This Martin 00-28 is a highly unusual instrument. Made as part of a group of six created with shop-order number 366 (dated 12/14/1944) and bearing serial numbers 90002 through 90007, they were entered on the Martin shop order slip as 00-28G, indicating they were classical guitars designed strictly for gut strings.
There is no indication in the ledger that any had custom features; a ’44 00-28G was a 12-fret slot head classical style neck, 2″ wide at the nut, with a flat/non-radiused fingerboard with no dot position markers (but side dots), Spanish-style fan bracing, no pickguard, and a classical-style bridge with strings that tie on rather than use bridge pins. The model had Martin’s “Orchestra Model” body shape, which was typically used on steel-string guitars with 14-fret necks.
As is typical of a ’44 00-28G, this guitar has an Adirondack spruce top with herringbone edge trim, Brazilian rosewood back, sides, and peghead veneer, mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and bridge, zigzag back-stripe, white ivoroid bindings on the top and back edges of the body, and Martin decal logo on the back of the peghead rather than the front. This guitar, however, deviates from the typical specifications for the G model in having X bracing, an original steel-string style belly bridge, and an original pickguard. It was clearly intended to be played with steel strings.
As is typical of Martin’s work in late ’44, the top braces are non-scalloped; most ’44 Martins have scalloped X bracing, but this practice was discontinued late that year, starting with serial number 89926. Though a few very early 00-28G guitars had X-pattern bracing, by ’44, fan bracing was standard for the G models. There is no evidence this guitar was converted later for steel strings. The neck block on the one you see here is stamped with the serial number and the model number – 00-28 – rather than 00-28G, further indicating it was not made for gut strings. At the time this guitar was made, most custom-order Martin instruments had a model number with an S suffix, indicating “special,” but this guitar does not have any such designation on the neck block. Interestingly enough, it’s remarkably similar in appearance to the limited-edition Norman Blake 000-size guitar on which Blake specified a 000-size body with a 12-fret slothead neck, X bracing, belly bridge, and a pickguard. Though Martin kept extremely good records compared to other guitar manufacturers, research today is revealing numerous Martins that deviate from (or are not included in) the records, though these comprise a very small percentage of total production.
From the time C.F. Martin, Sr. started making guitars in New York City in the 1830s until the early 1920s, with the exception of a very small number of special-order instruments, virtually all Martin guitars were designed for use with gut strings. The company targeted its marketing and endorsement efforts to classical players rather than folk or traditional players. There was a very active classical guitar scene in America, with numerous performers, teachers, clubs, and publications devoted to classical guitars and the associated music. By the early ’30s, after Andres Segovia toured the U.S. and introduced his approach to classical guitar, demand for Martin and other American-made early-design gut-string guitars plunged. Segovia played Spanish-made guitars and a Hermann Hauser, Sr. guitar made for him and modeled closely after Spanish/Torres designs. While Segovia played classical guitar, his technique was quite different from the earlier school of American classical. After Segovia took the American scene by storm, demand for classical guitars in the U.S. did not disappear, but his followers gravitated toward the Torres design and rejected Martin’s gut-string guitars, which were weren’t as well-suited for Segovia’s technique. Fortunately for Martin, its basic guitar design with a few modifications proved well-adapted for use with steel strings and a variety of music styles ranging from Hawaiian, country, ragtime, blues, bluegrass, folk, and virtually any application utilizing a flat-top steel-string.
Martin did not abandon the classical market, but by the late ’20s had focused its effort on steel-string instruments. The G series, introduced in 1936, was an attempt to recapture some of that market. The first Martins made with Torres-style fan bracing, they had a 2″ wide nut and a modern classical bridge. However, Martin’s choice of their Orchestra Model body shape, introduced for steel-string 14-fret guitars, looked incongruous to most classical players. The G series were crafted to the same standards as Martin steel-strings of the age, but their design specs simply did not appeal to many players following in Segovia’s footsteps. As a result, these instruments were a commercial failure.
This 00-28 may be one of a kind, but, in view of the fact the work-order number does not indicate it was custom-made as a steel-string, it’s possible one or more others may have been made. Regardless, it’s a fine instrument with excellent power and tone. While a typical Martin 00-28G does not have the sound or feel that appeals to a significant number of classical players, this steel-string variation holds its own compared any similar-sized steel-string, and its wide neck would appeal to many fingerpickers.
This article originally appeared in VG November 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.