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Martin’s “12-Fret” 000-42

This 1921 Martin 000-42 bearing serial number 15947 projects with excellent volume. It’s very responsive and renders beautiful tone – prime for fingerpicking.

This 1921 Martin 000-42 bearing serial number 15947 projects with excellent volume. It’s very responsive and renders beautiful tone – prime for fingerpicking.

Martin has never been a stranger to producing certain guitars in very limited quantities.

But just how rare is the 12-frets-to-the-body 000-42? It has long been held that Martin has done a yeoman’s job of tracking its production through the years (few manufacturers have been so meticulous, especially going back so far), but it has recently become clear that the company’s production totals from its early history can no longer be relied upon as 100 percent accurate.

Those records, as printed in the late Mike Longworth’s book Martin Guitars – A History indicate that 13 of this style were made (two in 1918, five in ’21, four in ’25, and one in 1930). However, there has been a great deal of research since Longworth’s book was first published in 1975. In certain cases, such as the 000-28 koa-bodied guitar (of which Longworth indicated only one), three are known to exist; two of them were recorded as 000-28s with no mention that they were koa. This information was discovered when the guitars surfaced in recent years.

According to Richard Johnston, co-author of the book’s revised edition, Martin’s production totals for the 12-fret 000-42 do not agree the serial-number logs, and there are surviving records of only nine such guitars.

“In going over the same serial number log Mike Longworth was using, I find two listed in 1918, five in 1921, one in ’22, and in 1925 I can’t find any mention of a 000-42,” he said. “There are no additional notes for any of them with the exception of the second one in 1918, which has serial number 13364 and is the model with special pickguard made for Ditson with fan bracing. I’ve read through all entries for the year 1925 three times, and can’t find a hint of any 000-42. But, maybe Mike found something he didn’t write in the log? This period is a mess, with a lot of models sometimes lumped into the same batch. For instance, 22084 through 22098 is described as ’00-42, 00 and 000-45,’ which suggests that 000-42 models could have been included in that same shop order.

“This kind of mismatch between Mike’s totals and the serial number log, which he compiled, is not unusual,” Johnston added. “Serial number 41802 is listed as a single-order 000-42 stamped March 13. Also, 1930 is an absolute mess, listing new and old style tenors, plectrums, OMs – including Deluxes – banjo pegs versus standard gears, ‘#25’ models, and every variation of older standard models imaginable as Martin struggled to find its way in the transition to longer necks along with bigger bodies for four-string models. That lone 000-42 is months before the first of the only two OM-42 models listed later that year.”

As is typical of Martin guitars made from 1898 through late 1930, this guitar has a serial number stamp on the neck block, but no style-designation stamp. It clearly conforms to the 000 size, with a 15″-wide body and style 42 construction and ornamentation, with abalone top trim and soundhole rosette, white/grained ivoroid bindings on the ebony fingerboard and top and back edges of the body, spruce top, Brazilian rosewood back and sides, and mahogany neck.

At the time this instrument was made, the 000 was the largest body size listed in Martin’s catalog, however, as early as 1916, the company had started to produce 12-fret dreadnought guitars for distribution by the Oliver Ditson company. As befits the body size of the 000, this guitar has a 25.4″ scale whereas the far more numerous smaller body 0- and 00-size instruments produced in the ’20s had a 24.9″ scale.

The white-grained ivoroid pickguard is original. Martin did not offer pickguards as a standard feature on guitars prior to late 1929, but they produced mandolins with pickguards as early as 1896 and pickguards were available as an option on guitars by the early 1900s. The earliest Martin mandolin guards and some of their early guitar guards such as this one were inlaid into the top rather than glued to the surface.

The vast majority of guitars made by Martin in 1921 were still braced and designed for use with gut strings, but most players at that time who purchased Martin guitars for classical style playing preferred the smaller 0 and 00 size instruments, which they felt responded better to the low tension of gut strings. The 000 size, in the opinion of most players, is better suited to steel strings, and sales of 000 models were slow until Martin switched a majority of its production to steel strings a few years later.

Though a high percentage of Martins survive today (especially the higher-grade models, which were particularly well-cared-for by their owners), and those produced in such low quantities are particularly well-documented, to our knowledge only one other 12-fret 000-42 has surfaced.

This article originally appeared in VG August 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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