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20th Century Guitar
Rara Avis -- Martin Dreadnoughts D-18, D-28 and D-45

Dec 1999
by Bianca Soros



Link to 20th Century Guitar Magazine

he dreadnought guitar with its large body came into demand beginning in the 1930s as a result of the growing popularity of bluegrass, country and folk music, which required a large-bodied guitar with a full, resonant sound. These guitars were built during the tough times of the Depression era and became a success for Martin beginning in 1940. Today, the Martin dreadnought guitar has set the standard for other flattops and has become the most popular instrument among musicians because of its strong bass, punch and staying power, well-suited for radio, stage and recording. Other guitar makers have naturally copied the dreadnought shape because of its tremendous popularity, although Martin is still the most respected maker of dreadnoughts. The guitar got its name from the large class of battleships dubbed, "Dread not".

    The reason why the old Martin dreadnoughts have a great vintage sound is because of the woods that Martin used as well as the hide glue used in the construction of their guitars. Martin chose to cut the woods to optimize stability, resonance and the sound of their instruments. Martin had woods curing for years in their attic before it was cut and made into the guitars that would become some of the most collectible instruments of today.

    All three guitars pictured here were made in 1940 by Martin before the U.S. entered WWII. With the anticipation of the war, Martin chose to be conservative with the models they would offer. These guitars were constructed during the Golden Era of Martin productions, which spanned the years of 1929 to 1945.

    The D-18 and D-28 models were offered to the public in 1934; the D-45 model was introduced a few years later in 1938. The 12-fret dreadnought was first developed around 1916 while the 14-fret dreadnought was developed in 1934. Martin had been in the business of producing gut-string, X-braced Spanish style guitars prior to the Golden Era. The Martin Gut-stringed guitars did not compare to traditional Spanish style instruments publicly favored by Andres Segovia upon his U.S. tour in 1928. In 1928, Martin had the good sense to change their production from gut to steel to keep up with the growing demand of steel string guitars being built by Larson, Gibson and Epiphone.

    The D-18 is the plainest dreadnought Martin offered with mahogany back and sides and simple binding. It listed for $65 and 4,254 were made during the Golden Era. The D-28 was a bit fancier, made with Rosewood back and sides, herringbone trim and white celluloid binding. It listed for $100 and 1,646 were made during the Golden Era. The fancy D-45 was the top-of-the-line model ordained in abalone and pearl. It was made of rosewood and retailed for $200. Only 91 were made during the Golden Era.

   The best advertising for Martin came from musicians such as Gene Autry, Jackie "Kid" More and Red Foley.End

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