As early as 1970 CF Martin & Co., at the time the dominant US manufacturer of acoustic guitars, was aware that the increase in the number of a far-eastern made guitars imported into the country – although not really any sort of threat to any of the instruments it was producing itself – was filling a sizeable gap in the lower price bracket where the company had no presence at all. In response, the Pennsylvania based Martin launched the Sigma brand. Made in Japan and shipped to the factory in the US for inspection and set-up before being passed to retailers, the Sigmas were extraordinarily good guitars for the money and early models are now highly prized. Manufacturing moved to Korea in 1983 and subsequently to Taiwan and eventually Indonesia until Martin gave up the brand in 2007. Four years later the Sigma brand was taken up by German company AMI Musical Instruments who now source the guitars from a Chinese factory and offer an extensive range, including the 15-Series which feature all-mahogany construction including the top, which gives the instruments a distinctive dark appearance. Acoustic guitars built this way have been around since Martin introduced the style in the 1920s but had all but disappeared by the 1970s. Now, many companies build a range of the darker wood guitars and they are becoming increasingly popular due to the characteristically warmer sound they produce which is quite different to a regular spruce/rosewood combination.
The DMC-15E sits at the lower end of the range and is an all-mahogany, electro-acoustic with a cutaway and a Fishman pickup. Immediately noticeable is the slightly deeper body although this feature doesn’t distract from playing comfort or balance. An overall inspection of the guitar reveals nothing in the way of flaws in the timber or any finishing issues. Frets are well trimmed and other details like the bone nut and (compensated) saddle are impressive in their execution. The guitar comes with a thin satin coating which gives it a rather plain look, especially as there are no inlays, fancy rosettes or different colour binding. Having described the DMC-15E as ‘all-mahogany’, the fingerboard is in fact made out of rosewood, as is the bridge although stained a much darker colour. Presumably, mahogany is too ‘soft’ to be used as fingerboard material and would possibly sustain damage fairly quickly. Three pieces of timber have been used for the neck and there is a noticeable join at the body and headstock end but this is to be expected on an acoustic guitar in this price bracket.
Sigma has installed the small-footprint OEM Isys+ pickup and preamp, which includes the Sonicore pickup, and sensibly located the control panel on the upper bout where it is easily visible. An all-in-one output jack and battery compartment is located on the underside which is also wise – no scrabbling about to change an internally mounted battery. The Isys+ features a volume, treble, bass and a phase control as well as a chromatic tuner and low battery indicator. Also featured are Grover machine heads, again, a surprise on such a well-priced instrument.
Many electro-acoustic guitars are sadly let down by their basic acoustic tone. Very often there is no depth to the bottom end and little natural resonance, as if the maker is assuming it’s not relevant if the guitar is going to spend its life plugged in. The DMC-15E immediately dispenses with that trend and actually sounds astonishingly good acoustically. It has real depth and responds to being played hard, especially on the bottom strings where a lot of guitars would just ‘mush out’. The characteristic warmth and smoothness that the mahogany produces is all present and correct, rendering the DMC-15E a cut above its competition in the acoustic stakes. That’s all before plugging in. Connected to a quality acoustic amp, the Fishman does its job admirably, enhancing the already superb tone and providing a decent balance of lows and highs which should suit any rhythm player or fingerpicker.