Dry. Deep. Bassy. Strong. Those are just a few words that describe these D-shaped “muscle” guitars that Martin bravely brought to the market many years ago (when smaller, more well-balanced acoustic guitars were favored).
The guitars are aptly named after World War I era battleships, “Dreadnoughts” (source). They are big, loud and ready to take on the world. With great power comes great responsibility. Yes, even Spider-Man would play a dreadnought guitar if he were to choose.
Choosing a Martin Dreadnought Guitar
That’s where the problem begins. Which dreadnought should you choose? What are the differences? How do you know what to listen for when playing them at local shops? What about the different wood types? Different bracings? If you find yourself asking these questions, then this guide will help you get a head start on what models might appeal to you. If you’re already a Martin dreadnought lover, you know what it’s like to go through this discovery phase, and are likely still discovering the minute differences between vintage Martin dreadnoughts, modern recreations and all the variants in between. We welcome you to chime in below with your tips and insider secrets.
Originally released as the D-1 model many years ago, the D-18 is known for having a very sweet “singing” quality, and is very lively due to its Mahogany back and sides. It’s most commonly adorned with 14 frets before the neck meets the body, but the original model (and recent vintage recreations) had a 12-fret neck. The fretboard and bridge were originally offered in Ebony, but are now offered in rosewood. The decorative aspect of the guitar is also rather simple, without fancy inlays or trim. This guitar is very popular for bluegrass, especially lead flat picking, due to its ability to cut through the mix. The modern ones are now built with scalloped, forward shifted bracing, making them very responsive.
Popular Model Variations
- D-18V (Vintage) – Mahogany back and sides + forward shifted, scalloped bracing + 14-fret neck + modified-V neck (111/16 nut) + Sitka Spruce top.
- D-18VS (Vintage Series) – Mahogany back and sides + scalloped bracing + 12-fret neck (13/4 nut) + sloped shoulder shape + modified-V neck + Sitka Spruce top. Also adorned with Waverly open back tuners.
- D-18GE (Golden Era) – Mahogany back and sides + forward shifted, scalloped bracing + modified-V neck (13/4 nut) + Adirondack Spruce top. Also adorned with Waverly open back tuners.
- Popular Vintage Years: 1943, 1939
Like the D-18, the D-28 was originally released under a different name many years ago: D-2. The primary difference between the D-28 and and the D-18 is the use of Indian Rosewood for the guitar’s back and sides. This wood is more bassy than the Mahogany, making it a rhythm powerhouse when played in an ensemble. For this reason, it’s most popular amongst folk and country singer-songwriters, rhythm flat pickers in bluegrass ensembles. However, guitarists such as Tony Rice have made the D-28 popular for lead flat picking where proper amplification is possible. The HD-28 guitars hark back to the pre-World War II models, which were adorned with herringbone purfling (sourced from Germany before the war).
Popular Model Variations
- HD-28 – Indian Rosewood back and sides + scalloped bracing + 14-fret neck + low profile neck (111/16 nut) + Sitka Spruce top.
- HD-28V – Indian Rosewood back and sides + forward shifted, scalloped bracing + 14-fret neck + modified-V neck (111/16 nut) + Sitka Spruce top. Also adorned with Waverly open back tuners.
- HD-28VS (Vintage Series) – Indian Rosewood back and sides + scalloped bracing + 12-fret neck (13/4 nut) + sloped shoulder shape + modified-V neck + Sitka Spruce top. Also adorned with Waverly open back tuners.
- D-28GE (Golden Era) – Brazillian Rosewood back and sides + forward shifted, scalloped bracing + modified-V neck (13/4 nut) + Adirondack Spruce top. Also adorned with Waverly open back tuners.
The Martin D-35 is most known for its 3-piece back and sides. This was a technique used by the company to utilize its stockpile of narrower pieces of Brazillian Rosewood that were otherwise unusable on the back and sides of a guitar with normal construction. It turned to be a great success, and this guitar beloved by many singer-songwriters for its overall balance. The guitars are now made with a 3-piece Indian Rosewood back and solid Indian Rosewood sides.
Martin D-45…and the D-41
The Martin D-45 acoustic guitar was originally built for Gene Autry as a custom guitar to emulate the 000-45 from Jimmie Rodgers, yet with the 12-fret, longer body style that Martin was building at the time (early 1930s). This is the only Martin dreadnought that has such fancy adornments and inlays. It was built until the early 1940s and didn’t reappear in Martin’s product line again until the late 1960s, where it was re-introduced to the market with Brazillian Rosewood back and sides, only to switch to Indian Rosewood shortly thereafter. The D-41 was an offshoot of the D-45, which offered pearl trim just on the top borders instead of the top and bottom.
Wrapping Up the Dreads
There are a few other rare Martin dreadnought guitar models such as the D-21 and D-41, but these are the most popular Martin dreadnought models that we’ve grown to love. They’ve withstood the test of time and continue to inspire new generations of guitarists after that vintage, old-timey sound that preceded them. There are even more rare variations of these models that are not listed above. Have you played them? Share your experience in the comments.
- The Dreadnought Story
- That Vintage Sound — Why Martin’s Prewar dreadnoughts are the Holy Grail of flattop guitars
- The Tale Of A Holy Grail – The 1942 Martin D-45
- Evolution: 12 fret to 14 fret
*Images courtesy of Martin Guitar Company.