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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Q&A: All That RemainsThe Free Weekly, November 25th
Courtesy Photo All That Remains is (from left to right) Jeanne Sagan (bass), Oli Herbert (guitar), Phil Labonte (vocals), Jason Costa (drums), and Mike Martin (guitar). All That Remains happened to pick an excellent band name when they first started out...Read more
Two newcomers grace stage for open micElk Valley Times, November 23rd
Hendricks is a retired professional musician, and he played a 1959 vintage Martin guitar that he has owned since his youth. Rocker Steven Massey played “Might Have Been”, “I Won't Think about Him” and a cover medley of “Forever and Ever Amen” and ...Read more
Willie and the Great American SongbookMcalester News Capital, November 22nd
One of the best things about the album proved once again to be Willie's nimble guitar playing on the weathered classical Martin guitar he affectionately named Trigger, after the singing cowboy Roy Rogers' storied horse. Willie's virtuoso playing on the...Read more
Video: The Last Ballad Of Mandolin Brothers, Staten Island's Beloved Guitar ShopGothamist, November 19th
For the past 40 years, legendary musicians and guitar aficionados have been flocking to Mandolin Brothers, the Staten Island mom-and-pop guitar emporium. Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Christopher Guest, Dave Van Ronk, Joni Mitchell, ...Read more
You'll find a Martin dreadnaught guitar in hands of the bestGrand Junction Daily Sentinel, November 12th
Maybe the Martin dreadnaught is not as flash as the Stratocaster, but think of any iconic moment in rock history and a Martin guitar was probably a part of it. Elvis played The Ed Sullivan Show with his D-28. Hank Williams and Johnny Cash ushered in...Read more
John Lennon's "She Loves You" guitar fetches $2.41 millionGizmag, November 9th
It also exceeded the prices at auction of such famous guitars as Eric Clapton's famous "Blackie" Fender Stratocaster used in recording of Cocaine and I Shot The Sheriff, which fetched $959,500, the 1939 Martin guitar used during his MTV Unplugged ...Read more
Martin Guitar Sessions: John MorelandAmerican Songwriter, October 29th
John Moreland stopped by American Songwriter Thursday afternoon of AmericanaFest for one of our sporadic office sessions. The Oklahoma songster had been on vocal rest for several days due to a throat condition, and he sipped from Kroger-brand seltzer ...Read more
Martin Guitar has a new leader.Allentown Morning Call, June 2nd
Upper Nazareth Township guitar-maker C.F. Martin & Co. has named Jacqueline M. Renner its new president. Renner, a patent-holding chemist, was president of Franke Consumer Products, a kitchen sink and faucet manufacturer based in Smyrna, Tenn., ...Read more