she preferred the sound and feel of?  How screwed-up is that?  She went on to tell me that its intonation was "clumsy" (her words) after the 5th or 6th fret and it had been back to Martin twice, both times saying the bridge placement was right and that it was properly made, so no fix.  Still... it says Martin.

Like Frank said : sand it with 600 grit and depending on your taste, apply some finish or not. You can even use olive oil or other non-toxic oil (dries slowly but it works).

I would just add a line to Grahame's words : in case of a break, this HPL stuff can be nasty :

- broken bits are really sharp

- it's hard, and though hard to break, but in the event of a break, it breaks like crazy leaving hand-sized holes and no real repair can be performed : I already changed a back and a top of these guitars.

I don't think they are that awful, but I don't like them really much, most of the time because them make me say disapointing stuff to my customers : "well, I can't repair that break, it's formica" or "no, that's not wood".

OK folks, let's back the volume down a bit. This music stuff (this is about music, isn't it?) is all about learning. Not many of us are lucky enough the have our first few instruments be the ones we "marry". You can learn an awful lot on an instrument that doesn't hurt your fingers or ears too much. These instruments also allow you to play while you listen to other instruments and learn what else is out there. Some people may never be able to afford a contemporary D-28 (or whatever you think should be named here), much less an older one. 


A manufacturer can put there name on any product they want. The marketplace will tell them (and quickly these days) if its a mistake. Martin, Fender and Gibson (and many others) are not without sin, and all have done penance. Having instruments at a price point can build brand loyalty and there is nothing wrong with that. We want these companies to stay in business. We may have personal issues with the companies, but I'd rather have the option of buying their products. And it's a big world out there. Some of the instruments coming from Asia are incredible bargains, and you can certainly make a lot of music (there it is again) with them.


So, Arthur, sand the roughness off your guitar's neck and get back to playing.


p.s You can oil between the wet/dry (320/400/500/600) grits as well. I like tung oil. Enjoy.




Please don't tell me "not everybody can learn on a Martin D-28" : as a luthier, I work everyday on much cheaper instruments. I repair them with the same pride I work on an old american guitar because I'm much aware the music they play only depends of the person playing them. What was on my mind is : for the price of a Stratabond, you can have what I believe are much more interesting guitars... but not with a Martin. Buy whatever you want. Including a HPL one (just be aware of the repair problems I noticed).

Thanks for your honesty,
but now I feel I wasted my money on this guitar.
Not everyone can afford a 'real' Martin,
and to be honest, I am not a good-enough
player anyway to plunk down 2 grand for a guitar.
I may just sell this 'fake' Martin and get a solid
top Yamaha for whatever money I get from the sale.
I had it evaluated, and was told it is worth $300,
so we'll see what transpires.


I didn't want to rain on your parade, my rant about the Formica Martins was aimed at Martin, and not at you. I think it's a shame that the company that invented the flat top acoustic guitar as we know it should stoop so low, just to make a fast buck. Martin has a tradition in acoustic guitar building that is (or was) the standard against which other companies are (or were) compared to. I just think it's a shame that they're risking ruining  their reputation by building junk like the HPL guitars.

There are many Chinese instruments for around €300 that will knock the socks off a kitchen worktop Martin, and should you break it, it's repairable too!  One of my customers has a Walden that cost €249, and everybody that plays it says it hasn't got any right to sound so good at that price :-) It's just a sweet guitar. Has an evenly-balanced  tone, good sustain, is responsive, and stays in tune too.There are many more examples, the only thing that a guitar absolutely must  have is a solid top. Whether the sides or the back are laminated or not is irrelevant, despite what a lot of people say, but a laminated (or Formica) top is a no go. Torres built a classic guitar with a solid top, and the sides and back out of papier masche (sp?) to prove this, and it sounded fantastic, causing a lot of red faces among the Luthiers of the time.

 If it doesn't bother you when an instrument has "made in China" stamped on it, go for it and buy a guitar with your ears, and not with your eyes. Don't look at the name on the headstock, close your eyes and play, and listen to the sound.

"I may just sell this 'fake' Martin and get a solid top Yamaha for whatever money I get from the sale"

That is an excellent idea, Yams are excellent value for money, and the ones with a solid top can be really nice.

Who needs a Formica Martin? :-)


Don't be disapointed : the pleasures you can get from buying and playing a guitar comes from several ways! If the guitar's terrific to your eyes, sounds good enough from what you can hear, don't listen to us a enjoy it.

Sometime ago, I've had a customer with a terrible beaten up bass. I tried to fix some troubles on it considering the least expensive solutions. It was dull sounding with a terrible string balance and tone. When the guy was playing it, it was terrific! Such a good player and so used to his instrument that he was fixing the troubles by altering his paying techniques. He really was enjoying playing it. I believe that's a lesson we all had once as luthiers : if the guitar's fine for a customer and he has pleasure playing it : warn him but let him do so.

Arthur;I stopped playing a 00018 Martin in 1982 this guitar was purchased new by my mother in 1963(she still has it)'I went to a 231-ii Yamaha classical model.I wouldn't go back to the Martin for all the tea in China.Both guitars cost the same new (about 135 bucks).I played the Martin for 16 yrs,this year is the 30th for the yamaha still going strong.Granted it is a wooden guitar,but also own one of those counter top guitars.Its a Yamaha classical too.sounds pretty good too untill I put a set of Dogal Diamante strings (strong) on it.Sounded like a tin pot with strings on it.I guess the theory should be cheap guitar,cheap strings.Put the strings on my old standby it sounded like a million bucks.Yamaha aint nothing but an asian martin anyway.If you enjoy playing your guitar for gods sake keep it.Like they said you will probably own many guitars in your lifetime.Me?I've owned 7 guitars in my life I'm 66 yrs old and been playing for 62 of those years.I'm not fickle when it comes to guitars.Good luck my friend,regards Lonnie



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