When Levon Helm of The Band sang "I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead" in "The Weight," he wasn’t alluding to a weary pilgrim’s desire for salvation. Rather, he was singing about a mythological trip to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of C. F. Martin & Co., makers of Martin flat top acoustic guitars.

Founded in 1833 by a German immigrant named Christian Friedrich Martin, whose father was also an instrument maker, Martin was originally based in New York City before moving in 1839 to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

Guitars from these earliest years had hourglass-shaped bodies, suggesting Martin’s German roots. By the 1840s, though, Martin was producing distinctly American-looking instruments, with smooth, flat tops and a big, bright sound. Shortly thereafter, in 1852, the company’s long-standing convention of naming its guitars after their size and style designations was established.

Martin’s 19th century guitars were smaller than they are today and were made for gut strings — guitars strong enough to handle steel strings would not appear until 1928. The original sizes (biggest to smallest) were 1, 2, 2 1/2, and 3. Sizes 000, 00, 0, 4, and 5 were added between 1854 and 1902, and in 1929 this numbering system was scrapped for the one we know today.

The OM, or Orchestra Model, was introduced that year; it is the same size as a 000. The D or Dreadnought (named for the large battleships of the day) appeared in 1916. It was bigger than a 000 and was originally produced exclusively for the Ditson company. But by 1931, Martin was selling its own D-size guitars. It became one of the company’s most popular guitars.

Other sizes in the line include the M (an 0000), the 7 (approximately 7/8ths of the size of a D), and the J (for Jumbo; it’s the same size as a M but as deep as a D), but all of these guitars were introduced on or after 1977, which makes them of little interest to serious collectors.

Style designations have remained consistent since the 1850s, although new designations added in the mid-1980s have made the designation system more arbitrary than it used to be. ...

Some of the most collectible Martin flat tops include the pre-war Dreadnoughts from the 1930s, which many of the world’s best musicians consider the Stradivariuses of guitars. That said, just about any of the 12- or 14-fret steel-string models from the mid-1920s until the mid-1940s will bring a good price.

Also worth keeping an eye out for are guitars made from the post-war years through the end of the 1960s, when Brazilian rosewood was replaced by Indian rosewood. Indian rosewood is handsome enough, but it lacks the visual richness of Brazilian. More importantly to musicians, guitars made from Indian rosewood don’t seem to sound as good as those crafted from Brazilian stock.

If your ear or eye is not as discerning as a professional musician’s, Martin has made it simple for you to tell which is which: Vintage Martin guitars from 1898 on are easy to date because each instrument is stamped with an individual serial number.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Martin Om 45k2 Acoustic Guitar Custom Shop Highly Flamed Koa 45 SeriesMartin Standard Hd-35 Acoustic Guitar1993 Martin D-16 Acoustic Guitar W/ Hardshell CaseMartin Dreadnaught Dxm Acoustic Guitar With Case No Reserve2010 Martin D-18 **excellent Excellent**Martin Custom D Classic Mahogany Acoustic Guitar1996 Martin Standard Hd-28 Acoustic Guitar2010 Martin J-40 Guitar For SaleMartin 15 Series Guitar -- 000-15sm -- W/ OhscSigmaguitars Est. 1970 Made In Japan For G.e.martin & Co. Dm-18 Guitar Very NiceMartin Backpack Steel String GuitarMartin Standard D-35 Acoustic Guitar2010 Martin J-40 Guitar For SaleShort Mountain Acoustic Guitar - Martin 000 Killer Martin G-series Gpcpa4 Rosewood Electric GuitarMartin & Co. Custom Acoustic Guitar Sigma By Martin Gcs-6 Acoustic Guitar Sn 751201702012 Martin D-35 Acoustic Guitar W/l.r. Baggs Pickup - Mint In Factory Case!Martin "little Martin" Lxm Acoustic Guitar With Padded Gig BagMartin Custom X Series Acoustic / Electric Guitar Ref. 289383-1Martin & Co. The Backpacker Acoustic Travel Guitar 6 String No Reserve 2014 Martin Hd Dierks Bentley Acoustic GuitarMint Condition Martin 000m Mahogany Auditorium Acoustic Guitar W/ Case2015 Martin & Co. 11cmx0002 Custom X Series Acoustic Electric 6 String GuitarMartin Swomgt Sustainable Wood Natural 6-string Acoustic Guitar & Hard CaseVintage 1970s Martin Darco Funky Guitar Strings In Wooden Display Case Martin Guitar Padded Lx-1 Gig Bag Soft Carry Case Carl Martin Compressor-limiter Limiter Guitar Effect PedalMartin Guitar Mahogany Neck Blank Mortise And Tenon With Ebony Headstock OverlayMartin Guitar Mahogany Neck Blank Mortise And Tenon With Ebony Headstock OverlayMartin Custom Performing Artist Dcpa4 Rosewood Dreadnought Acoustic-elec Guitar Martin Dcpa4 Rosewood (hard Case And Stand Included)Martin Guitar Neck Blank Mortise And Tenon With Ebony Headstock OverlayMartin Guitar Mahogany Neck Blank Mortise And Tenon With Ebony Headstock OverlayMartin Lx1 Gig Bag Case Fits Little MartinMartin 14-fret Actoustic Gutiar 00-18v With Hard CaseMartin Backpacker Travel Acoustic GuitarGoya C.f Martin & Co. 6 String Classical Model G12Tacoma Dm-10 Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar, A Martin D-18 Killer!Mixed Lot Guitar String Packets - 60+ Packets Fender, Martin, Ghs, Elixir, More!Martin Acoustic D-16bh Beck Signature Edition GuitarMartin Backpacker Acoustic Six String Guitar & Travel Case