Martin has been making some of the best flat top acoustic guitars since the mid 1800’s. Martin’s other lines of instruments (electrics, archtops, mandolins) is not nearly as desirable or collectible as their flat top models. Because of this, any models other than flat tops (such as Martin’s archtops and electrics) are not very collectible.
Brazilian rosewood on a 1965 D-28. Note the rich
color and wavey figuring which is typical of
Brazilian rosewood. Indian rosewood, as used
from late 1969 and later, is much paler in color;
not nearly as rich looking. Indian rosewood is also
very straight grained, without the figuring and
waveyness of Brazilian rosewood. Acoustically, they
sound nearly the same.
Flat top Martins from the 1840’s to the 1920’s represent the earliest generation of the modern flat top design. They have great workmanship, but small bodies designed for gut strings only. Because of this, these models have limited appeal and hence are less collectible than steel string models.
Twelve and fourteen fret steel string models from the mid 1920’s to 1944 are the most collectible of all Martin instruments. They have excellent craftsmenship, sound, and playability, and these model are of great interest to collectors and players. Some musicians prefer the sound and feel of 12 fret models, and these are close in value to 14 fret models of the same size and period. The larger size 14 fret 000 and “D” sizes from the 1930’s are considered by most collectors and musicians to represent the golden era of the flat top Martin. Note war-time models (1941 to 1944) aren’t quite as desirable as the 1930’s models. Lack of materials, manpower, and general social uncertainty during the war contributed to this.
Flat tops from 1945 to 1969 are considered good quality and have good sound, although they are not as collectible as the 1920’s to 1944 steel string models. This is largely due to the change in bracing and materials Martin started using in 1945. Rosewood models of Brazilian rosewood are most collectible from this era. This is because Brazilian rosewood was basically unavailable since 1970 due to export problems. Because of this, these models are considered more collectible.
Martin D-35 from the 1970’s.
Note the Indian rosewood’s color
is much lighter and not as rich
as Brazilian rosewood. Also the
grain is much straighter and boring.
This three piece back was used on
D-35’s to allow Martin to use
narrower rosewood that would
otherwise go to waste.
Flat tops from 1970 to present are considered to be excellent utility instruments, but are not collectible. Staring in 1976, Martin has been undergoing many changes with numerous reissues, new models, limited editions, etc. Workmanship has improved greatly from the early 1970’s, and Martin is now producing some of its best guitars in over 20 years. While not currently collector’s items, these intruments have excellent workmanship, sound, and playability. Classical guitars by Martin are equal in craftsmenship to their steel string models. But unfortunately, their sound and feel is not what classical players seem to want. Therefore they do not have the collectability of the steel string models. I group Martin classical models to include the “NY” series and gut string models made from the 1930’s and later.
1965 Martin 00-21 NY model. A classical model
because of the open peghead style, no fingerboard
inlays, and bracing for gut (nylon) strings only.
The Style 21 model is a combination of the
Style 18 and Style 28 models: The body uses
rosewood (like a 28), and a style 18 neck
(with no “ice cream cone”). This particular
model has nice Brazilian rosewood. The back of
the (style 18 like) neck can clearly been seen
with no “ice cream cone” volute.
Acoustic archtop by Martin, again, have craftsmenship that matches their flat top instruments. But as with classical model, Martin archtops do not have the look, feel, or sound of traditional archtop models as defined by Gibson or Epiphone. They may be quite rare, but they are not collectible, especially compared to Martin flat tops. Ukuleles by Martin are considered amoung the best ukes made. Though ukes in general aren’t particularly valuable, Martin ukes are worth more than most other makes.
Tenor guitars (4 strings) by Martin have little to no collectibility. Tenor guitars were marketed as a way to get banjo players in the 1930s to the 1950s to convert to guitar. There is very little need for this today, hence these four string guitars have little value.
Electric guitars by Martin (any variety: flat top, archtop, solid body) are not sought after and have little to no value.