The singing cowboy’ craze of the 1930s, the folk and protest movements of the 50s and the acoustic ‘unplugged’ trend of the 90s all brought Martin guitars to new prominence. But they never lost sight of their original aim: to build the perfect acoustic guitar.
They are behind some of the most essential innovations in Acoustic Guitar history – including the dreadnought guitar body and scalloped bracing. For more information about the Martin guitar dealers, click here.
The pre-war Martins made in the twenties and thirties are the stuff of legend among guitar players. These are the guitars that legendary musicians like Hank Williams and Tony Rice played, and their exquisite craftsmanship and attention to detail have shaped the sound of acoustic guitar making across the globe. Pre-war guitars are costly, but they are some of the world’s most well-made and iconic instruments.
There are a few ways to get the look and feel of a pre-war Martin at a much more affordable price. One way is to purchase a pre-war D-28 or D-18 that a qualified professional has restored. This process involves replacing parts in lousy shape and refinishing the instrument to bring it back to its original glory. A professionally restored pre-war Martin will typically cost somewhere around $20,000.
Another option is to purchase a modern Martin aged by hand in the Martin factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The aging process involves careful hand-sanding and using different stain colours to give the guitar a look that approximates pre-war guitars. The Aged Martins are available in both D-28 and D-18 models and have a similar sound to pre-war guitars.
Martin made a few changes to their production during the war years, including switching to tapered bracing and eliminating herringbone trim. These changes may or may not impact the guitar’s sound, but they change the aesthetics. Martin also changed their tuning pegs to plastic and moved away from herringbone and abalone rosette inlay, both of which are considered classic features on pre-war guitars.
One of the most significant differences between pre-war and wartime guitars is their construction. Before the war, Martin used a different type of X-bracing that was more robust and better suited to steel strings. The wartime X-bracing was less powerful and did not sound as good, which is why the pre-war guitars are so highly valued today. For more information about the Martin guitar dealers, click here.
The newer Martin Authentic series is all about bringing the look and sound of pre-war Martins to affordable prices for modern guitar players. These instruments are made painstakingly detailed, with particular emphasis placed on sourcing the correct woods and ensuring that all of the joins and dimensions are precise. Some of the instruments in this line are even treated to a torrefaction process that simulates a century’s natural aging and drying.
As the war progressed, Martin had to change their guitars to keep up with the demands of the military. One of the most significant changes was bracing. Bracing is wood placed on the inside of the top and back to reinforce them, but it also significantly impacts how an acoustic guitar sounds. Martin changed their bracing around 1940, which made their guitars sound different. They also started using Brazilian rosewood on their flat tops instead of Indian rosewood.
In addition to the bracing change, Martin began using a new finish called polyurethane (which they still use today). This unique finish was more durable and protected the guitars from damage. Another significant change was using ebony for neck reinforcement instead of steel. This was a necessity due to the shortage of steel for the war effort. The use of ebony is also what makes post-war Martins less desirable to many collectors.
During the 1920s, Martin started transitioning away from pyramid-long bridges on their 18 & and 28 series models and towards standard rectangle bridges. This was done gradually, with the 17 series either never having a pyramid bridge or transitioning earlier. By 1927, most Martin flat tops were built for steel strings. No definitive date or serial number range indicates when a model was built for steel strings, so it is essential to look at the details of each guitar.
There are several other minor differences between pre-war and post-war Martins. For example, in the 1930s, Martin switched to using Kluson brand tuners on their smaller models instead of Waverly. The Waverly tuners were hard to find due to restrictions on importing metals for the war effort. In addition to the tuners, Martin changed their nut width and shape in the 1940s.
While these changes are minimal, they are essential when shopping for a Martin. Also, it is crucial to be aware that modifying a guitar may decrease its value. For example, a drilled hole for a strap button is an easy modification that will reduce the weight of your Martin.
In the 21st century, Martin is still one of the best acoustic guitar brands. They remain committed to finding novel, inventive ways to improve their core principles of quality and craftsmanship while still crafting instruments that are as desirable for today’s musicians as they were in the company’s founding days. For more information about the Martin guitar dealers, click here.