Martin Guitars

For over 180 years, C.F. Martin & Company has been driving the guitar industry forward with innovative designs that stand the test of time. Martin guitars are meticulously crafted and are highly sought after by guitarists all around the world. Whether you’re strumming on the back porch with friends and family or playing a sold out show, you can’t go wrong with a Martin guitar.

About Martin Guitars

The Martin family has been crafting high-end acoustic guitars for almost two centuries. Their story begins in Germany around 1800 with the birth of Christian Frederick Martin Sr. His father, George Martin, was credited with the “completion” of a new acoustic guitar design, an interpretation of the instrument that had arrived by way of Spain in the mid18th-century. Though the Martins had an established cabinet shop and store, Christian Martin sought to further refine his father’s musical instrument , and went to study with the renowned luthier, Johann Stauffer, at his shop in Vienna (the Stauffer-style headstock was used on some early Martin models, and later inspired the headstock of the Fender telecaster).
Upon returning to Germany and setting up shop as a guitar builder, he came into conflict with the violin guild (German craftspeople operated under a guild system at the time). Desiring exclusive access to the production of any musical instrument, the violin builders publicly slandered Martin’s guitars, claiming they were crude and no more musical than his cabinetry. They even initiated a legal proceeding in an effort to force him to cease production. Although the court ruled in Martin’s favor, he was so disgusted by the experience that he set sail for New York City and in 1833, C.F. Martin & Company was born.
By the 1850s his business was doing quite well. He began re-designing his guitars in his shop, starting with the “x”-braced soundboard, which is still used by virtually all steel-string acoustic guitar builders to this day. Back in Europe, acoustic guitar builders favored fan-bracing, which did seem to capture more of the delicacy of gut strings, but the x-brace design was sturdier, and ultimately proved more effective with the steel-strings that Martin adopted for his instrument in the early 20th century.
One of his other major early innovations was the dove-tail neck joint. Clearly, his background in a cabinet shop informed C.F. Martin’s insights into the best method of connecting two pieces of wood. He had the guitar neck join the body like two sides of high-end furnishing, and many believed that this resulted in a more even transmission of vibration on an instrument.

From one Martin to the Next

After C.F. Martin Sr. 's death, he was succeeded by C.F. Martin Jr., who died suddenly in 1888, and was succeeded by his son, Frank Martin. Only 22 years old when he reached the helm of the Martin company, Frank Martin was the brilliant businessman who led the company into the 20th century. His first major advancements were to establish independent control of distribution (often traveling personally from retailer to retailer), and to have his shop begin the production of “mandolins”, a folk instrument recently imported from Italy.
Martin grew and grew, steadily expanding operations and dealerships. They rode the Ukulele boom of the 1920s, and weathered the Great Depression. Two of their biggest innovations came around 1930, with the 14-fret neck and the Dreadnought. The former inspired by banjo pickers turned guitarists who wanted increased upper-fret access, and the latter by the perennial American obsession with maximum volume and power, even in the case of an acoustic instrument. Frank Martin died in 1948.

Pre-War Martin Guitars

A "pre-war” Martin Guitar refers specifically to an instrument produced before WWII. Some of the distinctive features of this era of instrument were Adirondack Red Spruce tops, forward-shifted, deeply scalloped X-bracing, and herringbone trim on the rosewood models (Brazilian Rosewood was the default rosewood used by Martin until 1969, when they started using East Indian Rosewood due to supply issues). Connoisseurs have come to associate all three of these things with the “Golden Era” of Martin guitars.
Why were these coveted features done away with? In the case of the species of spruce used for their soundboards, Martin was having trouble sourcing cosmetically clean pieces of Adirondack in their shop, so they switched to Sitka with little consideration for the tonal difference. It wasn’t until later that folks became aware of the higher stiffness to weight ratio of Red Spruce. That said, Sitka is more of the “everyman” wood, in that it's best suited for strumming. As for the X-bracing, Martin was responding to the developing player preference for heavier strings. Although scalloping the braces improved the responsiveness of the top on an acoustic guitar, straight braces were more structurally stable, and some players have even come to prefer the even-ness of the straight-braced tone. The retirement of herringbone trim had to do with the war itself. Herringbone purfling was a German export.

Modern Day Martin Guitars

Martin grew and grew, and is currently run by C.F. Martin III. In recent years, they have plowed both forwards and backwards, offering a combination of environmentally conscious modern models and ambitious re-creations of their canonical instruments. Here at Midwood we like to carry a wide offering of Martin acoustic guitars at diverse price points. We have Dreadnoughts, OMs, and OOs that are effectively clones of iconic 30s instruments as well as updated, modernized models. One thing they all have in common, however, is that Martin sound. It’s the sound that started it all.
Now that we’ve established the history and context of Martin Guitars, it will behoove us to take a look at some different examples of the Martin instrument in a historical timeline. If you see something you like, shoot us an email and we can see about getting something similar in the shop.

1830's Parlor Guitar

C.F. Martin’s earliest American efforts bore a distinct old-world aesthetic. The small, ladder-braced, “parlor” body style didn’t produce much volume, which led Martin to experiment with larger dimensions and different bracing patterns. From here, each new model grew larger and louder. Martin began the search for better ways to stabilize and amplify the instrument, briefly adopting Spanish-style fan bracing before innovating the x-brace. These early guitars also featured the aforementioned Johann Stauffer-style headstock, which was quite ornate, and time-consuming to carve. The inside labels further betrayed a reliance on outside influences by advertising the company engaged with the distribution of Martin guitars. It would be some years before Martin perfected his own, unique instrument.

1900 00-28

By this point, Martin’s guitars had graduated in size due to performance demands. The instrument had left the parlor and had begun filling small halls. The “00” acoustic guitar size, though on the smaller size by today's standards, was originally billed as an extra-large guitar suitable for a Grand Concert (one of the other common designations for an acoustic this size). In addition to the size of the venue, the acoustic guitar also had to be louder to compete with the banjo and mandolin. At this point, incidentally around the same time as the birth of the blues, the acoustic guitar was well on its way to becoming the most popular instrument in the world. Structurally, a 1900 00-28 featured the signature Martin X-brace, an Adirondack Red Spruce Top, Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, a long scale length, a 1 7/8” nut, a pyramid bridge, 12-frets to the body, and a slotted headstock.

Jimmie Rodgers 1927 OO-18 and 000-45

Ever eager to cater to customer demands, the 00 gave way to the 000 in 1902. In 1924, the humbler, Mahogany back and sides, 18-style guitars received steel strings to brighten up and amplify the instrument. The Brazilian Rosewood 28 series guitars received the same treatment in 1926. Clearly smitten with these new steel string guitars Martin built, the yodeling brakeman, Jimmie Rogers, started his career on a humbler 00-18 model before stepping up in size, tone-wood, and ornamentation to a custom 000-45 that he ordered directly from the company. His name was inlaid in pearl up and down the neck, along with “thanks” on the back, which he’d flash at the end of his performances.

1930 2-17

With the Great Depression came the demand for simple instruments at low price-points, and no guitar exemplifies this historical circumstance better than the Martin 2-17. This rugged, eminently portable model was actually the first Martin to receive steel strings back in 1922. An all-mahogany body imparts an earthy, direct, midrange tone that works especially well for finger-style blues. It’s easy to imagine this humble, frill-less Martin guitar strapped across the back of some itinerant songster making his way on and off boxcars, picking sweetly around the campfire. By this point, the Martin company had grown adept at interpreting the vibrations of an age, and the 1930s was a difficult decade that called for a spartan guitar.

1931 OM-28

As the name suggests, the Orchestra Model was intended for big venues and complex arrangements. Up to this point, the guitar only had 12 frets to the body, but the OM boasted 14. This allowed players to pick all the way up into a fiddler’s range. Additionally, the OM had longer scale length than previous models, enhancing volume and sustain of the instrument. Currently, the OM is still one of the most popular acoustic guitar choices for pickers who want to sound as big as an orchestra.

Norman Blake’s 1933 D-28

The Dreadnought acoustic guitar was invented in 1916. Martin built them exclusively for the Oliver Ditson retail company. It was named after the gun-laden 1906 battleship, the HMS Dreadnought. This new guitar was meant to inspire awe with its volume and power: “Dread not!” Unfortunately, it sold poorly, and was subsequently discontinued. Martin re-designed and resurrected the Dreadnought in 1931, however, and it became a part of general production by 1935.
As the years went by, the Martin company discovered that the Dreadnought proved especially popular with a certain type of customer: the bluegrass musician. Bluegrass, a high-velocity manifestation of Appalachian-American roots music, rose to prominence in the 1940s. Groups such as Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys played loud, fast, acoustic music and the Dreadnought proved an essential ingredient in the mix for its strong bass current, as well as its ability to cut through the banjo and mandolin.

One of the greatest pickers to emerge from the bluegrass/acoustic roots music milieu is Norman Blake. Having toured and recorded with super-stars like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, Blake went on to create a highly-refined sub-genre called “chamber folk” with his partner, Nancy Short, a classically trained cellist. Early in his career, Blake played a one-of-a-kind shade top 12-fret D-28 built in 1933. Between 1931 and 1935, when Dreadnoughts were being built, but not in general production, the Martin company only produced twenty-one 12-fret dreadnought guitars, and only one shade top. This guitar is currently listed for $2,000,000.

Elvis’ 1942 D-18

Before he was declared the king of Rock & Roll, Elvis was just a slick country boy with a D-18. This Mahogany back and sides dreadnought acoustic guitar saw Elvis through the early part of his career, and it bears the scars to prove it. Compared to it’s more upscale sibling, the D-28, the D-18 was simply appointed. The model was first introduced in 1935, and featured 14-frets to the body. Tonally, it was woody, earthy, and well defined. It had big bass and strong fundamental frequencies, making it perfect for lead or rhythm. In addition to nimble flat-pickers, dreadnoughts came to be favored by strummers like Elvis, who appreciated its ability to offer a wide sonic back-drop for vocals.

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