Guitar Heaven … Confessions of a Martin Worshiper

My confession is this … Lately, I’ve become somewhat passionate about acoustic guitars.

I own a guitar and it’s a very nice guitar.  But like most obsessions, I want more.

I want more guitars and I want nicer guitars!

If I had less self-control, or perhaps more discretionary income, this could easily become an addiction.

Fortunately for me and my family, I have a good deal of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.

For me, today was “Martin” window shopping day …

If you know guitars, you know what I mean, but if you don’t, just suffice it to say that Martin is the Rolls Royce of the acoustic guitar world.

The history of Martin Guitars …

Many, if not most guitarists either own a Martin, or they lust after one.

My guitar is not a Martin, thus I fall into the second category.

Today, I visited three local stores and I was lucky enough to be allowed to test play four different Martin guitars, ranging in price from about $900 dollars up to around $4,000!

Of course, I was in heaven and all of these instruments were absolutely wonderful.

What I found out however, is that while there is indeed, a lot of difference between a $900 guitar and a $4,000 guitar, it’s not as noticeable as you might expect.  At least not in the way it plays and the way it sounds.

When you pay $900, you get a Martin D-1 …  a model that plays beautifully, but is very basic in aesthetics and materials.  Of course, it’s solid wood, but along with it’s spruce top, it uses a wood from the mahogany “family” called Sapele for the sides and back.  Another concession is the guitar neck which uses a hardwood laminate construction, that is strong, but to me is not nearly as attractive as a solid wood neck.  There is also minimal decoration on the guitar and the finish is a basic semi-gloss.

The D-1 (below) looks like this for about $900:

Up the ante a little … to maybe about $1,200 and you can get into the Martin D-16.  Once again, a very basic looking guitar, but one with slightly more cosmetic decoration and material refinements such as real mahogany sides and back and a solid wood neck instead of the laminate.  It has a richer sound to my ear and it looks nicer as well.  $300 nicer? … Well, yes, probably.

At about $1,200, the D-16 (below) looks like this: 

Now for a fairly quantum leap to $2,300, you can move up into the nose-bleed environment of the Martin D-28.  Famous musicians like Hank Williams, George Jones, Elvis, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney all played the Martin D-28.  It’s probably the model that is most often associated with the Martin brand.  A D-28 will give you a much nicer looking guitar that is made of some pretty rare and sophisticated materials such as rosewood and ebony.  It’s just more aesthetically pleasing all around.  Is it worth twice as much as a D-16?  You’d have to decide for yourself.

A D-28 (below) will set you back about $2,300!  For that investment, here’s what you get:

Finally, at a cost of just about $4,000 the Martin D-41 is pretty much the top of line.  There are other even pricier Martins, but this model gives you all the highest quality and most exotic wood materials and embellishments as well as extravagant cosmetic touches such as lusterous high gloss finish and abalone pearl inlays on the neck and body.  Buying this guitar is a major investment even for a wealthy individual.  It is an heirloom quality instrument that if properly cared for will last several lifetimes and can be handed down proudly from generation to generation.

Here (below) is a close-up look at the gorgeous $4,000 Martin D-41: 

Okay, so playing these instruments today was sort of like getting to test drive a BMW, a Porsche, a Ferrari, and a Lamborghini.  The were all a pleasure and none could be considered anything less than great.  Afterwards, it was tough to come back home to my unpretentious little cedar and maple guitar.

Call it love or call it lust … but, I almost felt like I had been cheating on my plain little Seagull S-6 that cost me a “mere” $400.

I really, really like my Seagull.  It’s well-made, plays beautifully and it sounds great.  Seagull guitars are probably the most “bang-for-you-buck” available today.

It has no glamour, no glitz, no snob appeal, but, It’s a fine instrument and I’m proud of it.

It has only one shortcoming …

… It’s not a Martin.

About Judson

Late bloomer ... aspiring writer and musician.
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16 Responses to Guitar Heaven … Confessions of a Martin Worshiper

  1. nrhatch says:

    I have had my Yamaha since college and I’m quite pleased with it . . . but it’s not a Martin. 😀

    Glad you enjoyed your “test drives” today.

  2. Judson says:

    I had a little Epiphone before I got my Seagull. Felt like it was a big step up, and it was. But, I still dream about Martin’s. We humans are sometimes hard to satify aren’t we? 🙂

  3. John Sanza says:

    I have an Alvarez that I bought many years ago. I dreamed of a Martin and finally was able to afford a D-1 without going broke. I love the feel and the sound is great. I would trade up for a D-28 , but then I would have to skip the mortgage payment.

    • Judson says:

      Hey John! Thanks for the visit. Since I wrote this, I actually went out and bought myself a Martin. I chose the new DCPA4 which is part of the Martin “Performing Artist” series developed to compete directly with Taylor … mine is a full-sized cutaway dreadnought with Fishman pickup. I’m like you and not likely to see a D-28 of my own anytime soon. I did, however have the pleasure of playing a vintage 1952 D-28 this past summer and it was wonderful. It was valued at $14,000 !!! At “only” $1,100, the DCPA4 fit my budget and I’m loving it!

  4. Rick Nick says:

    I’ve been addicted to guitars since the age of 10 and I’m now 49
    My evolution of acquiring guitars has taken literally years and each guitar at the time served
    ifs purpose.
    Age 10 : a hand me down Regal. Which never stayed in tune
    Stopped playing till age of 18 when I borrowed my brothers 1979 Yamaha
    Dang!! Hooked. He wanted $300 I could only afford $100
    I went to the pawn shop and bought a Hondo dreadnought, served the purpose for several years
    Gave it to my nephew and bought a $300 Hohner dreanought. Curly maple it sounded better
    than the Hondo and looked cool
    2-3 years in 1999 later I shopped again and put my hands on a Martin D2R
    Crap!! Sold the Hohner and swore this would be it for all time and payed $850 for the
    Martin. Was good till about 2 years ago and put my hand on a D28. Thought it
    never to be cause it’s like $2500 bucks. Said to myself that my playing wasn’t up to the D28, but just couldn’t justify it. Anyway got lucky and found a vintage Weymann guitar
    that I had a guitar fix the bridge and found it was worth way more than I invested in it

    Uh oh. Did I just find a way to get the D28. Time will tell

    After a lot of research and attempts to sell it locally I finally found a vintage shop that made
    me an ” offer I couldn’t refuse”.

    They had a slightly used Martin D28 we could deal on

    The clouds parted and the sun showed down upon in my opinion the best well rounded guitar
    I could ever hope to own, it sounds great on everything I play and is effortless to get good sound from

    I’ve tried the Taylor, Gibson, Guild, Yamaha, Breedlove, and the Martin has the tone, playability, and history I know will always last. USA Made!!

    If it’s good enough for Johnny, Hank, Elvis, John, Paul, Jim Croce, etc. it’s good enough for
    A couch picker like me. I’m. Done searching. ……………. Unless of course I get a chance to
    play a D45. 🙂

    • Judson says:

      Rick … congratulations! Your story certainly sounds familiar. Since I wrote this blog entry a few years ago, I’ve bought two Martin’s myself. I now own a nice new D-18. I also took a pilgrimage with my son to the Martin factory in Nazareth, PA last summer. What an experience that was!! Keep on pickin’, the clocks tickin’ … Judson

  5. Todd says:

    I really know how you feel 37yrs ago when I was 18 I bought a martin d-28 since that was the kind my uncle had. I still have it and it is mint shape and the sound is out of this world, and I was at a concert in 2009 and got GEORGE JONES to sign it 🙂

    • Judson says:

      Thanks for stopping by Todd! A D-28 is certainly a “lifetime” guitar and what a treat to get one when you’re young enough to enjoy it your who;e life … and the association with George Jones makes it that much better …

  6. Jack Leebron says:

    When I was in the Army I had an old mahogany Gibson. I loved it, but one day I went to pick it up from being pawned (every third week I hocked it until pay day for drinking money). There was a Martin hanging in the window that had a big crack in it, and the bridge had match sticks to hold the strings up. I asked the guy to trade, and he said I could have it for $50 plus my Gibson. He let me keep my case. After Vietnam, I took it to a luthier recommended by Martin in Oklahoma City. He fixed it for me, shaved the struts and rearranged them they way Martin does now, and I still have it. It’s a 00018, but sounds much bigger. The serial number puts it at 1965. Today, I’m looking at D-28s and I figure I will own one before the week is over. It’s something you just can’t get out of your system once you hear and even more so, play one. A friend in highschool had one. I still lust after that one.

  7. Melanie says:

    Having a Seagull S6 that I really do enjoy playing, I still completely understand your Martin love! I spent the last week at various stores trying different high-end guitars ranging from 1,000k – 10,000k, curious to see what money will get you, and looking for the sweetest guitar sound available – just for fun, and with no intention of making an extravagant purchase. But, I fell completely in love with the Martin D-28 – for me, there was no comparison. After spending several nights dreaming about it, and whole afternoons spent strumming and singing over the floor model – no longer even pretending to look at other guitar models, I threw down the credit card and informed the lucky sales clerk that I was walking out with it. No regrets! It has the most beautiful sound, like a harp when I pluck the strings, and heaven when I strum it. I hope to keep this guitar for the rest of my life as the tone only gets richer with age.

    • Judson says:

      Hi Melanie … I know exactly what you mean. I finally got my Martin good while back, but I still spend a lot of time in shops just test-driving other models. I even made a pilgrimage to the Martin factory in Nazareth, PA to watch them being made. Cheers and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Brad says:

    Do you have to buy a new Martin when you buy one? There are some excellent deals on DR’s which are American made. I saw one just the other day in top condition for 600 bucks. That was with a martin case as well. Ive also came across many D-1 and OM-1 models in the 650 range used. What benefits these fine little guitars is they aren’t offered anymore and talk about bargain.. they sound excellent. I also seen a stores demo model 000-15m for 825. That’s an absolute steal. It’s not a beautiful guitar, but the tone and quality are top shelf. The feel and playability were that of its bigger more expensive brothers and while it has been played.. it’s never actually left this Martin dealership. I was lucky enough to have an 000-28 left to me through my grandfather, but recently I fell in love with the Sustainable wood OM or SWOMGT. Something about that cherry back and sides clicked in my guitar mind. Plus it offered a nice way to give my family heirloom 28 series a rest at times while never losing great tone. I was ready to fork out the 1899 until I found a man selling a mint condition swomgt for 1,100. Sometimes we have to buy used to get classic american mare martins in our hands. But nothing wrong with it. Some of the best guitars in music history were exchanged and purchased 2nd hand.

  9. joe says:

    HI Judson,
    I’m not sure its stretch to call Seagull a Canadian Martin.
    They are a very nice guitar.

    Thanks for the teiring of the Martins – I won’t be seeing the D41 😉

    • Judson says:

      Hi Joe … I agree on the Seagull. Even though I’ve now acquired two Martin’s since I wrote this blog entry, I still have my Seagull!

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