Martin Guitars: History, Models, and How to Find Serial Numbers 

 March 11, 2022

By  Cynthia Swearingen

The Martin name is synonymous with quality guitars. For over 180 years, C.F. Martin and Company has been providing musicians with finely crafted instruments with unique details. Also, Martin guitars are notorious for their beauty, unique sound, and for maintaining and increasing in value with age.

A Martin guitar is an investment and something that you can enjoy for a lifetime. Cheap acoustic guitars are easy to find but will be of far inferior quality. Knowing how to research serial numbers can aid in obtaining information about the age and authenticity of a guitar. Information given here, on finding serial numbers, can help with that process.

The Story of Martin Guitars

The Beginning

C.F. Martin and Company appeared in 1833 in New York City, New York. C.F. Martin was from a family of German cabinet makers. He learned to make guitars in Vienna, Austria, from Johann Georg Stauffer. After finishing his apprenticeship with Stauffer, C.F. Martin opened a guitar shop. However, both the cabinet makers’ guild and the violin makers’ guild, claimed rights to oversee the crafting of guitars. Eventually, the court system sorted things out granting the rights to the cabinet makers’ guild.

After dealing with the restrictions of European guilds, C.F. Martin felt it would be easier to produce his guitars in America. Then, he opened his first shop in New York City in 1833. Six years later the company relocated to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where Mr. Martin had relatives, and the land reminded him of his native Germany.

Growth and Innovation

Originally, Martin guitars were made entirely by hand. As business grew, Mr. Martin employed more craftsman. By 1859, the need for a factory was evident. Therefore, he built one in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The building still has C.F. Martin and Company as owner. Yet, it is now a warehouse and a retail site.

In the 1850’s, Martin developed the X-bracing system for guitar tops. Increased strength and stability of the top made for an easy transition to steel strings at the beginning of the next century. Steel strings placed considerably more tension on the upper part than catgut strings of the past.

1920’s and The Great Depression

During the depression, Martin guitars survived thanks to the introduction of two modifications.

  • One was the development of the fourteen-fret guitar. This allowed guitars to be played like banjos and to replace them in jazz bands.
  • The second invention was the dreadnought body style, which was larger than the standard guitar. This provided greater sound volume and projection, compensating for the lack of sound equipment.

1960’s to Present Day

In the 1960’s, Martin guitars briefly produced hollow body electric guitars. Consequently, Martin discontinued making them after they failed to catch on. The company tried making electric guitars again, this time solid body, from 1985-1996.

The Stinger guitar was similar in design to Fender guitars. These were made in Korea, then shipped to Martin guitars in the United States. Then, in 1979, Martin guitars opened its Custom Shop. Here, artists and craftsman can transform a customer’s ideas into reality.

Commitment to the Environment

  • In 1990, Martin guitars formalized their statement about environmental stewardship. Then, the company adheres to CITES guidelines regarding the harvesting of endangered wood species and responsible timber sourcing.
  • Martin guitars are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This means they adhere to very high standards about social and environmental responsibility.
  • By 2015, 45% of the wood that Martin uses came from FSC sources with certification.
  • Utilizing environmentally suitable alternatives to traditional wood species is also a viable option. Micarta and black Richlite are sometimes used for the fingerboard, nuts, and saddle.
  • The Martin guitars also participate in UPS’s carbon neutral shipping program.
  • Moreover, they pay an additional fee per package that goes to reforestation, waste water treatment, and similar projects.
  • The company has also installed an energy recovery device in their finish curing room. This will reduce CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 60 tons annually.

Excellence from Start to Finish

Throughout their history, C.F. Martin and Company has managed to successfully navigate several potential obstacles, by creative thinking and determination. Furthermore, Martin guitars’ primary focus has always been to produce superior acoustic guitars.

Attention focuses on every detail, from the type of wood they use to obtain the best resonance, to the style of finish on the body and how it will feel in the musician’s hands. So, Martin’s commitment to excellence, and exploration of innovative improvements keeps them at the forefront of their industry.

martin 0028ec

12 Martin Guitars Models You’d Love to Play

1. D-15M Streetmaster

  • The D-15M Streetmaster is made to the same specs as the D-15M model.
  • The Streetmaster has a distressed satin finish; this gives it a well-worn, yet sturdy, look.
  • Both the body and neck of this dreadnought style guitar are made from mahogany.
  • The fingerboard is kata lox (like rosewood), has a scale length of 25.4 inches and twenty frets.

2. Ed Sheeran X Signature Edition

  • The Ed Sheeran X Signature Edition is a smaller body, six-string acoustic guitar.
  • It is based on the LX1-E Little Martin, sometimes referred to as mini Martin guitars, the smallest guitars the company makes.
  • Equipped with Fishman electronics, the guitar is stage ready.
  • The fingerboard is Richlite and has green plastic inlays of the letter X. The X is a nod to Ed Sheeran’s album, Multiply.
  • Back and sides are both koas.
  • The top is Sitka spruce and has a koa inlay of an X.

3. CEO-8

  • Martin’s CEO-8 boasts the company’s largest acoustic body size, the Grand Jumbo.
  • The neck, back, and sides are sycamores.
  • The top is spruce and has the Martin VTS, Vintage Tone System.
  • Details on the top include a mother-of-pearl inlay and a faux tortoise pick guard.
  • It comes with a Martin Geib style hardshell acoustic guitar case.
  • The Vintage Tone System uses a unique process, called torrefaction, to heat-cure the wood. This artificial aging of the wood makes it stronger and allows Martin guitars to recreate vintage sounds, as well as an old appearance.

4. D-28 (2017)

  • A longtime favorite of the folk music scene, the D-28 has been reworked with open gear tuners and forward shifted X bracing.
  • The neck shape has updated to a modified low oval with a high-performance taper.
  • Design elements include a faux tortoise pick guard and antique white accents.
  • Ebony is used for the fingerboard. Back and sides are made from East India rosewood, and the top is Sitka spruce.

5. D-18

  • The iconic Martin D-18 guitar has a dreadnought body.
  • It features an ebony fingerboard, back and sides of mahogany, faux-tortoise pick guard, and a solid spruce top.
  • Bracing is a forward-shifted standard X scallop.
  • The neck is a high-performance design with a low oval profile with modifications.
  • This is an all-purpose workhorse of a guitar. The Martin D-18 is a classic guitar appropriate to intermediate to advanced musicians.

6. 000-15M Burst

  • An auditorium body style and all mahogany build, give the 000-15M Burst its balanced, rich tones.
  • The neck shape is a low oval with modifications.
  • Solid East Indian rosewood is used for the fingerboard and the bridge.
  • The finish is satin and features a richly colored burst on top.
  • This is one of Martin guitars’ most popular models.

7. D-28 Brazilian

  • Production of the Martin guitars’ D-28 Brazilian features only 50 guitars.
  • The back and sides are made from pre-CITES Brazilian rosewood, and the top is spruce, for superior sound quality.
  • Bracing is a forward shifted X brace. It is constructed using hide glue, which cures much harder than other wood glues.
  • The neck shape is low profile with a standard taper.
  • Waverly nickel tuners add a vintage touch.
  • The interior label has the signature of Chris Martin. This is a highly collectible instrument.

8. D-18E

  • The Martin D-18E is an acoustic-electric guitar.
  • Back and sides are mahogany, the top is Sitka spruce in a satin finish, and the fingerboard is ebony.
  • The classic Martin guitars’ dreadnought body and high-performance neck give this instrument great projection and make it easy to play.
  • It comes with the buyer’s choice of either Fishman Aura VT Enhance or LR Baggs Anthem electronics.

9. D-200 Deluxe

  • Limited to 50 instruments, the Martin D-200 Deluxe is highly collectible. This particular edition was made in commemoration of Martin guitars’ two millionth serial number.
  • The back is pre-CITES Brazilian rosewood. It is inlaid with a design of watch gears made from mother-of-pearl, reconstituted stone, koa, bloodwood, and ebony.
  • Rosewood sides have abalone pearl stripping. The top, Engelmann spruce, and the fingerboard, ebony, also have intricate inlays of gears.
  • The D-200 Deluxe comes with an RGM watch that echoes the design elements of the guitar and has a matching engraved serial number.
  • Moreover, the guitar also has an aluminum-zero manufacturing attaché case with a built-in hygrometer. The hygrometer allows close monitoring of the environmental conditions in the case.

10. GPC-16E

  • Martin guitars’ GPS-16E features a Grand Performance body size and a cutaway design.
  • An acoustic-electric guitar, it has Fishman Matrix VT Enhance NT2 Electronics.
  • Back and sides are koa, and the top is solid spruce. T
  • he fingerboard is ebony with mother-of-pearl inlays. The neck is a low oval with modifications and a high-performance taper.
  • This guitar is a particularly desirable choice for recording.

11. 000-17 Black Smoke

  • Part of Martin guitars’ 17 series, this six-string acoustic has a Sitka spruce top, and mahogany back and sides. Also, it features a hardwood neck.
  • The black smoke body has a satin finish.
  • A rosewood fingerboard, with mother-of-pearl inlays, stands out against the black body of the guitar.
  • The Auditorium style body gives this guitar a warm tone with rich, yet clear and balanced, sound.

12. OM-ECHF Navy Blues

  • Part of a collaboration between Eric Clapton and Hiroshi Fujiwara, the OM-ECHF Navy Blues guitar is third in the series.
  • A navy-blue lacquer finish creates a bold look.
  • Back and sides are East Indian rosewood, and the top is spruce. Also, snowflake abalone inlays detail an ebony fingerboard.
  • An interior label has the signatures of C.F. Martin IV, Eric Clapton, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Dick Boak. The guitars also have the numbers in sequence. This adds significantly to the value of this collectible guitar.

martin guitars workshop

How to Decypher the Serial Numbers

In 1898, C. F. Martin and Company began imprinting serial numbers on its instruments. So, they started with the 8348, the estimated number of guitars they had produced up to that time.

Martin guitar serial numbers are visible on the neck block by looking through the sound hole. More specifically, the top number is the guitar’s model number; the bottom is the serial number. Also, a Martin guitar forum can be a good place to find online help if assistance is necessary to decipher older guitar serial numbers that may be difficult to read.

You can determine the year of production by looking up the serial number on a chart on the Martin guitars’ website. The numbers on the graph appear according to the last serial number used that year.

For example, a used Martin guitar with a serial number 503875, would have been made in 1991. The last serial number that a guitar received in 1990 was 503309, and the last serial number the company made for 1991 was 512487. So anything that falls between those two numbers must have come from in 1991.

Knowing the model and serial numbers are also useful when looking for acoustic guitar parts. So, this way you can be certain you are getting exactly what you need. This is particularly the case for older, used Martin guitars.

To the Songs

There’s a wide variety of Martin guitars for sale, vintage and modern. Therefore, it is prudent to know about the diverse options and how to determine the quality and value of a guitar. So, finding the serial number and model number can help provide invaluable information.

C.F. Martin and Company started with the dream of a German cabinet maker’s son. Then, it grew for nearly two centuries into a company that received worldwide respect for their craftsmanship of beautiful guitars.

Images: 1, 2, 3.

Cynthia Swearingen

Your Signature

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