Quick question for you. What is your favorite electric guitar and why is it the Martin D-28?
Nah, it’s okay to have other favorites. But, this is one of my favorites and I’m going to tell you all about it – and why I think everyone should own one.
It’s the immediate choice I’d make when the subject invariably comes up with what acoustic guitar would you want with you if you were stuck on a deserted island.
Wait, you mean that subject doesn’t come up in your conversations with friends? It’s just me, then? No… It can’t be!
Seriously, I’ve had that conversation (or similar) many times. I’ve even witnessed that conversation leading to hurt feelings and damaged friendships. Some folks are just pretty passionate about such things.
Meh, it doesn’t matter. They’re just wrong!
Ha! I kid! (Or do I?)
I want to make it clear that this work is both a matter of fact and of opinion. I don’t actually require that you like the same things I like. I don’t demand that my opinion is the only valid opinion. I need folks to know that they’re absolutely welcome to their opinions.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the best guitar in the world is the guitar that you have access to. The best guitar in the world is one that you get to play. The best guitar is the one you’re happiest with playing.
I’d also like to say that I hope you have a best guitar. Or at least a favorite.
I think we can state, as a matter of fact, that a Martin D-28 is a wonderful sounding guitar. That, in the right hands, it produces a booming tone, rich and warm, with a wonderful blend of both bass and treble. I think we can say they’re well constructed, hold up very well, and continue to produce wonderful tones for a long lifetime.
I hear people say things like, “I played a new Martin in the music shop and I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
That’s their mistake.
You don’t buy a Martin for what it sounds like today, you buy a Martin for what it will sound like in 20 years. The day you buy a new Martin, it sounds a lot like any other high-quality guitar. Sure, the craftsmanship is there and the playability is fantastic, but the guitar actually improves with age – as opposed to degrades with age.
The guitar is made with (mostly) mahogany, spruce, and rosewood. Over time, those will expand and contract as they age. This will have some relationship to the humidity levels of their storage environment. The rate of change is slow and subtle, but the guitar will age – like wine.
This can happen with any guitar, actually. Their oils move out of the wood over time and this gives them more volume or even adds to the richness of tone. However, it pretty much always happens with a Martin.
See, Martin has been putting guitars together for a very long time. They’ve actually gotten their reputation by having skilled professionals craft their instruments. They go to great lengths to pair their woods and use only the best of suppliers.
The letter D stands for “dreadnought” which comes from a class of warship, named after HMS Dreadnought. Dreadnought meaning, of course, fear not. It pretty much means big and, when it was released, it was considered huge.
They first released the model in 1931 and it wasn’t very popular until after they included an image in their 1937 catalog. It was at that point that the popularity took off. They’ve been popular ever since. They were so popular that buying one new, during part of the 1950s, meant that you sat on a waiting list for a couple of years.
One of the great things about them being so popular is that there’s a wealth of information available about them, the design changes, and the minutia involved. I’m not going to detail it all – as it could take a whole book. Actually, if you are going to read such a book then I highly recommend finding a copy of Mike Longworth’s book, Martin Guitars: A History.
I frequently get asked, “Is it really worth that price?” From a player’s standpoint, absolutely. From a collector’s eye-view, even more so.
First, from a player’s view: There was a model change where they moved to scalloped bracing and metal truss rods, between 1942 and 1944. Unless damaged beyond repair, every single one of those guitars is playable and has a robust, deep, voice that fills giant areas with sound. The action is as close to perfect as one can get for playing bluegrass, folk, or country.
From a collector’s view: A 1942 to 1944 (in just average condition) is going to have a value of about $45,000 to $55,000 USD. That price will fluctuate depending on the condition and if you can prove somebody famous once owned it. It’s generally agreed on that Martin’s increased production in 1970 means they may have been made with a lower quality, but those are often good buys and they’ll continue holding their value. As such, you can expect to pay about $2,000 USD for a 1973 D-28 which is about what you’d expect to pay for one made a decade later, in 1983.
But, there’s the tone. It’s rich, vibrant, warm, and loud. Not much booms like a good dreadnought style guitar and the noise you get from the 12 string variation is such a joy. They don’t last you a decade, they last you a lifetime. They accept the abuses of the stage and just keep getting better with age.
They’re also built with the expectation that you’ll be playing them with a pick. You can fingerpick them, but you’ll want to be really aggressive with your attack. There’s a lot of air volume and you have to move that air. Moving as much air as you can is how you get the signature tone out of them and they respond in-kind.
They aren’t meant to be babied. They’re meant to play hard and gently playing it in a music store isn’t really going to give you the experience you’d have if you owned it. So, if you want to try a Martin, I’d suggest finding a friend that has an older one and asking if you can take it for a test drive.
They are expensive. A new D-28, for the barest of models, is probably going to run you about $2,400 – without any extras. That may seem expensive, but it’s really not. You get a lot of guitar and a lot of versatility with that price.
They’re known for a very good action. This is because they pay serious attention to detail during the constructing of the guitar. They can have that action because they’re made with great precision. They can have that action because they know how much moisture is in the woods and how much the woods will move over time. This makes them absolutely fantastic choices for bluegrass players, or those who want to rip speedy acoustic riffs.
If you’ve never played one, I’d seriously suggest giving one a try. I don’t know very many people (any, that I can think of) who have claimed that a Martin isn’t a great guitar or, further, have said that the D-28 is anything less than exceptional. The sheer volume of sound that it enables you to work with is reason enough alone to consider it, but the richness, giant booming bass, warmth, possibility of vibrancy, playability, tapered neck that just fits your hand, and quality all go into making it one of the best guitars money can buy.
Alas, I’m not even going to recommend a beginner buy one. If I were more nefarious, I’d absolutely recommend that you buy one – just so I can buy it used after you’ve given up playing. Then, because of their booming tone, they don’t mask errors. If you make a mistake with a dreadnought, it’s going to be heard by the people listening.
I could write more about this, and I may someday do just that. In the meantime, I’d encourage folks to look it up – if they’re not already familiar with it. There’s a reason why I like ’em so much. In fact, there’s a lot of reasons. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!