A little-known model from the past returns as Martin celebrates its 190th anniversary with the D-19 acoustic
The brand-new D-19 model celebrates a notable milestone for Martin Guitar, but there’s a lot more going on here than just another premium acoustic guitar.
Martin 190th anniversary D-19
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On 6 November 1833, a schooner from Bremen, Germany docked in Lower Manhattan carrying immigrants looking to build a new life in the land of opportunity. One of those individuals was a German luthier by the name of Christian Frederick Martin.
- READ MORE: A Brief History of Martin Guitars
“190 years ago, on November 6th, my great, great, great grandfather and grandmother and their two children arrived in New York City from Germany,” picks up current Martin chairman, Chris Martin IV. “They came to America seeking opportunity and freedom. They initially settled at 196 Hudson Street and opened the first Martin Guitar workshop in the New World.”
In the nearly two centuries since, Martin guitars have been played by everyone from Civil War soldiers to the pioneers of the protest movement. From artists who have shaped what came to be known as pop music to those who proudly champion the counterculture. Martin has become America’s guitar brand as much as any other, and the heritage and pedigree of fine acoustic instruments is without compare.
190 years then, is a milestone worth marking, but Martin has chosen to do so in an interesting and typically boundary-pushing way, with a new guitar that maybe isn’t so new, christened the D-19.
“I was looking for a way for us to celebrate this milestone,” Martin explains. “In 1976 (the anniversary of the founding of our nation) we introduced the D-19. It was designed as an upmarket D-18. We stained the top to utilize spruce that was cosmetically challenged. An early nod to sustainability. I thought it would be appropriate to dust off that model designation and make 190 contemporary D-19s to honour our 190th anniversary.”
The original D-19 is very much not what most people would consider a ‘classic’ of the Martin form. As Chris alludes, the original guitars were created as a way to make use of ‘cosmetically challenged’ spruce tops that were tonally and structurally sound, but perhaps didn’t have the grain pattern that you’d want from a premium instrument with Martin on the headstock.
So as to not waste quality tonewoods (and in a move that now seems ahead of its time) Martin created a new model, the D-19 and opted to stain the tops to make them more cosmetically appealing. The fact that the name ‘D-19’ isn’t up there with your D-18s and D-28s in the honour roll of iconic Martin dreadnoughts should indicate that the idea, while innovative, didn’t really catch on – in no small part because Martin used the same stain they used on its mahogany models for the D-19s spruce tops, and the final affect was polarising to say the least – they were made in such small numbers that even the Martin Museum doesn’t have one in its archives. Still, they were great playing and sounding instruments, and developed something of a cult following due to their uniqueness and rarity.
Fast-forward 40-plus years however, and Chris Martin IV was thinking about how the company could make a unique 190th anniversary instrument that reflected the evolution of the brand in that time, and he got to thinking about the D-19 again.
He knew that Martin had a stock of one of the most highly-prized top tonewoods – Adirondack spruce – that was structurally sound and tonally excellent, but again failed the cosmetic test, and so had sat unused for years. A plan was forming.
“I thought it would be appropriate to dust off that model designation and make 190 contemporary D-19s to honour our 190th anniversary,” Martin explains. “This model also embraces sustainability by utilizing cosmetically challenged Adirondack spruce tops that we have had in inventory for a while.”
But with nearly half a century of innovation and R&D under its belt, Martin would not simply be staining the tops with the same stain used for the mahogany this time around. Instead, Martin would do something very clever and innovative to sort out that ‘cosmetically challenged’ problem – they would change the grain.
Using a Mimaki printer, the builders at Martin would print the grain pattern of rare and prized curly grain mahogany on to the Adirondack spruce, and then stain it – this gives the guitar the stunning look of a curly mahogany top, with the iconic and prized tone of Adirondack.
As a way of getting around an age-old problem, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Martin’s special projects – innovative, respectful of quality materials, and a little off the wall.
“I think it’s really cool, you gotta check it out!” says Chris Martin VI – and with just 190 guitars being made, you’ll need to act fast!