Museum: Martin Guitars

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1942 Martin D-18

Serial # 81842. For many, a guitar is measured not only by its tone, but equally so by the stories found in its well-worn finish. A one-owner guitar that shows the creases of time in its playwear can somehow inspire more musicality out of one's fingers, and more soulfulness in one's attack. This 1942 Martin is one of those instruments.

This D-18 was owned by a Spartanburg, South Carolina picker named Boyd Fowler, who played in local string bands and on the radio station WSPA in the '40s and '50s. The guitar was played hard and often, and has earned the telltale wear of a good sounding instrument; a lesser guitar wouldn't likely have been put to such heavy use. The finish is worn and weathered profoundly and beautifully -- the back of the neck is mostly bare of lacquer and moderately capo-worn, and the top shows arm wear, shirt-cuff wear behind the bridge, and pick-wear beyond the pickguard and soundhole. It's an inviting package -- but the first strum is what really seals the deal.

The guitar's tone is wonderful. It's an ebony-rod D-18, so it's particularly light in weight, and we can't say enough about how much that lightness effects the tone of the guitar. It's tremendously open, with amazingly robust low notes, and has a dry and musical mid range. Trebles are full, round, dark and present, and the guitar's balance from string to string and fret to fret is remarkable. It's loud and responsive, with both a strong fundamental, and excellent overtones. It scores very high marks in tone.

Despite the heavy playwear, the guitar is in very fine condition. The repairs it does have were mostly done by Folkway's Mark Stutman, and the workmanship is top notch. The instrument is original but for its new frets, nut, saddle, and bridge pins; and its finish completely original.

Neck reset, refret, aged bone nut and saddle. The bridge was reglued, and its string slots were carefully rebuilt in the process. Pickguard was removed and reglued, a fairly advanced pickguard crack was very cleanly spliced and cleated (no finish touch-up), and the top no longer shows any cupping or warping. There are four other short and very cleanly reglued top cracks, one perfectly level repaired back crack, and a pair of repaired very minor side cracks on the flat part of the bass-side's lower bout. The guitar's original bridge plate has had its pin-holes rebuilt, and a micro-veneer of maple was added for reinforcement over the pin-hole area. The guitar is in need of no further repair work. Previous to Mark Stutman's restoration, the guitar had its bridge reglued, and there remains minor finish scuffing around the bridge as evidence.

The guitar's neck measures 1-11/16" wide at the nut. Its fingerboard is full-thickness, and the neck has a fairly modern feel. Compression-fretted in our shop, the instrument has perfect relief, and plays remarkably well everywhere on the neck.

The Martin guitar Lester Flatt played with Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe was a '42 D-18, and it's no wonder why. This is a thoroughly memorable Dreadnought.

Original hardshell case is in good working order, with a replaced handle.

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