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The Martin J-15: Martin's Inexpensive, but Rare Jumbo Guitar

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The rare Martin J-15.

The rare Martin J-15.

The Martin J-15, a Rare Jewel

C.F. Martin & Company was established in the United States in the year 1833. C.F. Martin & Company, primarily manufacturers of guitars, is one of the oldest businesses in America and represents the highest standards of craftsmanship regarding musical instruments in the entire world. Along the way, Martin guitars have introduced many models of not just guitars, but other musical instruments as well. The guitars, however, are certainly the bread and butter of the business, and over time, models introduced have been discontinued.

This article concerns a discontinued Martin guitar, but the discontinuing of the instrument was certainly not due to its quality. I have had the opportunity to examine this model myself, as I also did the rest of the 15 series guitars when introduced. Are you looking to own a rare jewel, something which will increase in value as time rolls on and serve you well as a player's instrument? This is exactly what we are discussing here regarding the Martin J-15.

The Jumbo-Size Steel String Acoustic Guitar

It's clear when one familiarizes themselves with the proud history of C.F. Martin & Company the brand didn't become revered and famous for producing jumbo-sized guitars. In fact, no one at all has become famous for such. The dreadnought is universally the standard size for acoustic steel-string guitars, and Martin was the company to design the dreadnought.

The question soon is asked, what's the point of a jumbo guitar anyway? Well, larger humans may well prefer larger-sized guitars. I'm not a large man at all. I'm about five foot eight inches, 165 or so pounds. I do not find a jumbo too large to handle. But were I especially long of limb, it could be I'd find the dreadnought to feel too small. It makes perfect sense that a larger human may well prefer the jumbo size.

What about the tonal properties? It's clear every single last aspect of an acoustic guitar's manufacturing affects the tonal character of that instrument. With the jumbo size guitar, you've got more room in the box, a larger soundboard, meaning the top of the guitar, and so you get a guitar that, without the aid of electric amplification, can produce more volume than smaller sized ones.

An All-Mahogany Jumbo Guitar

One wouldn't even have to know much about guitars at all to see there is a second thing about the Martin J-15 which breaks from the norm. The first thing, of course, one would notice is the size and shape of the guitar. The second thing even a novice would make note of is the guitar is using the same wood on the top of the guitar as on the back and the sides.

This is unusual, as almost every steel-string acoustic guitar one sees has a much lighter colored top wood, and that wood is most often spruce but is sometimes cedar. This Martin J-15 has not just a mahogany body but a mahogany top. What's going on with that?

Well, mahogany is a very easy wood to work with for the guitar builder. Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free of voids and pockets. It has excellent workability and is very durable. Mahogany also resists wood rot. Were you to pick up a guitar with rosewood back and sides, set it down, and then pick up a mahogany guitar, you'd certainly notice how much less the mahogany guitar weighs.

Mahogany as a Soundboard on a Jumbo Guitar

Mahogany soundboards are less expensive than either spruce or cedar soundboards. This is because mahogany is more readily available. It's supply versus demand. It's true a jumbo-sized guitar is going to be louder than a comparable dreadnought or smaller guitar. Comparable is the keyword, as a mahogany soundboard will not spring so much sound off of it as would spruce or cedar.

The mahogany soundboard will produce less tonal complexity but more sustain. It has been said the mahogany soundboards can make a player sound better, as their minor mistakes are less discernible. What I think probably less thought of, but also very important to know is the mahogany soundboard will take longer to become fully broken in.

You'll have to play the guitar longer and harder to get the amount of vibration out of the top to where the soundboard is performing at its peak. Just kick back, relax, but dig in heavy; your reward will come to you in time. I'm personally all in on the heaviest of plectrums. I dig into a note like a miner for gold. So you may be more of a strummer? No big deal; hit those chords hard. In fact, the mahogany top guitar excels as a rhythmic instrument.

All mahogany, the Martin J-15 in its case.

All mahogany, the Martin J-15 in its case.

More J-15 Build Specifications

Warm and powerful, the Martin J-15 can be found only on the used market. Prices range between $700-1,100. As a discontinued Martin guitar, I would expect the prices for these instruments to head in exactly one direction, and the direction being upwards.

I've been unable to find production numbers for this instrument. What I have found is some came equipped with electronics, but as with most any model of Martin guitar, the majority were not equipped with pre-amp and pickup. Sometimes the bridge of the J-15 is of east Indian rosewood; other times, the bridge is of rosewood's cousin, morado. Morado is also known as Pau Ferro and sometimes is called Bolivian rosewood.

A frame X bracing pattern is employed for the jumbo Martin frame, and rather than the traditional dovetail neck joint, a Mortise/Tenon neck joint is applied here. Altogether this is a fine and extremely interesting guitar. Hopefully, I've laid out reasons enough for an interested party to understand why. I don't have the income to collect guitars, but if I did, this rare Martin jumbo would be on my list. Thanks for reading.

© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw


Curt E. on June 20, 2020:

I have a J 15 Jumbo and a J 12-15 Jumbo. Love them both. Great volume and sound from both.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 17, 2019:

Hold on to that one, Sam S, you'll find one day people lusting over the thing because, unless Martin re-introduces it, they'll have never likely seen or heard of one.

Sam S on September 29, 2019:

I didn't realize how rare my guitar was. I've always loved the sound and size of it. I'm 6'2 so it definitely fits me better than some other guitars.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on August 10, 2019:

Hey thanks very much, Kenneth. Since I'm basically a recluse, and I can't sing - I'm a picker.

Well, I did take lessons for several years. Me just being able to socialize a lot never did happen. So I do enjoy playing the melodies.

Learning stuff is hard work. At least it always was for me. I've known folks who picked up things much easier than I ever could.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on August 10, 2019:

Wesman: frankly, I LOVED your hub and those Martin guitars, which, by the way, are my favorite guitars. Just wish that I could pick one. I have two to plunk around on, but strumming and playing are two different animals. Maybe you could send me a few lessons.

But I appreciate your being here on HubPages.

Come by and write me sometime.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 28, 2019:

They say an all mahogany guitar sort of hides some of your mistakes for you. I guess such a thing could give you confidence on the one hand, but could also cause you to be overly confident.

Then again, I'm one of those people who thinks making a tiny mistake when playing in front of people is horrible, and all the while, nobody noticed it but me.

Robie Benve from Ohio on July 27, 2019:

Very interesting guitar, a jumbo instrument of good quality sounds like fun to play.

Liz Westwood from UK on July 27, 2019:

This certainly looks like a quality guitar complete with a good written account.