Martin’s Other Big Guitar

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Richard Johnston-

Most of Martin guitar body shapes have only one name or code, although there are 12-fret and 14-fret versions.  But the Martin guitar body that’s almost as big as a Dreadnought has several names because it’s been used for very different types of guitars.

Shown here is an original 1939 F-9, Martin’s highest archtop model and a guitar shape that was designed for archtop construction and not as a flattop.  It’s not a very different shape, if you take a 14-fret Martin 000 outline and make it 16 inches wide at the lower bout (instead of 15 inches), you’re awfully close to the shape of this F-9.  Martin’s archtops didn’t sell very well and production ceased during World War II, but the story of this bigger-than-000 shape doesn’t end there.

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How Martin came to build a flattop version of a body shape they’d abandoned years earlier is an interesting tale in itself. In the late ‘60s a guitar shop in Manhattan had an F model like the one shown here, but with a badly damaged top.  Rather than restore it to a type of Martin guitar that wasn’t at all in demand at the time, the carved top was replaced with a conventional X-braced flat top.  David Bromberg fell in love with the resulting hybrid, and while on a visit to Nazareth in 1977 convinced Martin to make it a standard model. Martin’s M-38, and M-36 models like the one shown here, were the result.  Prized for their volume but with a more balanced tone than a typical Dreadnought, Martin’s M models filled an important gap between OM/000 models and the deep-bodied D models.

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In the mid-1980s Martin began offering another hybrid, an M-size flat top but with the deep sides of a Dreadnought.  These J-for-Jumbo models in Style 40 (not shown here) proved so popular that soon 12-string and cutaway versions were added to the catalog, and when Martin began to make acoustic guitar basses the deep-bodied J shape was given yet another identity with a long 4-string neck and a B-for-bass model code.  If this sounds confusing you’re not alone, and by the late 1990s the original M models were no longer new or different and seemed to be suffering an identity crisis as Martin’s catalog was bulging with dozens of newer styles.  To make it easier to guess what the original M models were like in relation to better-known body shapes, Martin decided to call them 0000 instead.  That change didn’t help sales, and for several years these bigger-than-000 models that had been new and different in the 1970s were all but forgotten and only available as special orders.

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Fortunately, in 2007 both the M-38 and M-36 were brought back to Martin’s catalog and website and with that increased visibility it looks like they’re here to stay. We’re glad to have them back as they really do have a sound all their own.



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