Hey there and welcome friends! We're about to embark on a journey through Martin's storied history. The incredibly knowledgeable Jason Ahner, who manages our Museum and Archives, is going to take you through some really cool artifacts. You'll get to see the very first Martin Guitar ever made, and even catch a glimpse of the guitar that Kurt Cobain strummed on MTV Unplugged. There's so much to see and explore, we're stoked you're here! Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Lobby near factory entrance

Hank Williams 1947 D-18 – Hiram “Hank” Williams is as synonymous with country music as the guitar itself. In a career that spanned less than a decade, he wrote some of the most memorable country songs of all time and influenced countless other musicians. Hank was very fond of Martin guitars and owned several of them. This D-18 was purchased by Hank in 1947 from Art’s Music Shop in Montgomery, Alabama. The guitar was featured in at least one of Hank’s promotional photos. Hank ended up giving the guitar to his bandmate Curley Williams, who used it for several decades. The guitar eventually sold at Christie’s “Country Music Sale” auction, where Martin Guitar acquired it.

Case C 1888-1929

1931 D-28 – After the Ditson Co. folded in 1931, C. F. Martin & Co. had to figure out what to do with the last of the special line of guitars they had been building for their once largest customer. Very few Dreadnoughts were built for Ditson, but the company still thought these large guitars should have a place in their line. After initially building the D-1 and D-2 exclusively for the Chicago Musical Instrument Co., Martin decided to give all their dealers a shot at selling Dreadnought models, so the D-18 and D-28 were introduced. This example is the very first D-28 to be built and definitely would not be the last, as the D-28 would go on to be the guitar of choice for countless guitarists for generations to come.

1927 2-17 – Introduced in 1922, the 2-17 was Martin Guitar’s first model that was offered with steel strings only. Up to this point, the company offered its models with the option of gut or steel strings. The 2-17 was a step in a new direction for the company, and it came at the perfect time. The rush for steel strings was beginning, and by the end of the 1920s, steel would replace gut as the string of choice on the company’s guitars. The 2-17 was also important because it was the company’s lowest priced model. During the first years of the Great Depression, it represented about 15% of the company’s guitar output. 

1997 000-45 Jimmie Rodgers – Jimmie Rodgers was one of America’s favorite entertainers from the late 1920s up until his death in 1933. The “Father of Country Music” inspired countless performers by blending several musical styles he learned from traveling between Meridian, Mississippi, and New Orleans as a railroad brakeman. Originally, Rodgers played a 00-18, but in 1928 when royalties started rolling in from his record sales, he ordered a 000-45 Special from Martin Guitar with his name inlaid on the fingerboard. Released in 1997, the 000-45 Jimmie Rodgers paid tribute to a founder of one of today’s most popular genres of music. 

1901 00-42S – Before there were Style 45 Martin guitars, Style 42 was the highest appointment level the company offered. While typically these models featured a pearl-bordered top and pearl fingerboard inlay, they did not have any pearl inlay on the headplate or on the back and sides of the body. The 00-42S changed all this and included pearl on all the areas that Style 45 guitars would have when they were first cataloged in 1904. In addition to the standard snowflake fingerboard inlay pattern found on Style 42 guitars, the 00-42S featured a vine pattern inlay that ran the entire length of the fingerboard and on the top of the body and featured a pearl-inlaid, mandolin-style pickguard. 

Case D 1930-1945

1942 D-45 – The D-45 holds a special place in many guitar players’ hearts and is thought of by many as the pinnacle of what an acoustic guitar should be. With only 91 examples being built before the model was discontinued soon after the United States’ involvement in World War II, a pre-war D-45 is arguably the most collectible acoustic guitar ever built. The limited quantity, along with the fact that these guitars produce amazing volume and tone, results in sales prices well into six figures whenever one comes to market. The model that lives in the Martin Museum, often referred to as the holy grail of acoustic guitars, is number 80 out of the 91. It exhibits all of the great qualities that are so coveted in these guitars.

James Taylor 1937 D-18 – 1937 is an extremely good year as far as vintage Martin guitars go. In addition to guitar collectors wanting a 1937 as part of their collections, musicians know how great Martin guitars from this year sound. This 1937 D-18 was used by James Taylor for two years as his touring guitar. It has all of the great attributes a 1937 D-18 is known for, which include being loud with a dry bass response and clear treble.

1929 Ditson 111 – Before the D-18 and D-28 rode onto the music scene in 1931, there was the Ditson 111, the world’s first Dreadnought guitar. The design was born out of Martin’s partnership with the Ditson Company, a major instrument dealer and music publisher in the early 20th century. The 111 was inspired by an extra-large guitar that Ditson built for the Hawaiian virtuoso musician Mekia Kealakai in early 1916. Kealakai’s guitar looked more like an enlarged 000 with a narrow waist. Martin had already been building a line of wide-waisted guitars and ukuleles for Ditson, and the company stuck with that aesthetic when building the Dreadnought. The Ditson 111 had an awe-inspiring size that made Martin’s leader at the time, Frank Henry Martin, think of the H.M.S. Dreadnought class of British warships that had dominated the seas since their inception a decade earlier. The name Dreadnought was borrowed for the guitar that would go on to be the most copied and widely recognized acoustic guitar design in the world.

1930 OM-45 De Luxe – The years of the Great Depression were tough sledding for all businesses, and Martin Guitar was not excluded from this. Even though sales were sluggish, the company found a way to sell 11 OM-45 De Luxe models in 1930. With a retail price of $225, which was $45 more than the standard OM-45, the OM-45 De Luxe was a real head-turner. Featuring extra pearl inlay on the pickguard, bridge wings, and bridge pins, the OM-45 De Luxe is now one of the rarest and most collectible acoustic guitars ever built.

1937 D-28 – When Martin Guitar decided to change their Dreadnought models to the slimmer, longer 14-fret neck in 1934, the standard was set for the flat-top, steel-string acoustic guitar. At the time, it seemed like every country musician began playing one, as evidenced in the vintage postage postcard collection of these musicians in the Martin Archives. D-18s were a popular choice, but for most guitarists, the D-28 was the model to have. The D-28 models were all great, but there was something extra special about models built in 1937. Maybe the stars aligned perfectly when these guitars were built, but their tone is second to none, and, if volume was what you were looking for, you couldn’t find a better guitar.  

Case G 1964-1985

Joan Baez 1880 0-40 – Joan Baez has been a focal point of folk music and activism since the late 1950s. When performing, she has always preferred small-bodied Martin guitars. Baez acquired the guitar from a University of California, Berkeley, student she met in 1966. According to the former owner, Baez traded two guitars for the Martin after she played it and was amazed by its tone. After Baez acquired the guitar, she used it extensively while touring, and it can be seen on album covers and press photos. Eventually, she returned the guitar to its former owner in 1968, who then auctioned it through Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia, and Martin Guitar acquired it from them in 2015.

Judy Collins 1971 D12-35 – Earlier in her career, Judy Collins was very fond of the D-18. In fact, she even played one at the open house for Martin’s new Sycamore Street factory when it opened in 1964. Eventually, her focus shifted toward Martin 12-string models, mostly the D12-35, and this model became the guitar she was most associated with. When Martin decided to honor Collins with her own signature edition models, it was both 6- and 12-string Style 35 Dreadnoughts they chose. This model was owned by Collins for nearly 40 years before Martin Guitar acquired it for their museum collection.

Case H 1986-2005

Kurt Cobain 1953 D-18 – Before Nirvana hit it big, Kurt Cobain was a struggling musician who befriended Mary Lou Lord, a Salem, Massachusetts, indie-folk artist. Seeing that Kurt didn’t have much money and that he needed an acoustic guitar for Nirvana’s upcoming tour to support their album Nevermind, Mary Lou let Kurt have her 1953 D-18 that they both affectionately referred to as "Grandpa." She knew Kurt loved the guitar as much as she did, and, at the time, he needed it more than she did. Eventually Grandpa was returned to Mary Lou, but Kurt’s love of Martin D-18s didn’t end there. He went on to purchase a 1959 D-18E that was used on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special.

Case I Veterans Memorial

John DeGrote 1933 OM-45 – Only 40 OM-45s were built from the time they were introduced in 1930 until they were discontinued in 1933. The low production total makes any pre-war OM-45 very rare, but this guitar has an extraordinary story to go with it. John DeGrote purchased this OM-45 in 1933 and took it with him when he served in the United States Army. Eventually, DeGrote landed at Normandy Beach with his OM-45 and traveled all over Europe with it in his radio dispatch truck during WWII.

Case L Country Music

Waylon Jennings 1946 D-28 – With a career that spanned six decades, Waylon Jennings was one of country music’s most popular and influential artists. In his early days, he performed in shows as the bass player for Buddy Holly, and in the 1970s, he was a key component in the outlaw country movement. While Waylon owned numerous guitars, this D-28 was his main songwriting guitar at home and on the road. It is a transitional era guitar in that it blends the most well-known element of a pre-war D-28—the herringbone top inlay with the dot fingerboard—that had been featured on Standard Series D-28 models since the year his was built. Much like his guitar, Waylon Jennings was a transitional musician blending traditional country music with outside influences to create a whole new sound.

D-42 Johnny Cash – Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black,” said he “felt safe with a Martin.” Throughout his illustrious career, Johnny owned and played many guitars built by C. F. Martin & Co. In 1997, Martin Guitar honored him with a signature edition model, the D-42 Johnny Cash. Finished in black lacquer with 42-style inlay, the results were stunning. When Johnny was playing on stage with his personal model from the edition, he fell and the guitar was damaged. While his guitar was being repaired, Martin Guitar loaned him this guitar from our collection until the repairs on his guitar were finished.