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    

1962 Martin 00-21 Acoutic Guitar - Brazilian Rosewood - Rare No Reserve Auction1964 Martin Standard D-28 Acoustic Guitar (headstock Repaired)1 Owner 1980 Martin D-28 Accoustic Guitar With Original Hard CaseC.f Martin & Co 000-15m Acoustic GuitarMartin Standard D-28 Acoustic GuitarMartin Guitars Acoustic Dxm Guitar Natural Dreadnought Made In UsaMartin D Cherry Guitar1976 Martin D35 D-35 Vintage Acoustic Guitar Needs Work! Sold As Is!1971 Martin D12 20 12 String Acoustic Guitar W/ Hard Case Playable ProjectMartin Tenor GuitarMartin X Lm Acoustic GuitarVintage 1950's Martin Model 0 Soprano Style Ukulele - Mahalo! Clean! No Reserve!Carl Martin Plexitone Overdrive Guitar Effect PedalMartin 000rs25 Navojoa Acoustic Electric Sitka Spruce W/ Martin Hard Case Nr!!!!Martin & Co Dcpa5 W Hardcase Excellent Acoustic Elctric Guitar (s08015818)Martin 000c-16rgte Aura Auditorium Cutaway Acoustic-electric Guitar1950 Martin 00-18Vintage 1969 Guild D-40 Acoustic Guitar With Martin Hard Case As Is No Reserve!Martin D-15m Natural 6-string Acoustic Guitar, W/ Hardshell Case - As-isMartin Custom Shop D-35 Steve Avett Acoustic Guitar With Hardshell CaseMartin 000-18 Acoustic Rare 1957 All OriginalMartin Acoustic Mmv Acoustic GuitarMartin Guitar Custom Century 000-42 12 Fret1967 Martin D-18Alvarez Masterworks Md60 Acoustic Electric Guitar W Tkl Case & Martin StringsVintage Sigma By Martin Dm-5 Acoustic W/skb Hardshell CaseMartin D-21 Special Acoustic GuitarMartin Guitar 2-17 1930 Martin Hd-28 Acoutic Guitar Excellent Condition '97 Martin Spd-16tr Special Edition Acoustic Guitar Ae W/ Case + Extras Exc CondMartin Dx1 Acoustic Guitar And Case Spruce Top Dreadnought Made In UsaCarl Martin Boost Kick Boost Guitar Effect PedalMartin Dx1e GuitarMartin Om28e Retro Acoustic Electric Guitar W/ CaseMartin Ceo-7 Golden Era Sloped Shoulder Acoustic GuitarMartin Backpacker Steel String Acoustic Guitar With Case Used Great Condition!!Martin D12x1ae 12 String Acoustic Electric GuitarMartin & Company Brown Acoustic Gloss Top Dreadnought 6-string Guitar D-18Martin Sigma D28 - S Dreadnaught Acoustic W/ Hard Shell CaseMartin Acoustic Guitar Case Fits 000 And Om Size GuitarsMartin Hd-35 Standard Series Acoustic Guitar W/ Original CaseMartin 16 D-gt Acoustic GuitarMartin Standard D-35 Acoustic Guitar 1997Martin Backpacker GuitarMartin 000c Nylon String Cutaway Acoustic-electric Guitar W/ OhscMartin Performing Artist Dcpa5 Acoustic Electric GuitarMartin Little Lx1 Acoustic GuitarCarl Martin Plexitone (not Working)Yasuma Reproduction Of A Martin T-15 TipleAcoustic Guitar Hand Made Om-28 Campoy Brazilian Rosewood Martin Style Martin Backpacker Travel Guitar Solid Wood Body Steel String W/bagLaravee D-03 Acoustic Guitar W/ Martin Goldline Pick UpMartin Backpacker Steel String Acoustic Guitar2008 Martin Swdgt Acoustic Electric Guitar With Lr Baggs Pickup With CaseCustom Shop Martin Guitar Case 0-18Martin Lxm Cuban Tres GuitarLeft Handed Martin Backpacker Travel Acoustic GuitarMartin Dc 16reLefty Martin Backpacker Travel Left Handed Acoustic Guitar W / Gig Bag And StrapTkl Martin & Co Hard Shell Acoustic Guitar Case