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.
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Police recovery of stolen guitars strikes a chord as musician departsTimes Colonist, April 15th
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Man sentenced in counterfeit Martin guitar schemeAllentown Morning Call, April 10th
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Martin Guitar counterfeiting ring leads to federal sentencesThe Express-Times, April 10th
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Review: Martin CEO-7 Acoustic GuitarAmerican Songwriter, April 9th
The first thing I noticed about the Martin CEO-7 was that, somehow, it didn't really seem like a Martin. I tuned it up and played it for a minute before I stopped and realized that it almost looked like a 1930s Gibson, even though the headstock did...Read more
The Twenty Million Dollar Guitar Auction That Wasn't: Guernsey's Aims High ...New York Observer, April 7th
The guitar will be displayed in the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, alongside other instruments that trace the evolution of America's best-known acoustic guitar manufacturer. “We are extremely happy and excited that this guitar is...Read more
1930 Martin guitar to be auctioned in New York City — to tune of $2 millionNew York Daily News, April 1st
1930 Martin guitar to be auctioned in New York City — to tune of $2 million. Auctioneer Guernsey, located on the city's Upper East Side, will sell the 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe, one of the most expensive guitars on the planet, with a collection of 264...Read more
Against industry headwinds, Martin guitar stays strongFortune (blog), March 25th
Against industry headwinds, Martin guitar stays strong. March 25, 2014: 1:25 PM ET. Despite the rising cost of raw materials and a deluge of low-cost competitors, C.F. Martin & Company has managed to retain a reputation as the BMW of the guitar world...Read more
Parker Millsap Live: Presented by Martin GuitarAmerican Songwriter, March 20th
In his early teens, Parker Millsap took a trip to a high-end guitar shop in Oklahoma with his dad. He felt like a kid in a candy store, and picked there for hours on end, sampling as many vintage axes as he could get his hands on. Finally, his dad put...Read more