Review: Martin Guitars D-28 Authentic 1937

December 10th, 2014

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By Chris Gill | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta

While the D-18 may be less expensive and the D-45 much more exquisite, the Martin D-28, with its rosewood back and sides and elegantly understated appointments, is the true template for the modern steel-string flattop dreadnought acoustic guitar. Heard on literally thousands of recordings, this model delivers the crisp, ringing tone that most of us instantly associate with the signature Martin sound.

Martin has made many great D-28 guitars since the company refined the 14-fret neck, solid paddle headstock, and square shoulders design in 1934, but most devoted acoustic connoisseurs agree that the D-28s Martin made in 1937 were the company’s best.

That was the last year that the D-28 featured forward-shifted X bracing, which, along with its hand-scalloped braces, allowed the Adirondack spruce top to project more volume and deliver sweeter, more articulate midrange and treble. Many players also prefer the wider nut width of D-28 guitars produced before 1939, when the width became narrower.

Martin’s new D-28 Authentic 1937 guitar accurately reproduces the unique features that made the original 1937 D-28 so highly regarded. The D-28 Authentic 1937 offers the exact same forward-shifted X bracing, complete with Adirondack spruce braces that are carefully scalloped by hand to provide the ideal combination of strength and responsiveness. The neck has a 1937 “barrel & heel” profile (C-shaped around the lower frets, transitioning up the neck to a V-shape) and features an ebony fingerboard that is 1 3/4 inches wide at the nut and decorated with period-correct long-pattern diamonds and squares inlays. Crowning period-correct touches include herringbone purfling surrounding the top and a zigzag center strip.

Like the original 1937 D-28, this new model has a solid top made from the finest available Adirondack red spruce. However, due to current restrictions (and to keep the cost reasonable), the back and sides are solid Madagascar rosewood instead of the Brazilian rosewood back and sides of the original. Martin even used genuine hide glue for the guitar’s construction to satisfy the most adamant purists.

The nut and saddle are made of genuine bone, and the tuners are accurate reproductions of Thirties Waverlys, with nickel-plated “butterbean” tuner buttons. The Delmar tortoiseshell-pattern pickguard and polished-gloss finish with aging toner give the D-28 Authentic 1937 the same warm glow of an aged D-28 that has been kept in immaculate condition.

A single stroke of an open G chord unleashes that familiar vibrant and resonant Martin dreadnought tone heard on countless classic recordings. The midrange is ever-so-slightly scooped, allowing the bass to make its sonorous presence known without obscuring the finer nuances of its exceptionally sparkling treble.

This is the classic Martin sound that many vintage acoustic aficionados have sought for decades yet often found elusive, unless we were fortunate enough to get our hands on a particularly exemplary prewar D-28 from Martin’s golden era. In a blind tone test, even the most discriminating listener would not be able to tell the difference between the D-28 Authentic 1937’s Madagascar rosewood and an original D-28 with Brazilian rosewood.

Fingerstylists and flatpickers alike will love the wider nut, which provides more space between each string and makes it easier to finger chords and single-note lines with precision. While Martin’s craftsmen during the Thirties were certainly not slouches, the overall feel of the guitars they made back then could vary dramatically from one example to the next. That is not the case here, as the example Martin sent us for evaluation had the same comfortable playability as another example we found at a Manhattan retailer’s shop. The neck is slim, but it still has enough substance to guarantee robust tone and solid reliability.

This may be considered heresy by some, but it can be argued that the D-28 Authentic 1937 is the best D-28 that Martin has ever produced, thanks both to its dead-on accurate reproduction of the original version’s tone and the improved consistency and overall quality of its construction.

LIST PRICE $8,499
C.F. Martin & Co., martinguitars.com

My Favorite Year: Fred Greene, chief product officer at C.F. Martin & Co., discusses the development of the D-28 Authentic 1937.

Why did Martin choose to reproduce a 1937 model D-28 over other years from Martin’s “Golden Era”?
We already offered the 1941 D-28 Authentic with the 1 11/16-inch nut width and rear-shifted braces, and we wanted to offer an accurate example of a 14-fret, pre-war D-28 with a 1 3/4–inch nut with forward-shifted braces. We could have chosen any year from 1934 to mid 1939 to replicate, but we chose 1937 because we had an example in our museum, and in 1937 we produced more D-28s than any other year between 1934 and ’39.

Is the guitar based on one particular original 1937 D-28 or several different D-28s from that year?
It is based on one particular instrument from our museum. As you know, in 1937 these instruments were truly handmade, and there are some small variations from example to example. In order to avoid any controversy, we decided to focus on one particular instrument.

How does Madagascar rosewood compare to the original Brazilian rosewood?
Visually the woods are very close. It can be easy to confuse one for the other. The Brazilian seems stiffer and denser and this is reflected in the sound. You will hear people describing it as having a “bell-like” ring. It is urgent and responsive. The Madagascar sounds more round and less brash compared against the Brazilian. Tonally, Madagascar fits nicely between Brazilian and Indian Rosewood. Of course this is all a generalization, as there are so many factors that affect the way a guitar sounds.

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