Pick Guards on C. F. Martin Guitars
The finer early Martin mandolins had elaborate pick guards of real
tortoise shell which were inlaid into the tops of the instruments, as was
common on fine 19th century mandolins.
C. F. Martin Style 5 mandolin from 1899
Martin guitars did not come standard with pick guards until late 1929,
however, Martin occasionally put pick guards on their guitars on special
As with the mandolins, the guards on early Martin guitars were
often inlaid into the top.
This 000-42 was a special ordered from the Ditson Company in 1918 with a
cloud shaped guard inlaid into the top.
This 1924 Ditson 111 also had a custom guard inlaid into the top.
The pickguard was formally introduced on the OM-28 in a small form that is
traditionally referred to as the "teardrop" pickguard.
The reddish guard with large swirls on this OM-28 is one of several
styles appearing from 1929 to 1939.
The early OM-18, OM-18P, and 0-18T had a deep blood red pickguard that is
distinctly different from the more figured guard Martin was using at the
time on the OM-28.
The Martin OM-18, 18P, and OM-28 were joined in 1930 by the OM-45 and
OM-45 DeLuxe. The DeLuxe is the only catalogued vintage Martin to
sport an inlaid pickguard, reminiscent of the early mandolins. This
was the fanciest and most expensive production Martin guitar ever, and no
more than a dozen examples of this model were made in the short time
before the model was discontinued.
The 1930 Martin OM-28 and OM-45 DeLuxe
1930 Martin OM-45 DeLuxe
A number of Martins from 1928 and 1929 have what appear to be original
pickguards, as well as belly bridges, a style of bridge that was not
introduced until 1930. These guitars remained unsold at the factory,
with serial numbers, but unfinished, or "in the white", due to the
financial hardship of the Great Depression. So Martin "improved"
these instruments before they left the factory by adding the latest
features. Martin also requested that dealers return unsold guitars
to Martin to be upgraded, perhaps one of the earliest examples of a
Another shade of pickguard, used concurrently, was the brownish guard, as
seen on this tenor guitar, which appeared in lighter and darker versions.
At about the same time as Martin formally introduced the pickguard as
standard, other forms of the pickguards appeared on Martin guitars made
for other companies on special order, including the 0-17S, a spruce top
variation of the 0-17 made for the Montgomery Wards Stores.
1930 Montgomery Wards 0-17S
The larger form of the standard Martin pickguard was introduced in 1933.
While somewhat similarly shaped pickguards are referred to as "teardrop
pickguards" on Gibson guitars, traditionally, only the smaller early form
has been referred to as the "teardrop" on Martin guitars. In recent
years, the term has been used more frequently to refer to the larger
Martin guards as well.
Here's a larger guard in the lighter, more reddish style which appeared
from 1929 to 1939.
These darker brown guards were also used from 1929 through mid-1939.
This 1937 has a lighter brown pickguard with clearer windows.
In mid-1939, this reddish guard with swirls appeared. These look
suspiciously like Martin pickguards from the 1960's, which leads many
people to mistakenly assume these to be '60's era replacements, but they
were made in 1939 and 1940.
From 1942 to about 1945, a distinct dark brown guard with small clear
This was followed by a period of various darker, brownish red pickguards
with more consistent swirls.
In the early 1950's, when bluegrass was taking hold, and the danger of
pickwear from flatpicks was a concern, Martin built guitars with larger
pickguards on request.
It's interesting that this early to mid-40's style dark brown, small
window pickguard reappears at the same time Martin returned for a short
period to red spruce. Perhaps Martin felt the reddish guard suited
the reddish tone of Sitka Spruce better than it suited the paler,
yellower, red spruce. Perhaps the always thrifty Martins were simply
using up old stock in this transitional period. Or perhaps there's
some truth in both ideas.
A distinct close grain pattern with a bright, orange tone appeared in 1956
and 1957. Always paying attention to detail, on this guitar it's
paired with an attractive lighter, blonder tortoise binding.
From the late 1950's through 1966, Martin pickguards had large
swirl patterns and a distinctly reddish tone.
In the beginning of 1967, black acetate pickguards replaced the
tortoise pattern nitrate based guards, although some tortoise guards still
show up occasionally after this date.
With the introduction of the M-38 in 1977, Martin began using tortoise
pattern guards once again.
In 1984, Martin discontinued the practice of applying finish over a
pickguard which was glued directly to the top with lacquer finish used as
The pickguard attached directly to the top was responsible for the famous
"Martin pickguard crack" which appeared when the pickguard material shrunk
at a faster rate than the spruce top.
The newest style Martin guards are a self-adhesive type, supplied with
adhesive material on the back of the guard.
Increasingly, Martin has used guards with a visible dot screen
tortoise pattern printed on the rear side of an acetate guard.
To See Robert Corwin's Classic Photography of Folk and
Roots Musicians, visit:
For Information on
entire site copyright ©1998 through
2017 Robert Corwin/Photo-Arts. All rights reserved.
Exhibition, Publication, CD's,
Promotion, Web Pages, Tour Books,
to Purchase Photographic
If You Have Questions or
Suggestions About This Web Site or Vintage Martin Guitars: