Style 16 Guitars of the 1980s and Early 1990s?

A reader asks about the Style 16 guitars from the 1980s…

“Where does the 16 Series fit in? I have a 1989 D-16M that is indistinguishable in every way, including spec wise, from a traditional D-18.” — Aden in South Africa

Spoon replies:

Congratulations on your D-16M. It is one of the lesser-known but wonderful Martin models. So too are the 000-16 and 000C-16 from the same era.

But the D-16M at that time was anything but exactly like a traditional D-18, of that era anyway. It is closer to the D-18V from the Vintage Series, minus the V neck.

The D-18 in those days had a black pickguard and black binding, and white domino dots for fret position markers – and non-scalloped bracing. The 1989 D-16M had the tortoise trim and pickguard, Style 17 dots  – and scalloped braces with a smaller maple bridge plate, at a time when most Martins did not get those very excellent construction features.

1989 Martin D-16M

The D-16M also had the Low Profile neck shape years before the standard D-18 got it. But 1989 might have been the first year of that neck shape moving to the D-18. They had been making the D-18P (P for the new neck profile) for three years by that time and 1989 is the first year they did not. But they did make the D-28P, HD-28P and D-35P that year, so the official change from the Full Thickness profile to the Low Profile on what we now call Standard Series instruments may have taken place in 1990.

What makes them desirable to me is the scalloped bracing at a time when the D-18 had non-scalloped bracing. The same goes for the 000-16 and 000C-16. Not only that, the 000s have 1/4″ scalloped bracing, and they have a long-scale neck. So they are really more like an OM-18 than the 000-18 of the day, except for the 1-11/16″ nut width. And the version with the oval cutaway has a 22 fret neck! Clearly meant for electric guitarists. Mine is from 1991.

Martin 000C-16 T Spoon Phillips

But Style 16 was always changing. Some 1980s 16s were made with black binding, others have tortoise; with satin finish or with full gloss; with vintage toner on the top or not; and some were made with the light stain normally used for maple guitars.

When Style 16 first appeared in 1961, it was limited to 12-fret guitars in size 0 that were lightly built to be used with nylon or extra light steel strings, and given the suffix NY in homage to the Martins from the 1800s that were sold with a label reading New York, NY, because that was where Martin’s lone distributor did business. A 00-21NY was made at the same time. In 1962 a size 5 guitar was offered in Style 16 as well.

When Style 16 returned in the mid-1980s as a collection of 14-fret guitars, it was sort of the mahogany version of Style 21 vis-a-vis Style 28. It got slightly lower-grade wood than the 18 (even if the woods are better than what you see on an 18 today.) And they had smaller dots previously used on Style 17 instruments in the 1950s, as well as no inlay around the top or back.

But otherwise, they have the full dovetail neck joint and solid American mahogany neck block, and with all the same construction of what we now call the Standard Series, which make them ridiculously great guitars to have now, after seasoning all those years. This is especially true for mahogany lovers, since there were no mahogany Martins made with scalloped bracing at that time. And of course, it is all tropical American Big Leaf mahogany, not the stuff from Africa used on the 16 Series today.

The 16s did not appear in the Martin catalog at first. They were built for export and sold mainly in Canada. But they were also sold as NAMM Show Specials for American dealers who made the effort to attend the trade shows. They proved so popular that they were eventually added to the official price lists.

They made 660 D-16M guitars in 1989. (A total of 2,120 were made in years 1986, 1987, 1989, and 1990.) They also made the D-16A (ash back and sides, 818 total, 1987, 1988, 1990) D-16W (walnut, 100 total, 1987) and D-16K (koa, 390 total in 1986.)

D-16A ash back and sides

D-16A with ash back and sides

In addition, the D-16 was replaced by the D-16H which had slightly different trim each year (1,692 made between 1991 -1994.) But all have had a herringbone back strip and rosette, like Vintage Style 21. Those features would eventually become the hallmarks of Style 16 of the 1990s and the modern 16 Series instruments that followed.

Although production numbers for the 000-16  and 000C-16 (the M was not always included in the stamp) were not much less than the D models, the non-cutaway 000-16M is far more rare on the used market. I guess that speaks to how much their owners love them.

When they do show up for sale they are still priced between $1K – 1.5K. The Ds go for around the same amount. These are ridiculously good bargains for such excellent guitars.

The chief reason these gems are undervalued is because in late 1995 a certain bean counter did away with these great guitars and replaced them with the Mortise and Tenon neck joint version that had the A-Frame bracing necessary for that design. The change was all about maximizing profits on a relatively more-affordable Martin guitar. Many people assume the 16s always were that way.

For those in the know, the 16s made from 1986 until the switch sometime in 1995 are awesome and ahead of their time when it came to styling and scalloped bracing. There are various time periods when Martin was trying things out on their way to codifying this or that, and sometimes they accidentally invented an excellent if short-lived model. The D-16 built between 1986 to 1994 is definitely one of them, no matter which exact version it is.

In my opinion, today’s 16 Series guitars are greatly improved from the ones made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and are aimed at electrified performance. They all have built-in pickup systems and the larger bodies have the reduced depth of a 000 for anti-feedback purposes. They are immensely popular with good reason. But I always tell people that if they find a pre-1995 16 in good shape, buy it!

And that is one man’s word on…

Martin Style 16 from the 1980s and early 1990s

Why Does Martin Warranty Card Show a Different Model?

A Reader Asks Why His Martin “GPC-16E Special” Warranty Card Shows A Different “Model”

Mark from Iowa writes –

I purchased a Martin guitar and when I registered it the warranty card said the style was CMGCGT0083. Is that explainable? It was sold as GPC-16E Special.

Spoon Replies:

Hi Mark and thanks for your query,

As far as I can tell, these hieroglyphs say that your guitar was made for Guitar Center/Musician’s Friend, with a long history of Martins designed exclusively for them. So, it is not technically a GPC-16E because Martin either wasn’t making them at this time for the regular catalog, or the ones they were making had some different specs.

For instance, 16 Series GPCs weren’t offered in rosewood for some time. Also, GPCs in the 16 Series are built with a 000 side depth rather than the actual, deeper GP depth, with less bass boom for anti-feedback reasons. That includes the new 2020 GPC-16E Rosewood.

Your guitar being rosewood, from a time when Martin wasn’t offering that, and possibly having true GP depth, are the probable reasons it was “special.”

Also, your guitar was likely marketed by GC/MF before Martin cracked down on dealers saying things like “Custom D-18” or “GPC-16E Special” in their marketing copy, when Martin wasn’t actually naming specific models that way. Today, Martin dealers are required to say something like “Custom GPC with 16 Series styling and onboard electronics.”

Personally, I feel it would be better for Martin if they said, “So long as it has the same neck joint and bracing as the standardized model and the same cosmetic styling, regardless of the wood species, neck shape, etc., the neck block stamp should read:


But they never listen to me.

Hope that helps!

Stay safe, keep well,

Spoon, out

What’s the Scéal Iomlán on the Martin D-45 Celtic Knot?

A Reader Requests Info on the Celtic Knot

What a gift of a website you have created. Thank you. I recently purchased a D-45 Celtic Knot. Whatever background information regarding the concept, design and construction of it would be really helpful.

– Robert in Texas

Spoon Replies:

Thank you Robert, for your kind and encouraging words.

Allow me to say meal do naidheachd on the purchase of your Martin D-45 Celtic Knot! It is my personal favorite among all the “45 +” guitars that Martin has come up with over the years.

That’s Scottish Gaelic, by the way. The oldest existing designs known as Celtic knots are found in illuminated Christian manuscripts from the eighth century, associated with the Abbey of Hii on the Isle of Iona, while others dated to 800 A.D. are believed to come from the Abbey of Kells, in County Meath, Ireland. It is assumed that earlier Celtic knot patterns evolved in Eire and Britain, in decorative textiles and other art forms, after similar “continuous cord” designs were introduced from Roman Europe sometime during the fourth century.

Your wonderful twenty-first century Martin guitar is essentially a D-45 Golden Era, in terms of bracing, neck shape, and string spacing. But of course the Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce came from Chris Martin’s personal reserve. As a musical instrument, every one of them I have played sounded spectacular.

As an example of exquisite artistry in world-class luthiery, they are visually astounding as well. The inlay was done at Pearl Works in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, founded by the late Larry Sifel. The inspiration for the overall design came from Martin’s 600,000th guitar, completed in 1997. Known as “the Celtic” Martin, it was designed and embellished by Larry Robinson, who has created stunning inlays for electric and acoustic guitars for half a century.

Although this earlier instrument has even greater complexity to its various “knots” and, if I recall, abalone herringbone purfling around the edge of the top and sound hole, I have always preferred the aesthetic of the D-45 Celtic Knot. It strikes me as elegant and stately, compared to the rather over-the-top pizazz of the Celtic guitar. But I also very much like the special Gotoh tuners with Celtic designs, and the pearl inlay of Chris Martin’s signature on the rosewood back!

The limited edition of fifty D-45 Celtic Knot guitars was announced at Winter NAMM 2004, along with Martin’s One Millionth Guitar and the D-100 model based on it. The Celtic Knot guitars have sequential serial numbers leading up to #1,000,000. The fifty D-100s have sequential serial numbers starting with #1,000,001.

However, Martin did not build all fifty Celtic Knot guitars. There has been some contention as to the actual production number. Although all official printed references claim that thirty D-45 Celtic Knot guitars were built, the actual quantity is in fact thirty-six.

No one knows why the discrepancy exists. I suspect all accounts were based on one original reporting that contained a typo. Knowing how things happen at Martin, it might even be due to a typist incorrectly reading someone’s handwriting, where the 6 looked like a 0.

In any case, you have a very special Martin. If I could have any of the beyond-Style-45-Deluxe instruments Martin has built, it would be a D-45 Celtic Knot. But you actually get to own one.

I therefore, and with great pomp and solemnity, hereby induct you into the Order of the Lucky Dog, with all rights and privileges afforded said title.


Pearl Works Website:

Larry Robinson Website:

Martin D-45 Celtic Knot frets

(photo: Pearl Works)

Martin D-45 Celtic Knot pearl

(photo: Pearl Works)

Martin D-45 Celtic Knot signature

(photo: Dream Guitars)


Martin D-45 Celtic Knot full

(photo: Dave’s Guitars)


Martin D-40FMG: Reader Q&A

Reader asks about the rare D-40FMG

A Lost Martin Model

Although I’ve been happy my 1975 D-18 for a long time, the Martin I now want is a 1995 D-40 FMG. I’ve been trying to figure out what FMG stands for, since it’s not a standard designation, and all I can come up with is Figured Mahogany – the wood used for its back and sides. I’d never even heard of a style 40; do you have any clues about a D-40 FMG? I appreciate anything you can tell me. Thanks!

– Dave P.

Spoon Replies:

Ah the D-40FMG, I understand the allure. They have figured mahogany back and sides, with the cosmetics of a D-40, only with tortoise rather than white binding on the body, neck and headstock.

I would love to own one myself. Being a bit of a rare bird, I see modern pricing listed from just over $3K to just under $5K; the latter seems like wishful thinking to me for a mahogany/Sitka dreadnought from 1995.

Still, I think they look gorgeous with the tortoise binding on the neck, and it is unusual to get a mahogany Martin with so much abalone inlay.

The “FM” would have stood for Figured Mahogany, but the examples I have seen have figuring that could be called “quilted” or “ribboned” or even “waterfall.” It is a naturally occurring feature in quartersawn mahogany. But it is relatively rare compared to figuring seen in flatsawn wood.

I never could find out what the G stood for. So asked Michael Dickinson, wood buyer for Martin. He said that at the time MG stood for Mahogany, rather than just M, or FM which could be Figured Maple. I assume it might also be related to the fact M at that time had just started being used to refer to the M top size, as in the new J-40M that had recently come on the market.

This model was part of the Figured Wood Edition series, which included the D-40FMG, made in 1995 (two were made in 1996,) and a D-40FW (figured walnut, 148 made,) and the D-40QM (quilted maple, 164 made,) both were built in 1996.

In the 1980s they also had similar series of dreadnoughts made in Style 16 that had Mahogany, Ash, Walnut, and Koa for the back and sides.

Otherwise, The D-40FGM has the styling similar to the D-40, but came out two years before the Standard D-40 was released in 1997.

The D-40BLE appeared in 1990, as a Guitar of the Month (which did not come out anything like monthly.) It was designed by Mike Longworth, and was based on Style 40 from the 1930s, with snowflake fret markers and other features that make it unrelated to the Figured Wood Edition D-40 models.

Most interesting to me is the fact the D-40FMG seems to be a forgotten model. By this I mean, it was left out entirely from Martin Guitars: A Technical Reference, wherein Richard Johnston and Dick Boak edited and greatly expanded Longworth’s original history of Martin Guitars.

Modern Style 40 gets a meager one sentence, about the J-40, and while it mentions the D-40 in the notes beneath, none of these LE D-40 models are listed among the other Limited and Special Editions.

The production totals for all D-40 models do appear in the appendix, but they are buried in an obscure table, and not listed between the D-37 and D-41, as one might expect.

Here is a spec sheet for the D-40FMG

Style 40 has been around since the 1850s, when it was made in Size 2 for $40. It was $84 in the first printed price lists of the 1870s. It did not appear in sizes 0-000 until after 1900, and up until it was retired in 1941 it was basically Style 42 with slightly less pearl trim.

Modern Style 40 (with the small hexagon fret markers and black and white ply purfling) debuted on Martin’s J-40M (M stood for the M body silhouette, not for mahogany.) It was Martin’s first jumbo model and Chris Martin’s first major contribution to the Martin line.

The D-40 followed in 1997. In terms of construction and wood quality, it is an HD-28, but has the cosmetic features of a D-41 – except it has unique reversed black and white ply trim around the edge of the top rather than abalone shell.

The D-40 remained in the catalog until quite recently, but it was not nearly as common as the J-40, which was offered in the normal Style 40 and in an all-black version.

Why “Fingerstyle Guitars” Have Wider Necks

A Reader inquires as to why there are wider necks on “fingerstyle” guitars.

On the Martin site the phrase, “wider hand-fit dovetail neck to accommodate fingerstyle players.” is used. As a fingerstyle player for over 20 years and a person with small hands, I can’t think of a worse thing to say to me about this guitar. Why would I want a wider neck? What does that have to do with finger style guitar?

          – Fergus from Australia

Spoon Replies:

Thank you for your query, Fergus. The simplest answer is, most fingerstylists want wider string spacing for the picking hand, while players with larger hands are most comfortable with a larger neck.

Wider string spacing allows for all that alternate-bass-note thumbpicking and fingerpicking without unintended contact with strings not meant to be played. This is particularly true for those just learning how to play fingerstyle guitar. And often, once a player gets used to wider spacing they prefer it.

But then, allowing the picking hand extra space means the fretting hand is required to take on more extensive stretches to reach those spread-out strings on the wider fretboard.

In other words, it is a trade-off for those of us with hands of average size or smaller.

However, many accomplished guitarists have longer than average bones in their fingers and thumbs, and the string spacing on a narrower neck feels much more cramped and confining for them. While there will always be exceptions, I believe a greater number of professional guitarists fall into this category. Advanced guitar playing comes easier to those with longer fingers, but they prefer wider spacing, while those with larger hands want beefier necks.

Eric Schoenberg was the influential Ragtime and Blues guitarist who convinced Martin to resurrect their OM design in 1969, with the 1-3/4″ width at nut and 2-1/4″ width at the 12th fret. And his guitar shop went on to commission many other guitars made with even wider necks. Otherwise, all those Folkies from the ’50s and ’60s who played the 12-fret Martins with 1-7/8″ necks were simply used to the wider spacing.

After all, Classical guitars have a 2″ width at the nut, which makes the neck feel a mile wide for those used to steel string acoustic and electric guitars.

The original Martin guitars were intended for professional musicians who played the Classical repertoire, but they had a slightly narrower neck of 1-7/8″ at the nut, and 2-5/16″ at the 12th fret. All 12-fret Martins came with that measurement until the modern era, when they were narrowed slightly to 1-13/16″ for the Standard and Vintage Series. Some others have a 1-3/4″ neck.

The first 14-fret guitar invented by Martin in 1929 was a special order for a famous banjoist who wanted a steel string guitar with a longer neck and a narrower fingerboard than Martin was making at that time. This design was used for the first Martin OM models and had a 1-3/4″ width at the nut and 2-1/4″ at the 12th fret, and 2-3/8″ or 2-5/16″ string spacing. They have been considered the quintessential fingerstyle guitar ever since, in terms of 14-fret instruments.

When Martin converted all their body sizes to a 14-fret “Orchestra Model” design in 1934, they got a 1-3/4″ neck and the string spacing was standardized at 2-5/16″.

They moved to the 1-11/16″ neck in 1939, which is 2-1/8″ wide at the 12th fret and has 2-1/8″ string spacing.  But the necks in those days were a lot thicker, to account for the tension of steel strings without an adjustable truss rod, which Martin did not start using until 1985, when they introduced their Low Profile neck shape.

A fatter neck requires the fingers to travel farther out and around to reach their destination. So players with longer fingers and thumbs find modern narrow necks feel even more cramped than older guitars with the same fingerboard width.

This is why Martin’s new High Performance neck has a 1-3/4″ width, even though it otherwise retained the 2-1/8″ measurement at the 12th fret. The area down by the nut felt too cramped for most players when the neck had a shallow profile and 1-11/16″ width, so they made it a little wider down in the “cowboy chord” area to compensate for their shallow Modified Low Oval profile. And the wider nut allowed them to increase the string spacing a little bit as well.

But while Martin was once the trendsetter when it came to things like guitar necks, they were quite late coming to this adjustment, as Taylor and many other guitar makers had been doing this for years. The idea is to have a compromise that will hopefully appeal to the widest population of players who want comfort and just enough space for fingerpicking.

The Martins with traditionally neck widths are there for those who want or need all that extra room and girth. And their Custom Shop will make most any model with any neck size and shape.

I certainly relate to your concerns. I was one of the players who converted from the low, narrow modern guitar necks of the 1970s when I began to develop my fingerstyle technique in the 1990s. The wider string spacing on traditional OMs gave my picking hand the room it wanted, even if the fretting hand faced a greater degree of difficulty, particularly with a vintage-style V neck.

Only in recent years have I returned to the 1-11/16″ Low Profile neck, due to some injury issues and the fact I often have to do all sorts of thumb-fretted Jazz chords. I discovered my fingerstyle technique is disciplined enough these days that I barely notice the lack of space over the sound hole. But my fretting hand is much happier.

While most of my guitars have the traditional OM width, I could never get on with the 1-13/16″ width at nut, and 1-7/8″ is out of the question. I probably should have been playing the narrower 1-11/16″ neck all these many years.

But I am the exception rather than the rule.

There is some irony in the fact that modern alternate-thumb style fingerpicking is named for Merle Travis, who wanted as narrow a neck as possible, because he had short digits and did so much thumb-fretting. But he was exceptional in all regards, including the fact he did all his fancy picking with only his thumb and index finger.

But when you watch Jimi Hendrix play, it is obvious just how long are his fingers and especially his thumb. All the way up the neck he can barre four or five strings with his thumb and still make chord shapes and play lead riffs with his fingers. Richie Havens had one of those thumbs too.

Stephen Stills plays fat Martin necks from the 1930s and makes the basic open C chord with his thumb coming around to fret both the E and A strings at the third position, while his fingers do all sorts of things upon the strings. Leo Kottke’s scimitar-shaped thumbs are so long they look like they have extra bones in them, and we all know how capable is his playing.

I can’t do any of that stuff on even the lowest, narrowest necks made for acoustic guitars.

But once I realized all these guys were actually mutants, I no longer felt bad that I could not play everything they could play as easy as pie. And I also figured out that I need not play wider necks for fingerstyle just because the “rule of thumb” says to.

I just needed to find the neck and string spacing my own hands could play, with the most comfort and facility.

Fortunately, Martin continues to make guitars with necks and string spacing that allow almost everyone to find something that works for them. And most other guitar makers will have some custom shop parameters that can accommodate most of their potential customers as well.

And that is one man’s word on…

Why “Fingerstyle Guitars” Have Wider Necks




Scalloped Bracing vs. Non-Scalloped? – Reader Q & A

A reader asks about scalloped bracing and the tonal differences compared to straight (non-scalloped)  bracing.

I always wonder about straight vs scalloped bracing over time/aging, especially on Martin dreadnoughts made of Indian rosewood and Sitka Spruce.

I read some people saying that over time straight braced guitars will open up and have bigger bass, and it’s just right, not too big, not too tight. (Thinking, for instance, of the D-28). Is this right? What about the scalloped bracing will turn over time? Thank you!

Silanto, in TBA

Spoon Replies:

All such guitars will open up. And the inherent tonal properties of each will increase as time goes by.

I have often been around a 2000 D-28 and a 1990s HD-28, and often in the same room at the same time. It makes for an obvious and enjoyable comparison.

The HD has a much more echoing cavern kind of tone under more precise spider web trebles and a bass E string that has a lot of thunk to it, which seems directly connected to the undertone.

The D-28 had string notes that are more solid and sit up on top of the undertone with a lot of clarity, like each note is a well-shaped log laid out on top of a thick slab with only the underside of each log resting upon that thick undertone cushion.  The undertone presence comes up to them, but does not swamp them. The trebles are thicker relative to the HD spider webs, and the bottom bass string stays very well defined, There is a discernible edge to bass end of the voice, and it does not thunk in the same fat unfocused way the HD does. The HD does not have an edge to the bass end of the voice, but is more diffuse with no clear horizon.

I used to like the straight braced sound, but found the scalloped bracing dread sound too reverby, with notes that did not stand out with the same strength and were embraced too much by the undertone. In fact, I was the original owner of the D-28 mentioned above.

I have come to love the scalloped dread sound a lot. But I really like it best as a solo instrument. I love how the straight braced D-28 has such a uncluttered clarity in ensemble playing, the individual notes are like little pen lights in all that sound of guitar, accordion, bouzouki, etc. The HD sounds more like each note has a warmer halo around it and meshes more into the mix and the low E sounds more bass player throbbing and not as cut and defined.

However, I like them both and love the fact they sound like siblings with different personalities, and they sound best of all when playing together.

Your results may vary.


Why 2-3/16″ string spacing, not 2-5/32″? – Reader Q & A

A reader asks why his custom Martin has the string spacing it does.

Leslie in Tennessee writes:

Ok, I guess I’m a guitar geek because I love all of this information! And, it makes me wonder about mine….

Long story short, I played a lot of different Martins, figuring out what I liked. I ended up with a custom, a 000-28, Adi top with 1/4″ scalloped Adi braces, and a 1-3/4″ short-scale mod-low-oval neck.

I did specify short-scale and the 1-3/4″ nut; but I didn’t specify a width for the 12th fret: looking at the build sheet specs, it shows it at 2-1/8″, not a surprise.

But this string spacing is not 2-5/32″, it’s 2-3/16″ (which would be 2-6/32″.)

It’s great, I’m not complaining all, just geeking out, wondering why my custom Martin has wider spacing.

Spoon replies:

First of all, allow me to congratulate you on your taste in guitars.

I have a custom short-scale rosewood 000 with Adirondack top and 1/4″ bracing as well. But mine has the Golden Era neck and 5/16″ string spacing, having been made before all this modern taper business came about.

Your mystery is easily solved. My inner Sherlock Holmes deduces that your guitar was ordered before 2016 and the Custom Shop “starter model” was an OM-28, made with the customizations you requested.

Therefore, it would by default have the High Performance Taper to the fretboard and the corresponding string spacing of 2-3/16″, which Martin changed to 2-5/32″ in January, 2016.

The change came because the right people in the right places (probably touring professionals who Martin actually listens to) complained that it was too easy to pull the high E string off the frets up near the neck. This is an issue I have dubbed string “derailment.”

According to Tim Teel at Martin, “the difference in spacing is literally the width of a unwound light gauge E string.” But he feels it is enough to correct the issue.

When it comes to necks with a modern taper, Taylor and Collings use 2-3/16″ string spacing, as do other brands. So Martin went with that for their new taper, at first.

I have heard of the derailment issue from Collings and Taylor players, but not players of Huss & Dalton guitars, which actually have even wider string spacing of 2-7/32″ for their standard 1-3/4″ neck taper.

H&D does not base anything on the fretboard width at the12th fret. I called to ask, and Mark Dalton told me the measurement there is 2.184″, a smidge narrower than 2-3/16″. So its wider at the 12th fret on their standard taper than on that of Taylor, Collings, or Martin’s High Performance taper, if not by much.

Personally, I believe it is an issue for any guitar with frets cut at too steep an angle, too far into the fret, regardless of the string spacing or taper. But having the string closer to the edge certainly increases the odds of a derailment happening.

The times I have encountered this issue tended to be specific to a guitar, not a across multiple examples of the same model. And I tend to naturally adjust my playing over time to compensate for the occasional derailment of the string.

Since your guitar has the short-scale neck, the string spacing will not be exactly the same as on a long-scale Martin at any point along the string, except right where it terminates at the saddle and nut. If I remember correctly, the strings widen farther up the neck relative to long-scale guitars.

So you may never experience the derailment issue. Plus, your frets might not be cut as severely as guitars that have the issue.


Martin OMC-Aura – Reader Q&A

A reader seeks information regarding his Martin OMC-Aura

Great Site with informative info. I had opportunity to purchase a Martin OMC-Aura couple of years ago. I liked the sound but didn’t know much about them, and never see any information about them on the different sites. 

Apparently not highly regarded, I would like to know any insight into their history, attributes, faults etc.

Thanks, Charlie D

Spoon Replies:

Hi Charlie, and thank you for the nice compliment about the site. And congratulations on your Martin OMC-Aura.

I do not know if you purchased one of the actual OMC-Aura guitars, or if you acquired a custom that was ordered from a dealer like Guitar Center after the model was discontinued. So this reply is focusing on the original model. Later dealer customs may have more updated technology.

The OMC-Aura and its dreadnought counterpart the DC-Aura suffered some in terms of reputation, mainly because they were new and different. Martin loving traditionalists love Martin tradition. And when the Aura models first appeared they broke with many Martin traditions.

While they were made from the same Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce used on guitars from Martin’s Standard Series and Vintage Series, the Auras had a different neck shape, different neck joint, different bracing, a cutaway body that had fancy, non-traditional appointments, and high-tech electronics inside that protruded to the outside in the way of side-mounted controls, which all added up to a very non-traditional Martin guitar.

Pick your poison, some will disapprove of pearl trim on a guitar not in the lofty 40 Series, others will decry the non-traditional hexagons, even if they are C.F. Martin IV’s favorite fret markers. Some others will not like the way it feels, or sounds compared to other Martins, while others yet will find the very practical electronic controls offensive to their old fashioned sensibilities, not to mention a cutaway that reminds them that they never learned to play a guitar beyond basic cowboy chords.

In practical terms, part of the problem with the appreciation or depreciation of the original Aura models has to do with the technology that is somewhat out of date.

The Mortis and Tenon neck joint was a cost-cutting measure by Martin and has since been replaced by the much improved Single Dovetail neck joint on guitars of this caliber. You can read more about the technical aspects of that through the link below.

At the time, having an M&T meant the Aura models had the same construction as the 16 Series, in terms of the neck joint, neck block, and bracing (which is identical to traditional Martin bracing, but has two extra braces under the upper bought to help the much-smaller neck joint remain stable.) It also means the acoustic voice of the Aura models sounds a little different compared to traditional Martins, having brighter more effervescent fundamentals, especially in the trebles, which get a bit brash and brassy under heavier attack, and more of a separation between that bold top voice and the sympathetic undertone resonating behind it.

But that is all very subtle stuff, since they still sound like Martins compared to other makes of guitar, and they have much more of that resonant Martin bass and wavering undertone than one typically hears in a bolt-on neck guitar like a Taylor or Huss & Dalton.

So, at first glance the OMC-Aura appeared to be a 16 Series Martin dressed up with pearl trim and hallow hexagon inlays, but costing a lot more than a typical OMC-16E from that same era.

But the Aura models had higher grade rosewood and spruce finished in a high gloss, and came standard with the revolutionary Aura electronics, which can be blended into the pick-up signal, greatly increasing the “acoustic guitar sound” compared to undersaddle pickups alone.

When viewed from modern times, the old Aura models have the first generation of the Aura system, which has been streamlined while made more sophisticated in terms of controls and sound quality. But the original version is still very much a professional level system that can sound excellent when dialed in for the particular venue, PA or guitar amp.

But while the Modified Low Oval neck shape was frowned upon by many Martin traditionalists, it has withstood the test of time, and has now been adopted as the main profile in use on modern Martins, appearing on just about every 2016 Martin, except those made with vintage Martin specs.

Your guitar does not have the modern High Performance taper that starts at 1-3/4” at the nut, but tapers to a slender 2-1/8” at the 12th fret. Instead, your Aura model has the traditional Martin OM fingerboard, which measures 2-1/4” at the 12th fret, and has the 2-1/4” string spacing found on the pricey OM-42 and other OMs made before the new taper took over the Standard Series.

That is all I can think of to say today about the Martin OMC-Aura.  If you are happy with your Martin, that is perfectly understandable to me. I hope you may continue to enjoy it in as musical a manner as you are able.

More Reading

Martin’s Simple Dovetail and Other Neck Joints

New 2016 Martins

Martin D-41 VS D-42 – Reader Q&A

A new reader asks about the difference and value of the Martin D-41 vs. D-42

Of splitting hairs and shifting braces


I just came across this site a little while ago.

I have the opportunity to buy either a Martin D 41 Standard or a Martin 42 Standard for the exact same price of $4,300.00.

My question is, which would be the better one to buy, in terms of playability, increase in value, sound etc. So far, from what I can tell from reviews, there doesn’t seem to be that great a difference other than about $800 in cosmetics, forward bracing, different tuners, a little more abalone. Is that true or are there other differences?

The price is the same either way at one store the guy offered the D 42 for the price of a D 41. Other stores offer the D 41 for the same price. Both are offered on the net.


K River

Spoon Replies:

Hi K,

If you are talking about new guitars with a full warranty, tax and shipping not included, $4,300 is a good price for a D-42. If not the best price in the country, it is very close. But it is a high price for a new D-41.

Knit One, Pearl 42

When it comes to the specifics of your query, the reason the D-42 costs more (list price $6,999 vs. $5,999) has to do with the pearl inlay more than anything else. No job at Martin takes longer while also requiring the highest paid workers than pearl inlay.  The D-42 gets the snowflake pattern on the fingerboard that was originally used on Style 45 in the prewar era. That takes longer to do than the hexagon blocks used on modern Style 45 and Style 42.

The D-42 also gets the pearl inlaid around the fingerboard extension, or “fretinsula” as my friend Tony dubbed it. That is quite difficult to do perfectly and adds time and wages spent.

Style 42 also gets grained ivoroid binding and aging toner on the top, etc. The whole point of the extra pearl and vintage touches is to make the guitar look like a pre-1939 D-45, from the front. And Martin charges a little more for all that stuff too.

Style 42 does not get all the extra back and side pearl of an actual 45.

A D-41 gets smooth white binding and otherwise is a modern Martin, little different in specs from the HD-28.


Both guitars have the same neck and string spacing, so they have the same playability, depending upon how they are set up in terms of string height, etc. It is identical to the Standard Series D-28 and HD-28.

Good Wood

Style 42 gets Martins top grade of rosewood, the same as Style 45, the official top of the line. Style 41 does as well, but the very best looking wood is always set aside for Styles 45 and 42.

The spruce top on a 42 and 41 is Grade 7, although some Grade 8 does show up on 42s. From what I have seen the only difference between a top of the line Grade 8 top and a Grade 7 top has to do with how even the coloring is across the top, and sometimes how even the grain lines are. But the differences are minimal when one considers the lowest grade spruce at Martin is still better than half the guitar industry puts on their best guitars.

So, while it is true the 42 officially gets preferential wood over a 41, it is so very close in quality to hardly matter.

Tone and Super Tone

The D-41 is basically an HD-28 with higher grade tonewoods, chosen entirely based on looks, even if some people feel spruce tops that have perfect grain with even spacing can sound better.

Also, many people, like me, feel that the deep wide trench carved into the edge of the top where it anchors to the side and is then filled with uniquely dense abalone shell has an effect on the sound of the guitar, which is why the D-41 doesn’t sound the same as an HD-28. It is a brighter, more complex voice with a lovely, busy shimmer across the high harmonics.

The D-42 has that quality too, but it also gets forward-shifted bracing, which increases the flexibility of the sound board in the center below the bridge, increasing bass response and overall resonance.

To my ear the D-41 has that classic dark Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce undertone, strong ringing fundamentals and complex harmonic overtones, while also being a very lively, clear and defined voice, sunnier and chimier than a Style 28 or Style 35 Martin, with that 40-something shimmer in the highest timbres.

A D-41 sounds similar to a D-45, but it is not as resonant or complex a voice, as the D-45 has that trench cut into the sides and back as well, which allows them to breath more easily than other Martins.

The D-42 is a much more lush, complex version of that, with a rumble in the deeper, darker cellar and more echoy resonance in the higher registers.

A D-42 sounds similar to a D-45V due to the forward-shifted braces, but like the D-41 it is not as complex or resonant for the same reason mentioned above.

Some people find it too complex and thunderous. So I understand why they like a D-41 better, because they want the scalloped braced resonance, but still want tighter, more defined fundamentals and a guitar that is less thumpy and echoy. But the D-42 is one impressive guitar with a huge personality and many people find the wow factor too much to turn down.

But the D-42 also costs a lot more – or should. It sounds like someone is trying to offer you a deal on a D-42 by selling it low, while trying to sell you a D-41 for the price of a D-42. Perhaps they have had the 42 a while and would be happy to sell it for a slight profit.

I make a point of not dwelling on price publicly, as I feel everyone should support and buy from the dealer of their choice, and I do not wish to take bread out of any dealer’s mouth. But it is a fact that Martin dealers are limited to what price they are allowed to advertise a new, non-custom Martin. That price is called the MAP, for Minimum Advertised Price. Many dealers rely on this because they know most buyers are unaware that other dealers will sell Martins considerably below the MAP. But you have to find them and ask them in person for their best price.

Frankly, you can get a D-41 at a better price if you look for it. Where as, a nationwide price hunt for another D-42 might save you $100 tops.

The D-42 is clearly the better deal in your situation, and has the better resale value because of that. That being said, if you play a D-41 that makes you have to buy it at that price, you may not find one at a lesser price that you like as much. But once you get up into the 40s at Martin the consistency of quality is pretty great.

So, unless you have a decided dislike of forward-shifted bracing, the D-42 would be my recommendation given the options you provided.



Martin 000 vs OM, what’s the diff?

A reader seeks help understanding why Martin 000 guitars in the lower price ranges are not called OM.

I really enjoy the site. Especially the information about Martin Guitar.

Can you help me better understand why Martin uses the “000″ (triple aught) designation for orchestra bodied models below the 18 Series, when “OM” would be a more accurate designation since they have a standard length scale?


Jim in Pennsylvania

Spoon writes:

(Updated July 3, 2019)

Hi Jim,

Thank you for your kind words and interesting question.

I am going to answer your question, and then use it as a springboard to address the whole 000 vs. OM issue.

The simple answer to your actual question is, the 25.4″ string scale, known as the “long scale,” became the industry standard for guitars with that body size, so Martin decided to go with the long scale for the sake of direct competition. And the name of “000” for that size was more well known generically than “OM.”

The “short-scale” neck, measuring 24.9″ and used on smaller Martin body sizes, survived on certain traditional 000 models made in Style 18 and above, and is now making a resurgence, thanks to the recent interest in vintage and retro style guitars.

As to traditional Martin 000s vs OMs, the Martin OM and 000 have the exact same body size in terms of shape and depth. But overall they are not the same thing.

The 000s from the late 1940s on up until modern times were made with a short-scale neck that has the 1-11/16″ width at nut, with non-scalloped 5/16″ bracing.

The OMs, which were sold from 1930 to 1933, and did not appear again in the main Martin line until 1990, have a long-scale neck, which makes them louder and more powerful, and 1/4″ scalloped bracing that makes them more resonant with greater projection than a comparable 000.

This major difference remained the case with all Martin 000s and OMs made in Style 18 and higher until quite recently.

** I must confess, only now as I review this posting in March of 2016 do I realize how clearly the previous paragraphs were composed by an OM player, who prefers that design over the traditional 000s. So I shall balance it as best I can by pointing out that the short-scale 000s certainly have their fans, and for good reasons.

The traditional 000s provide a more-intimate experience by comparison to the OMs. They launch a very clear and defined voice of fundamental notes, while also providing the guitarist with a subtler yet expressively reactive character that very much responds to subtle changes in playing, even if that does not shout out to the room in the same way an OM does. But it still inspires the player, and the results still translate to the broader audience, even if that happens in subtler ways.

And, for some players, the most important differences are found in the shorts-scale’s lower string tension and the fact the frets are laid closer together. The looser strings allow them to be bent farther to achieve higher notes, and the condensed fingerboard allows guitarists to achieve stretches across more frets than they could otherwise make.**

Also, at the time the decision was made to offer the lower-priced Martin 000s in the long scale, there were actual OM models offered in Style 16 and Style 15, as well as the Road Series and 1 Series. OMs typically differed from 000s in various ways other than scale length, even though they shared the same dimensions in terms of body size. The OM had lighter bracing and wider string spacing than the 000, which made them popular with fingerstylists and players with larger than average hands.

Over the years the lines between the two designations have merged, until it seems arbitrary as to why one guitar is called 000 while a similar guitar is called OM.

But, as usual for Martin history, the facts leading up to it all are not so simple.

For those who might need to know, the “scale” we are referring to is the length of the string from the saddle to the nut, i.e. the part of the string that is played and fretted to make music. The longer the scale, the more string tension and resulting resonant energy, but the wider the space between each fret on the neck.

It is worth pointing out that the string scales during the vintage Martin era were actually 2-7/8″ for the short scale and 25″ for the long scale. They were in place by the 1870s. But no one seems to know when these two measurements were adjusted to the 24.9 and 25.4 used today.

And it may be helpful to remind folks that acoustic guitar sizes tend to follow this system:

Concert (Martin size “0”)

Grand Concert (Martin size “00” – similar to Gibson size “L”)

Auditorium (Martin size 000 or size OM)

Grand Auditorium (Martin size 0000 aka size M)

Dreadnought (similar to Gibson’s round shoulder Jumbo size, and their square shoulder guitars like the Dove, and Hummingbird)

Small Jumbo (similar to Martin’s Grand Performance size and Taylor’s size 14)

Jumbo (similar to Gibson’s Super Jumbo)

Grand Jumbo, aka Grand J (similar to Guild’s Jumbo)

Read More at: Understand Martin Model Designations

This brief history lesson should help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the whole OM vs 000 conundrum.


From the company’s founding in 1833 up to this point, Martin only made 12-fret guitars with sloped shoulders, similar in shape and look to modern Classical guitars, even though they typically had steel strings by this time. The largest size sold under the Martin brand was the 000. (The mammoth dreadnought size was made only for the Ditson music-oriented department stores, beginning in 1916.)

In late 1929, Martin made a special auditorium-size guitar with a longer neck, for popular band leader Perry Bechtel who wanted to transition from the banjo to the steel string guitar. Basically, they flattened down the shoulders on their standard body shape, which spread them wider while exposing two more frets for playing.

That guitar became the prototype of Martin’s revolutionary Orchestra Models, which were the first Martins designed from the ground up for steel strings, and which offered 14 frets clear from the body. In other words, they were the first modern acoustic guitars, with a direct influence on almost every flattop acoustic guitar that followed.


Martin’s catalog offered for sale the new 14-fret guitars in their largest size, the 000, but the model stamp inside the guitar had the 000 replaced with “OM”, as in OM-18, OM-28, OM-45. The name Orchestra Model was a marketing ploy meant to attract banjoists in dance orchestras, who were converting to guitars, once they were featuring steel strings.

Most people do not know that Martin also offered the 1932 0-17 and 0-18 in the 14-fret orchestra model design as well, along with one special order 000-42. However, none of them got the OM as part of the model stamp.

But it is the actual OMs that matter here…

The OMs of that time went through a rapid evolution. For example, the small pickguard only lasted some six months (although some examples from 1931 exist.)

The bracing on the original OMs consisted of an X-brace that was 5/16″ in width, surrounded by smaller “tone bars” that were 1/4″ in width.

The straight bridge used for decades at Martin was replaced with a larger belly bridge, to better withstand the extra tension of steel strings.


The Ditson department store closes during the Great Depression. Martin offers the Dreadnought body size under their own brand for the first time. The D-1 and D-2 are sold as test models and then quickly become the D-18 and D-28. Both have the 12-fret body design.


Martin introduces a 14-fret version of ALL their sizes from 0 to the D. Any 14-fret Martin is considered to be an “orchestra model,” as opposed to the 12-fret “standard models.” For example, the 14-fret dreadnoughts appear in the 1934 catalog as “Orchestra Model, Size D.”

Martin changes the stamp inside the OMs to “000” so they may return to their normal size designations. Therefore, a 1933 OM is identical to a 14-fret 000 from early 1934. They are the exact same thing.

Sometime during the first six months of 1934, Martin changes the 14-fret 000s to the short scale already used for the 0 and 00 sizes, leaving the dreadnoughts as the only long-scale Martins. And the bracing on the 000 changes to 5/16″ for all braces, around the same time. Long-scale 000s from 1934 remain among the most desirable Martin guitars.


Martin changes their neck width for all 14-fret models from 1-3/4″ at the nut to 1-11/16″, and changes the string spacing at the saddle accordingly, from 2-3/8″ or 2-5/16″ for most guitars to 2-1/8″ (equal to the fingerboard width of the 12th fret on the new more-slender fingerboard.)


Martin changes all bracing to non-scalloped “straight” bracing. (Actually, this evolves starting in 1944.)

So, by this time, all 000-size Martins are short-scale guitars, with a 1-11/16″ neck and 5/16″ non-scalloped braces. This 14-fret 000 design remains in place for the next 60+ years.


A guitar shop in Pittsburgh convinces Martin to make a small batch of “OMs” that have a long-scale 1-3/4″ necks. This was Music Emporium, which moved to Massachusetts in 1970.


By 1970 the only 000s remaining are the 000-18 and 000-28.

Various small-shop luthiers begin to offer guitars for fingerstyle guitarists that are closer to the old Martin OMs.

Martin remains conservative, offering OMs in small limited editions throughout the 1980s. They have 1/4″ scalloped bracing across the top, to better simulate the lighter, more responsive build of the 1930s Martins.


In 1990, Martin finally introduces the modern OM into their main catalog. The guitar has the same body size as the 000, but it has a long-scale, 1-3/4″ neck with compatible string spacing, rather than a short-scale, 1-11/16″ neck. OMs continue to have scalloped 1/4″ bracing, while 000s have straight 5/16″ bracing.

The OMs are also offered with the smaller “teardrop” pickguard similar to those seen on the earliest OMs from 1930.

By the end of 1994 the modern Standard series OM-28 and OM-45 have come and gone, but the OM-21 and eventually the OM-42 take their place. All were made from Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce.

In 1996 the OM-28V enters the new Vintage Series of Martin guitars. Also made from Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce, it offers more vintage-esque features than the Standard series OMs, like wider string spacing and a V neck shape. The mahogany OM-18V soon followed, as too did the Adirondack spruce-topped Golden Era Series OM-18, OM-28, and the OM-45, the latter two made with Brazilian rosewood.

As for 000s, the introduction of the Eric Clapton models in the early 1990s provide short-scale 000s that have 1-3/4″ V necks and scalloped 5/16″ braces. The 000-42 is eventually released in the Standard Series, even though it has the exact same construction as the 000-28EC in terms of scalloped bracing, neck shape, and string spacing.

Sometime around the turn of the century the first major blurring of the lines between OM and 000 appears, as Martin expands their more affordable series of guitars below Style 18, and the decision is made to offer all such 000s in the long scale, which has become the industry standard.

The OMs below Style 18 continue to have a wider neck and thinner braces, but scalloped braces and a long-scale neck have finally come to the contemporary 000s.

And yet, the Standard series 000-18 and 000-28 retain the short-scale neck and straight 5/16″ bracing.


All heck breaks loose.

OMs below Style 18 go extinct, leaving only long-scale 000s.

The Golden Era/Marquis series of Martin guitars introduces the 000-18GE and later the 000-42 Marquis. Both guitars offer 1/4″ scalloped OM-style braces on a short-scale 000, for increased response and resonance. This series also features Adirondack spruce tops and a more-vintage-like scalloping to the braces.

The John Mayer signature model offers an OM with a 1-11/16″ neck, and the lines between OM and 000 continue to blur further.

Please bear in mind there are exceptions to almost everything I have said so far, when it comes to limited editions, special editions, artist signature models, etc.

To make matters more confusing, Martin recently decided to put their new “High Performance Neck” on their Standard Series OM-28, OM-21 and 000-18, so they now have the same neck shape and string spacing: 1-3/4″ width at nut, 2-1/8″ at the 12th fret, and 2-5/32″ string spacing.

In practical terms, it has the dimensions of the previous 1-11/16″ neck, only cheated out a bit wider near the headstock, and with a tad wider string spacing at the saddle.

At least the 000-18 gets the scalloped 1/4″ braces it deserves, while remaining a short-scale guitar. And the OM-stamped guitars continue to have a long-scale neck and classic 1/4″ OM braces.


Martin introduces the OMC-18E, OMC-28E, and OMC-35E to the Standard Series. Each is an Orchestra Model with a Cutaway body and on-board Electronics.

This re-introduces a long-scale OM in Standard Styles 28 and 35, and an OM with Standard Series specs in Style 18 for the first time ever.

All of these guitars have the modern High Performance Neck.

Only the Standard 000-28 remains as the lone 000 alive and kicking with straight, non-scalloped 5/16″ braces, and a short-scale, 1-11/16″ neck with the Low Profile neck shape.

The OM-42 remains as the only OM left standing with the low profile neck and a traditional fingerboard taper of 1-3/4″ at the nut and 2-1/4″ at the 12-fret, with 2-1/4″ string spacing.

Both models sell too well for Martin to change them, thus far.


Martin introduces its “Reimagined” Standard Series, with all models getting the High Performance Neck and string spacing, plus new standardized cosmetic appointments for Style 28, among other changes. Read More at: Understand Martin Model Designations

The 000-28 FINALLY gets scalloped bracing. Interestingly enough, they get the 5/16″ scalloped bracing like the Eric Clapton models, while the 000-18 retains its 1/4″ scalloped bracing like an OM, with no explanation offered (to me from Martin) as to why this is.

There is also now an OM-18, well an OM-18E with electronic pickup system. But it is the first cataloged OM-18 without a cutaway offered by Martin in their Standard Series, ever. A purely acoustic OM-18 is likely to turn up sometime. But as stated above, the long-scale OM-18 and the short-scale 000-18 now have the same fingerboard width at nut, string spacing, and the same 1/4″ scalloped bracing, while the short-scale 000-28 and 000-42 have 5/16″ while their respective OM counterparts have 1/4″ bracing.

And when it comes to the 000s made below Style 18, the 16 Series and 15 Series 000s still get the long-scale neck and 5/16″ bracing. But the 17 Series 000s have a short-scale neck and 5/16″ bracing. And the Road Series 000s get a short-scale neck, but with a 5/16″ X brace and 1/4″ tone bars not unlike they very first 14-fret OMs that started it all in 1929.

All in all, it is easy to see how someone would look at the current Martin lineup and wonder; why would a long-scale Auditorium-size guitar made in the various series below Style 18 be called a 000 rather than an OM?

When it comes to Martin guitars, the answer is rarely as simple as the question.


The Modern Deluxe Series debuts at Winter NAMM 2019, with two models that add to the tandem OM – 000 Design. They have the same bracing and each has the new Vintage Deluxe neck profile. Despite the various unusual construction features they retain the same sort of differences in tone and dynamics that show off the importance of the short scale vs. the long scale.

000-28 Modern Deluxe Review with Video

OM-28 Modern Deluxe Review with Video