Martin C1K and T1K Review
While the ukuleles I review on this site are great entry level instruments, there may be some folks who are looking for something a better it comes to build quality, playability, and tone. Maybe you’re a seasoned player who’s ready to take things to the next level, or perhaps you’re a novice wanting to start out with something a little nicer than the typical beginner fare.
As the manager of a small acoustic music store, I’ve had the chance to play a number of mid-level ukes and can’t say enough good things about Martin’s 1K series.
Martin’s 1K series are their most affordable all solid ukuleles. There are two models in the 1K lineup: the C1K concert and the T1K tenor, both currently selling for a little over $500. I think they’re among the best instruments available in this price range and make an excellent choice for players seeking a high quality ukulele without paying a premium price.
Construction & Appearance
All 1K ukes have bodies built using solid koa, a beautiful figured wood which only grows on Hawaii. In order to keep costs down Martin uses relatively low grade koa on their 1K ukes, so the koa you’ll find on a C1K or T1K is going to be plainer and less highly figured than on higher end ukes.
Don’t let the term “low grade” worry you–the classification is purely based on appearance, so it’s going to be just as strong and durable and high grade koa. You can see some examples of different koa grades on this page at thekoastore.com.
1K ukes feature simple appointments, which also helps to keep their cost down. They have a satin finish, no binding, and a very basic fingerboard inlay pattern and rosette.
They come with a gig bag instead of a hard case. The stripped down appearance of these ukuleles has no effect on tone or playability but helps keep the cost at around $500.
Build Quality, Playability, and Tone
Martin is one of the oldest American companies to build ukuleles. They’ve been making ukes for over 100 years and the quality of their ukes is exactly what you’d expect from a company that has been building acoustic instruments for over 175 years.
The fit and finish of the C1K and T1K is excellent. When compared to less expensive instruments from companies like Kala or Lanikai, you’ll notice that the 1K ukes have clean, sharp lines and low, easy action.
The all solid wood construction gives them a big, warm, resonant tone that quite honestly beats the pants off most laminated wood entry level instruments. The 1K ukes are very loud and have amazing projection.
The 1K ukes are very consistent. I’ve played several dozen over the years and have never been disappointed with their tone or playability.
The voice of each uke will vary slightly, but this is true of any solid wood instrument. The appearance of the koa will also be unique to each instrument, so if you buy online be prepared to get a uke that looks different from any of the photos you’ve seen.
Martin’s 1K ukes are built in their Mexican factory. I have played dozens of Mexican-built Martin instruments (both guitars and ukuleles) and feel that the build quality of these instruments is identical to their U.S. made instruments.
Martin built their Mexican facilities from the ground up and maintains quality control levels that are no different from their shop in Nazareth, PA. Martin is very protective of their brand name and doesn’t want to dilute it by selling instruments of sub-par quality.
My only minor gripe is with these ukes is that Martin brand fluorocarbon strings that come on 1K ukes. They’re good string, but I would recommend anybody who buys a C1K or T1k consider a set of Aquila Nylgut strings. I’ve put Nylguts on Martin ukes we’ve had in our store and have been blown away by how great they sound.
I would also recommend investing in a hard case. The included gig bag is good quality, but it’s not going to protect the uke from crush damage or a hard impact.
The S1 and OXK
At $379, Martin’s S1 it their most affordable all solid wood soprano ukulele. Basically everything I wrote above about the 1K series applies to the S1, except that the S1 is built with mahogany instead of koa. Like the C1K and T1k, it’s a killer all solid ukulele for the money and one of the finest soprano ukes available for under $500.
For $100 less, you may want to consider the OXK. It’s built using Martin’s high pressure laminate (HPL), a material that I describe as sort of a thing particleboard. While the build quality on Martin’s HPL instruments is great, I’m not as fond of them when it comes to tone. When it comes to budget-grade instruments, I prefer laminated wood over composites like HPL.
The 2K Series
If money isn’t a factor, then you should take a look at Martin’s 2K line. The 2k Concert and 2K Tenor are Martin’s least expensive U.S. made koa ukes. At $1349 and $1399 they’re certainly not cheap, but they’re still much more affordable than some of the other high quality American-made ukes on the market.
The main differences between the one series are that the 2Ks are made in America, have body binding, and use higher grade (prettier) koa.
Martin also makes a mahogany 2 series, but for an extra $50 I’d recommend going for the koa.