Martin Guitars Defining Year 1946
Hi! Mike Mullins here again for another installment of Acoustic Snapshots.
Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about some history from the Martin Guitar Company and we’ll be doing a lot of this little vignettes where we’re going to isolate a period in Martin’s history and talk about maybe some changes that took place, maybe some models that were introduced, maybe just some events that happened with having to do with the company itself. But on this particular installment, I wanted to talk about a particular period where some things changed from Martin guitars and in this one particular year, and it was in 1946. The reason this year is kind of significant is it, it marks a time when the wood on the top changed for one thing. That was one of the changes that took place. These are sort of details that have amplications for those who collect musical instruments, who collect Martin guitars and players, too. Because in 1946, that was the year that one of those significant changes, as far as what bluff players considered to be, the heart and soul sound of a musical instrument and notice the wood on the top. Up until 1946, Martin Guitars had top wood made out of Adirondack Spruce, the type of wood that grows in the North East and was a great wood for building tops of guitars and Martin used it for over a hundred years. Now in 1946, they changed. They made this change, they thought it was significant in that time, but just for I don’t know if cost can measure or it’s just easier to get or perhaps out of Adirondack Spruce is becoming rarer, or maybe it wasn’t very sustainably grown. But Martin switched to Sitka spruce, which is a little bit straighter, a little easier to mill and cut, you know, and not quite as expensive. So at the time, they thought no one would know the difference it’s still a really good way for building guitars and it is! Some great guitars have been built with Sitka tops.
But for collector’s purist type – of which I am not by the way, Adirondack Spruce considered to be, “the” wood to use for tops. In 1946 when they changed to Sitka, it changed the sound. It changed the character of Martin guitars just a little bit, subtly. In my opinion, Adirondack Spruce does a moral response of property too, as far as sound over Sitka. Sitka doesn’t seem quite as resonant, it has a different overtone. Adirondack – mostly it’s the response, I think if you were to describe the sound. It’s got a crackle and immediacy to the tone that some people say is not quite this present in Sitka. So after 1946, most Martin Guitars, I say most because in the early 50’s you can still find Martin guitars that were build with Adirondack tops which is characterized by kind of a whiter but slightly different color. This Martin D18 which is made in 1943 has an Adirondack top. It’s got the good stuff on it.
Another change that took place in 1946 – well it wasn’t til the end of 1946. Strictly ornamental, the Style 28 guitars had a strip of marketry going all the way to the border of the guitar called Herringbone. It was a sort of a zigzag pattern that was visible from probably the first 3 rows of a concert where you can see the dark line that indicated herringbone. Martin decided in the end of 1946, they have run out of this material a lot of it came in Germany, in that time was not really in the mood to sell a colored marketry. So, they experimented with a couple of replacements but none of them are really very suitable so they went to just plastic with white black white lines going around the top which was used for many years. The Herringbone does nothing for the soound it’s strictly kind of a cool ornamental feature for a period of time that became very nostalgic to guitar collectors. Any Martin D28 or Style28 guitar made after 1946, did not have the herringbone. It was in Germany in 1946 and Martin D28 in 1947 is the deletion of the herringbone binding. And for that one reason, you’ll never structure the identical resemblance and everything, same dimensions. In 1946, D28 is worth probably that 50% more to collector than in 1947. So that was one of the changes that took place. I might add, the Adirondack spruce and Herringbone marketry was brought back by Martin in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s as players began demanding these kinds of features be restored, they wanted guitars to be built like back in the Golden Age, the 30’s and 40’s. They began using these materials again; once again they can find the source for Herringbone marketry. In the 40s, it was getting scarce and they’ve ran through pretty much all their stores of it. Well it’s another kind of change that probably nobody’s gonna notice. It’s the same guitar, it just got a little bit different ornamentation. There’s one last change that I think is less known about or talked about really is the Style 18 guitars up until by 1946 had Ebony fingerboards and bridges. This material has kinda become associated with the higher end guitars – the one Style 28 and up. But at that time, the humble, style 18 and style 21s had ebony for the bridge and fingerboard. But after about 1946, not really sure when exactly, I’m not sure if this change has ever really recorded officially by the serial number.. the Style 18 was changed to Rosewood for the fingerboard and bridges. Rosewood is a little bit more porous, it cracks a little easier, not quite as hard or is dense, and in my opinion, it’s not quite as nice as a wood for fingerboard and bridges. Martin having recognized this, a lot of their Style 18 guitars back in the old days have gone back to Ebony. But that was another change that took place around 1946 where a few – but Martin might have thought at that time were minor changes – actually were kind of landmarks as far as changes going on from the pre-war Martin guitars to the post war and going ahead in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. That was one of the major benchmark or changes that took place.
So, Hope you learned a little bit about Martin history. I’ll be back with more, many more actually. Hope you enjoy them. Thank You for listening to this little edition of Acoustic Snapshots.