Knock on Wood
Wood on C. F. Martin Guitars
It appears that the first guitars made by C.F. Martin after coming to New
York in the 1830's may have been made with tops of Alpine Spruce from
Early Martin Stauffer Style Guitar
1837 Martin Hudson Street Guitar
Most vintage Martin guitars are built with tops made with Spruce which is
often referred to as "Adirondack" as it was generally sourced from the
Adirondack region of the Eastern US, mostly from suppliers in Vermont, but
more properly named "red spruce".
"Red spruce" is actually quite white, but the shellac used for finish
until the late 1920's can give them a more or less orange appearance,
depending on the color of the shellac, which can range from light to deep
1840's Alternate X Brace Spanish Style Martin
Without the orange tone often imparted by shellac, red spruce is generally
pale and even in color, in addition to having a uniform, even, straight
Martin 1840's Spanish Guitar
1850's Martin Ivory Fingerboard Stauffer Headstock Guitar
The top wood seen on the highest grade Martins can be extremely pale and
even, leading us to think that Martin might have used the light toned
European spruce for their better quality guitars.
This wood can be confused with German spruce which has a similar pace
appearance, however "German Spruce" is in fact a variety of spruce grown
It is generally believed that German spruce was used for the pearl inlaid
Martins produced after their revival in the 1960's.
Martin Style 42
While Sitka Spruce is thought to have been used for Martin tops only after
WWII, Martin broke briefly with tradition in experimenting with
Sitka Spruce, known at the time
as "Airplane Spruce", for the tops of some guitars in 1919, when Western
Spruce was being harvested for the construction of WWI airplanes.
Sitka can often be distinguished by darker, reddish grain lines, a less
even appearance, and prominent resin canals which cross the grain of the
1919 Martin 0-45
Red spruce 1930 OM-28
1930 Martin 0-18T
Note the even appearance.
The 1930 Martin OM-28 and OM-45 DeLuxe
Martin Style 42 and 45 guitars are generally known for the
appearance of their pearl, however the selection of a higher grade of
spruce and all other materials is responsible for much
of the cost and attention paid in building the higher priced Martins.
The finest materials of all were reserved for the 45 DeLuxe, which were
only available for a number of months.
1930 Martin OM-45 DeLuxe
1939 Martin D-28
1940 Martin 00-18
Red Spruce can sometimes be distinguished from Sitka by the appearance of
sapwood, which has a lighter appearance. Sapwood could be placed at
the sides of the tops,
but was generally placed at the middle, forming a light colored band in
the center of the top. Sapwood appears on Engelmann and German
Spruce as well, but never on Sitka.
Sapwood is seen most often on Martins from the 1940's, when a greater
number of larger guitars were built. Red spruce trees are extremely
small compared to the giant Sitka,
so it became difficult to find wide enough logs to accommodate 000 and
Dreadnaught guitars without using the sapwood, especially as the supplies
of appropriate red spruce dwindled.
1943 Martin 000-18
1944 Martin D-18
1945 Martin 000-18
In 1946, as supplies of their preferred sources of spruce dried up, and
Martin had used the last smaller pieces to create four piece tops, Martin
began switching to Sitka spruce from the Northwest.
The Sitka used in this first year of 1946 has a distinctive dark brownish
tone, and tends to have the distinctive light swirls in the wood known as
This figure is considered to be desirable as it can make the board stiffer
as well as for it's appearance.
1946 Martin 000-18
1952 Martin 000-18
In 1953 Martin used a batch of Engelmann Spruce which was acquired as
government surplus wood. It is possible that Martin also acquired a
small supply of red spruce which was also used in 1953.
Martin also acquired a supply of red spruce which appears on some Martin
guitars built in 1957.
1953 Martin 0-18
1957 Martin 00-18
1964 Martin 0-18
1966 Martin D-35
In 1922 Martin introduced the 2-17 with a mahogany top as well as back and
sides. The Style 17 line was soon expanded to include single 0
and 00 guitars.
1936 Martin 0-17
An all mahogany Style 15 was added to the Martin line in 1940.
A variety of woods were used for the backs and sides of early Martin
guitars, including Brazilian rosewood, birds's eye and flame maple, and
Most of the higher quality early Martin guitar backs were constructed with
a hardwood veneer over either mahogany or spruce.
Martin Stauffer Style guitar with maple back and sides.
This Martin & Coupa guitar is one of two generally thought to
be unusual early examples made with koa wood.
It is actually made from Goncoa Alves, sometimes referred to as
The back of this guitar is made in two pieces, joined without either
interior or exterior center strip.
By the 1840's, most all Martins were made with solid or veneered rosewood
backs and sides.
1837 Martin Hudson Street Presentation Guitar
The two sides of this guitar are made from one continuous strip of
Martin & Schatz
1850's Martin Ivory Fingerboard Presentation Guitar
1840's or '50's Martin 2-24
1840's or '50's Martin 3-24
1860's Martin 2-27
1840's Martin Presentation Guitar
Martin 1840's 3-16
Mahogany was extremely rare on 19th Century Martin Guitars, appearing
primarily on a small number of Style 3-16.
This early example has beautiful striped mahogany.
Once Frank Henry Martin began tinkering with the product lineup after
the turn of the Century, the Style 17 reappeared as a "budget model"
with mahogany backs and sides in 1906.
Martin's use of wood changed dramatically in 1916 when the Southern
California Music Company provided Koa wood from Hawaii for a new line of
Hawaiian guitars, and this blossomed into a huge number of best selling
Hawaiian Koa wood Martins.
While the Style 18 Martins are generally recognized today by their
mahogany backs and sides, the mahogany backs and sides did not appear on
a Style 18 until Frank Henry expanded the use of mahogany to the Style
18 in 1917, helping Martin to succeed at achieving their goal of
increasing sales, and the less expensive mahogany Martins became the
company's larges sellers by far.
Martin 1920 0-18
Style 28 and higher models have always had ebony fingerboards and
bridges, while lower models began with ebony bridges.
Style 18 Dreadnaughts kept their ebony fingerboards and bridges until
switching to rosewood in 1947.
the smaller models, most Style 18 Martins switched to rosewood
fingerboards and bridges in 1935, but for that year only. After
1935, fingerboards and bridges on Styles 21 and below made a slow
transition from ebony to rosewood lasting into the 1940's.
1931 0-18T with ebony fingerboard and bridge.
1943 000-18 with Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
In July of 1916, with Hawaiian music all the rage, the C. F. Martin Co.
shipped six samples each, of Hawaiian koa wood guitars with appointments
generally similar to Martin's styles 0-18, 0-21, and 00-28,
to the Southern California Music Company of Los
Angeles, a chain of SouthernCalifornia music stores, and one of Martin's
largest accounts. SoCal provided Martin with the koa
wood from Hawaii, and asked that the trim on
these guitars, designed for playing in the
Hawaiian style, be as close as possible to those
of SoCal's popular ukuleles. These early
samples had koa wood back and sides and tinted spruce tops, but after
seeing the samples, SoCal decided to offer all koa guitars, and to
market the three models as the 1350, 1400, and 1500.
The koa on the SoCal Martins varied tremendously, some highly flamed and
some rather plain.
The fancier koa was sometimes but not always used on the higher grade
models, however. The guitar on the right in the photo of
two examples above is the higher grade Model 1500.
In 1965 when the supply of Brazilian rosewood large enough for Dreadnaught
size backs was dwindling, Martin began to produce the D-35 with a three
piece back which used smaller pieces of rosewood which had been cut for
In 1969, Martin switched to East Indian Rosewood with a D-21 with serial
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