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Dreadnought Story

Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

Now, as the company approaches the next century, after nearly 70 years of constant production, the Martin Dreadnought guitar is available in the standard production models, in an assortment of vintage inspired recreations, in the newly patented, economically priced "X Series" and "16 Series" models, in the occasional "Limited Edition," or even as a customized "dream guitar."

The Limited Edition Dreadnoughts have taken a variety of forms. Martin has released historically accurate reproductions of mid–’30s D–28s– complete with "high X–braces," Brazilian rosewood, V–shaped neck, tortoiseshell colored pickguard, "ivoroid" binding, and all the other features found on a normal HD–28. The company also has experimented with materials new to them, like maple, as in the Limited Edition D–62.

Other one–time offerings have included a relatively inexpensive koa Dreadnought, followed soon after by a string of the fanciest Martin Dreadnoughts ever seen. The 1987 D–45LE with a price tag of $7,500 was designed by C. F. Martin IV, current Chairman and CEO of the company. This model set the stage for future D–45 Deluxe models, including two C. F. Martin, Sr. Commemorative 1996 editions which featured pearl borders nearly everywhere, specially selected rosewood, period inlays, and gold tuning machines. In 1994, Martin issued a recreation of Gene Autry’s famous 12–fret D–45 which bore a retail price of $23,000. A 1996 collaboration with "MTV Unplugged" yielded a highly unusual Dreadnought that mixed both rosewood and mahogany tonewoods with MTV conceived inlay patterns.

One drawback of some Limited Edition instruments is that at times they are available on such a limited basis that potential customers aren’t even aware of their existence until it’s too late.

At the same time, a customer has the ultimate freedom of designing his or her own "limited edition" guitar. Martin’s customized Dreadnoughts are not really a new option–in 1934, singer Tex Fletcher special–ordered the only D–42 ever made, a left–handed instrument. But since 1983, Martin has solicited custom work on a regular basis.

With all these options, and the quickly changing Martin offerings, this is an exciting and occasionally confusing time for Martin fans. But like quality automobiles and fine pianos, Martin Dreadnoughts, new and old, continue to command considerable respect, and likely will for many years to come.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dreadnought Story
Chapter 2: From the Beginning
Chapter 3: The First D-45
Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s
Chapter 5: The Tumultuous Mid-`60s
Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom
Chapter 7: Other Models
Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

Chapter 7: Other Models

As a result of the phenomenal growth in acoustic guitar sales during this period and the subsequent slowdown, the Martin Company began an aggressive research and development phase which brought no fewer than nine new Dreadnought models into production by 1980. It’s difficult to single out one model for consideration, but the HD–28 represented an interesting glimpse back, while all of the rest were new ideas.

Introduced in 1976, the HD–28 was a conscious effort to remake a guitar from the past–the prewar herringbone D–28. Like the early Dreadnoughts, it featured scalloped top braces, a small maple bridge plate, and herringbone marquetry around the top. This bow to the past has proven to be a very popular model. After the success of the HD–28, the HD–35 (a D–35 with scalloped braces, maple bridge plate, and herringbone trim) was introduced in 1978.

A singular effort was the Bicentennial commemorative D–76, featuring a three–piece back, style 28 body trim, pearl stars in the fingerboard, a pearl eagle in the peghead, and two herringbone back strips. It had a limited production of 1,976 guitars (plus an additional 98 employee instruments). The D–76, which began production in 1975, was not a hot seller; it didn’t sell out until 1978.

Yet another eye–catching series of guitars was produced, made out of Hawaiian koa wood. This was not the first time the Martin Company used this tropical hardwood, but these were the first Dreadnoughts using koa. Two basic styles came in two optional models each. The D–25K had a spruce top, two–piece koa back and sides, rosewood fretboard and bridge, and black binding; the optional koa top changed the designation to D–25K2. The D–37K came with figured two–piece koa back and sides, spruce top, ebony fretboard and bridge, white binding, and fancier inlay; the koa top option was the D–37K2.

Two other instruments were introduced to fit between the D–18 and the D–28. The D–19 was a D–18 with a stained top (brown to match the sides and back). It was followed by the D–19M which was a D–18 with a mahogany top.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dreadnought Story
Chapter 2: From the Beginning
Chapter 3: The First D-45
Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s
Chapter 5: The Tumultuous Mid-`60s
Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom
Chapter 7: Other Models
Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

Chapter 5: The tumultuous Mid-`60s

After the introduction of the D–35, Martin was faced with a dwindling supply of Brazilian rosewood and a quickly growing guitar market – folk music was booming. The newly imported Indian rosewood required more seasoning before it could be used. Consequently, Martin began cutting their remaining Brazilian rosewood logs differently to obtain more usable wood out of each log. By late 1969, the change to Indian rosewood was complete, with D–21 #254498 having the distinction of being the first official Indian rosewood guitar.

The changes didn’t stop there. Other familiar features disappeared as well. In 1967 the tortoiseshell–colored, nitrate–base plastic, which was used as body binding on D–18s, D–21s, and for pickguards on all Dreadnoughts, was replaced with a black, acetate–base plastic that was a considerably more stable material to use and store. The familiar ivory–colored (ivoroid) binding on D–28s and D–35s similarly was replaced with a newer, more stable material called Boltaron®.

Another change (albeit inadvertent) was the rounding of the top edges of the mid–’60s Martin pegheads. According to Longworth, who heard the story directly from C. F. Martin III, the original wood peghead template had become so worn from use that the square corners became rounded. Eventually a new metal template was made, and the peghead edges once again were square.

A more serious change occurred on April 9, 1968. On that date the Martin Company began using rosewood instead of maple for the bridge plate, the small piece of reinforcing wood glued to the inside surface of the top, directly under the bridge. Martin also enlarged the bridge plate.

As in the case of heavier braces two decades earlier, the problem of structural stability had been raised. To Martin, a larger, heavier bridge plate seemed to be the answer. If one had to point to a single, indisputable, qualifiable difference between Martin guitars made before and after this period, it would not be in the types of rosewood used in the bodies, the color of the plastics, the shape of the peghead, or any number of other visible components, but rather a seemingly innocuous piece of wood inside the guitar.

It is interesting to note that during the mid–1980s, Martin began to restore many of the vintage "pre–war" features to its entire line, including scalloped braces and smaller maple bridgeplates.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dreadnought Story
Chapter 2: From the Beginning
Chapter 3: The First D-45
Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s
Chapter 5: The Tumultuous Mid-`60s
Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom
Chapter 7: Other Models
Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom

The late 1960s may have witnessed the end of one era for the Martin Company, but their last few products of that decade ushered in the ensuing "high production `70s" with a surprise. In 1968, after 26 years, the famous D-45 surfaced again. Martin Historian Mike Longworth deserves more than a little credit for reintroducing this product.

When Longworth went to work for the Martin Company, he brought with him the knowledge of how to do the pearl work necessary for the fanciest production Martin guitar. Working on his own, Longworth actually "converted" several D-28s by retrofitting them with all of the pearl bordering found on the old D-45s. This was no attempt to deceive, but flattery of the highest regard. 230 D-45s were made with Brazilian rosewood in the late `60s before the switch to Indian rosewood.

A totally new model was introduced in 1969 to fill the gap between the D-35 and the new D-45: the D-41. This instrument featured pearl borders around the top only, as opposed to the all-encompassing borders on the more expensive D-45. Thirty-one D-41s, starting with #252014, were made with Brazilian rosewood; all the rest are constructed of Indian rosewood.

With the tremendous interest in acoustic guitars in the early 1970s (which coincided exactly with the new "soft-rock" era of James Taylor, Loggins & Messina, and Seals & Crofts), the Martin company increased production to an unprecedented rate. As a comparison, in 1961 the company made 507 D-28s; in 1971 the total was 5,466. The company offered five different Dreadnoughts (as well as numerous smaller-sized guitars) to a market that seemed to grow every month.

To meet the ever-increasing demand, Martin chose to build up its staff rather than change production procedures, which still primarily required hand work. Martin reached its peak production in 1971, but didn't hit its peak Dreadnought production years until 1974 and 1975. Over 30,000 Dreadnoughts were produced in this two year period. (1974: 3,811 D-18s; 5077 D-28s; 6,184 D-35s; 506 D-41s; 157 D-45s. 1975: 3,069 D-18s; 4,996 D-28s; 6,260 D-35s; 452 D-41s; and 192 D-45s [does not include "S" models].)

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dreadnought Story
Chapter 2: From the Beginning
Chapter 3: The First D-45
Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s
Chapter 5: The Tumultuous Mid-`60s
Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom
Chapter 7: Other Models
Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s

Following this rather active period of development (1931–1947), the D–18 and D–28 remained virtually un–changed for the next 20 years. There were other changes, however, which produced a pair of new Dreadnoughts and the reissue of a third.

In 1954, the Martin Company again started building Dreadnoughts with the elongated body and 12–fret neck, on a very limited basis. Designated with an "S" after the model number, the first few D–28S guitars were strictly special products.

The E. U. Wurlitzer Music Company of Boston ordered a few of these S–body guitars in 1962 to be sold only through their stores. The resulting D–28S proved to be popular enough that, in 1968, Martin added it (and the D–18S and D–35S) to its regular line. Versions of all three models are featured in the Martin "Vintage Series." According to Longworth, the factory has always given credit to Peter Yarrow (of the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary) for popularizing the D–28S.

In 1956, a new rosewood–bodied Dreadnought, the D–21, made its first public appearance (six samples had been built in 1955). The D–21, like the D–18 and the D–28, was the Dreadnought version of an existing model (style 21).

The D–21 had the same rosewood body as a D–28, but in other features was more like a D–18: tortoiseshell–colored body binding and a rosewood fretboard and bridge.

Until the mid–’60s, Martin had always purchased rosewood in log (or "timber") form in Brazil. The wood was then resawn in the U.S. to Martin’s specifications. The Brazilian government placed an embargo on timber shipments, demanding instead that the logs be resawn in Brazil. This situation proved completely unsatisfactory for the Martin Company, and it began importing rosewood from India.

The effects of Martin’s decision to change to Indian rosewood occurred in stages. First, in 1965, was the introduction of a Dreadnought which allowed Martin to utilize a narrower section of wood than normally used in a D–size guitar: the three–piece back D–35. It was a brand new style, complete with fancier celluloid trim around the body, and binding on the sides of the fretboard. Unlike the D–21, the D–35 was a major success.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dreadnought Story
Chapter 2: From the Beginning
Chapter 3: The First D-45
Chapter 4: Mid-`40s to the Mid-`60s
Chapter 5: The Tumultuous Mid-`60s
Chapter 6: The Big Guitar Boom
Chapter 7: Other Models
Chapter 8: Approaching 2000 & Beyond

 
 
 
 
 
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