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The Martin M 38 Acoustic 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 M 38 Acoustic Guitar: By C.F. Martin & Company

Almost every single Martin guitar that you've probably heard of was a D something or another, a D 15, D 16, D 18, D 28, D 35, D 42, or D 45 - other than those famous instruments, you've most likely heard of a Martin 0, 00, or 000, or even Martin 0M - followed by the same sets of numbers - minus the 15 and the 16.

What does all of this stuff mean? Well, the D is universally a Dreadnought, and the O's and OM's are smaller guitars of various shapes and sizes.

To make it more simple - the letters in the Martin model number describe the shape or body style of their guitars - and the numbers that follow the letters describe the wood and appointments of the instrument.

So just what in the world is a Martin M 38?

Quite simply the Martin M 38 is a different guitar than any of those - it's a bigger body shape than a dreadnought - it's a grand auditorium shaped guitar that used to be known as the 0000 size instrument, but it's got a thinner or shallower depth to the body - not as deep as a dreadnought in size or depth; specifically, the depth is the same as a Martin 000 instruments, but this guitar has a much bigger sixteen inches measurement in it's lower bout dimension

Tonally, this guitar is designed to have less sustain than a dreadnought guitar would have - the notes are more evenly balanced, accelerate faster, and die off sooner. I'm also told that when this guitar is miked, it's less susceptible to feedback from the microphone.

Dreadnought Guitar

Dreadnought Guitar

M 36, M 38, and M 42

What I'm finding out about these guitars is they are several very similar instruments with various amounts of fancy trim involved — but the three of them basically being the same instrument otherwise. So far as I can tell the M 36 and M 38 guitars were designed for Tom Paxton and Steve Goodman's - with their input for stage guitars to be played while miked — and that the M 36 is only slightly less dressed up than the M 38 with just a bit less abalone inlay.

Then there's the David Bromberg model instrument, the M 42 — which would be the exact same guitar but with Martin 42 style appointments.

The Martin M Acoustic Guitars

None of this is really confusing at all, an M guitar is just a different body style than a D guitar. The only thing to be considered here is that Martin does not make an M 18 guitar. With a traditional Martin High X and scalloped bracing pattern, and a tonewood configuration of solid East Indian Rosewood back and sides, and a solid Sitka Spruce top - the M series Martin guitars are standard flat top guitars with fourteen frets clear of the body.

Were there an M 18 guitar in production - it would be the same as everything mentioned above here anywhere on this article - but with solid mahogany back and sides - which would make it a guitar with even more volume. Actually, it's all very simple, the M guitars are just simply guitars with a larger shape than the D guitars - but a thinner depth.

A Martin M 38 Acoustic Guitar — Let's Have A Salesman Tell Us About The M 38

Martin M 38 — Additional Specifications

The Martin M 38 has a 45 style rosette, a solid East Indian Rosewood bridge, bone nut and saddle, and a solid black ebony fingerboard. Of course, this guitar comes with an upscale hardshell case, and this one is in the Martin 570 Geib style.

With the bone nut and saddle—these guitars are already outfitted for maximum sustain and volume—on top of the favorable design of the body - which was already in favor of clarity, evenness, and volume.

A Martin M 38 Acoustic Guitar

A Martin M 38 Acoustic Guitar

The Martin M 38

David Bromberg is clearly the hero of this specific guitar—and David is a humble giant of acoustic guitar who is vastly underappreciated as both a guitar player, and a fabulous storyteller in regards to acoustic folk music.

It's a fact that Martin had made this instrument for many years and then discontinued it only at some later date to start making it yet again. I've looked around on the net, and not been able to find any specifics concerning when the guitar was in production and when it was not, and when it was reintroduced into production. What I have found is that there are a lot of complaints concerning Martin's craftsmanship during the 1970s—by most accounts, the American acoustic guitar giant had slipped a very great deal in standards—but by nearly all accounts today, Martin has rebounded to its early years quality standards.

I do not mean to imply that Martin guitars built in the 1970s are lesser guitars - I only mean to report that by some accounts that some specific guitars slipped through their quality control with manifestations such as necks that had to be reset more frequently than was common with guitars built at other times in that company's history.

The Martin M 38 and Some Fingerstyle Playing

Final Thoughts

All Martin M series guitars are bound to be terrific guitars. What's going to be most noticeable about these guitars for the players is that they feel differently due to different dimensions—and that even though they may feature the same rosewood and spruce combinations and bracing patterns as various Martin dreadnought guitars - they aren't going to sound the same as those guitars, but they will sound similar.

By changing the body dimensions of a guitar—the tonal characteristics of the woods used also change.

As always, what is best is what the player thinks is best so far as feel and sound are concerned regarding their individualized playing styles and preferences. These guitars were built specifically as stage guitars for their more favorable sound when miked in front of a live audience - but the player must also be aware of the differences in the tonality of these instruments when playing with a small group of friends or alone. Those differences are that the guitars have less sustain and more punch - or a greater velocity of sound—which could well be favorable when playing with louder instruments in a small setting.

I've priced the Martin M 38 specifically at around $3,300.00—please be advised, when dealing with guitars on the showroom floor of guitar shops - should these specific instruments be scuffed or scratched that they can then be purchased very often for less and that in no circumstances should an individual purchase a guitar that they have not played. So if you play the showroom floor instrument—purchase THAT SPECIFIC GUITAR if you liked it—do not accept a deal on an instrument out of the back that you have not had your hands on.

Also - the M 36 guitar would be almost exactly the same instrument for a few hundred dollars less than the M 38, but the David Bromberg model M 42 would likely be as much as a thousand dollars MORE expensive due to the more exquisite and abundant abalone inlay on the instrument.

I'd love to own one of these - but that goes without saying - as I'd love to own one of all Martin production instruments. Below is a standard specifications list for the beautiful Martin M-38.

  • Construction: Mahogany Blocks/Dovetail Neck Joint
  • Body size: M(0000)-14 Fret
  • Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
  • Rosette: Style 45
  • Top bracing pattern: Standard X Scalloped, forward-shifted
  • Top braces: Solid Adirondack Spruce 5/16''
  • Back material: Solid East India Rosewood
  • Back purfling: Style 45
  • Side material: Solid East India Rosewood
  • Endpiece: White Boltaron
  • Endpiece inlay: Black/White Boltaron
  • Binding: White Boltaron
  • Top inlay style: Black/White/Black Boltaron
  • Side inlay: Black/White Boltaron
  • Back inlay: Black/White Boltaron
  • Neck material: Select Hardwood
  • Neck shape: Low Profile
  • Nut material: Bone
  • Headstock: Solid/Diamond/Square Taper
  • Headplate: Solid East India Rosewood w/Raised Gold Foil
  • Heelcap: White Bolaron with Black/White Inlay
  • Fingerboard material: Solid Black Ebony
  • Scale length: 25.4
  • # of frets clear: 14
  • # of frets total: 20
  • Fingerboard width at nut: 1-11/16''
  • Fingerboard width at 12th fret: 2-1/8''
  • Fingerboard position inlays: Style 38
  • Fingerboard binding: White Boltaron
  • Finish Back & Sides: Polished Gloss
  • Finish top: Polished Gloss w/Vintage Toner
  • Finish neck: Satin
  • Bridge material: Solid East India Rosewood
  • Bridge Style: Belly
  • Bridge string spacing: 2-1/8"
  • Saddle: 16" radius/ Compensated/Bone
  • Tuning machines: Gotoh Chrome w/Large Knobs
  • Recommended strings: Martin MSP 4100 Phosphor Bronze
  • Bridge & endpins: White w/Black Dots
  • Pickguard: Tortoise Color
  • Case: 570 Geib style

The Martin M 38 Acoustic Guitar


Questions & Answers

Question: How does one adjust the truss rod?

Answer: With the Allen wrench which should have come with the guitar. Typically the adjustment is under the sound-hole. You'd need to slack or remove the strings to access it. I'm going to be honest here though, if you don't know what you're doing, you should take your guitar to a shop where someone can do it for you, and show you how to do it.

© 2011 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 06, 2016:

Hey Robert, I can see photos on the web of M36s with cutaways, but those may be custom shop, and not standard production.

I'm certain Martin would build a cutaway M38, but it may have to be a custom shop order.

robertzimmerman2 on September 05, 2014:

I would like these with the thinner body but even better if they had a cutaway model.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 21, 2013:

Guy Pernetti - I know just what you mean! Doesn't matter if the same guy or group made the same two or three instruments to the exact same specs within the thousandth of an inch from woods from the same several trees....they're not all equal! Some are just ...special!

I know all about that Guitar Acquisition Syndrome !!!!!!!

Glad you got a great one!

Guy Pernetti on March 21, 2013:

Well, as I read about the sustain lengths between the dreadnaughts and the M 36 or 38, I remember that my m 36 and m38 had about the same sustain as my d 35 and d 35-12. It's like comparing a Moseratti to a Ferarri. I have found differences in individual guitars (of the same models) and when I went into the local music store in Kent,Ohio, I tried all the fancy guitars in the guitar room. I have 16 guitars and a wife that really doesn't want me to procure any more instraments. That being said, as I played this particular M 38, we both looked at each other and knew that I was goint to own that guit. Un-believable tone. A beautiful voice and a playability that was spectacular.

I use lots of tunings and also play lap style slide,so when I play out,I bring at least six guitars. Three Martins,two Gibsons and a Dobro. I love them all. The M's are the best I've ever used. I admit freely that I have a bad case of G.A.S. and an awsome wife who loves guitar and me.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on October 20, 2011:

Since the fiddle has been the chief musical instrument played on my Mom's side of the family for a few hundred years, I give it a go every so often. Check out my "Rosin in the Blood" hub to hear my great-grandfather's fiddle played by my cousin at his grave site. Makes me envious!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 20, 2011:

I've got lots of traditional fiddle tunes tabbed out for mandolin - simple beginners arrangements - I know I could learn that one.

But my old grandfather could scratch out tunes pretty well on anything - but when he'd play fiddle - he was struggling!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on October 20, 2011:

One must have a good ear to play without frets, Wesman. I can attest to the mandolin not being a great aid in the transition to the fiddle.

The bow is the killer though!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 20, 2011:

I think that would just have to be the most difficult instrument to play.

I'm forever wondering just how the hell someone knows that their on the right "fret" - because there ain't no frets!!!

Then the bow - totally different technique. I wonder how much playing a mandolin would help in a transition from frets and picks to bows and no frets!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on October 20, 2011:

I agree, Wesman. The fiddle is the hardest for me because using the bow is so different from picking or strumming with the fingers.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Hell yeah Randy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I wish I could play a five string banjo!!! I'm positive that being able to play multi instruments makes one better at any one of them!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Arlene V. Poma - LOL!!!!!

Yeah - it's impossible to play with fingernails past the end of the fingertips on the fretboard hand!!!!


But for fingerpickers - the picking hand's fingernails can become quite an obsession!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Thank you very much Neil Sperling !!!!!

Truth is that I'm often educating myself in the process!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Hey Thanks Sue Swan!!!!!

I truly love finding some obscure but wonderful videos to match things on hubpages!!!

I really just love the danged old internet!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Heck Yeah - Flora! Mom's keeping a close eye on my internets!!!!


FloraBreenRobison on October 19, 2011:

Oh, your Mom has read your hubs. How great to have your Mom leave a comment.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Hey Thanks Mom!

I'm not sure my writing is so "beautiful" - but I did try real hard!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Hey thanks Tamron!!!!!

I don't know a whole lot in life - but I figure my enthusiasm for acoustic guitars and music ought to be able to help me to create some decent hubpages!!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 19, 2011:

Thanks Tom!!!!

Bromberg is really a super humble guitar player who has reasons to be super NOT humble - he's just a great guy who deserves his own hub.

Tom Paxton and Steve Goodman - Ditto.

Random Hot Chicks With Guitars????? LIKE!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on October 18, 2011:

Great hub, Wesman! Since I learned to play 5 string banjo before the guitar, I use several different picking methods and different numbers of picks for them.

It's always fun to watch other folks play and the different slants on finger picking they use in their music. Voted up, of course.


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on October 18, 2011:

Hey Dusty - Yeah, it's similar, the fingerpicking thing that Bromberg demonstrates - to crosspicking while flatpicking, and the old problem of whether or not someone wants to use alternate picking or traditional crosspicking, which is two downstrokes and an upstroke.

Pick directions just make the notes sound different - regardless of how good you are at making the notes "even" in volume.

Arlene V. Poma on October 17, 2011:

I know nothing about these guitars, but because of your Hub, I do know a little about them now. I did enjoy the videos and got caught up the music. My guitar experience was in junior high and didn't get anywhere. My instructor cut my nails in front of the class. Voted up, useful, interesting and AWESOME for the history and research.

FloraBreenRobison on October 16, 2011:

I agree with Sueswan, I loved the videos.

Neil Sperling from Port Dover Ontario Canada on October 16, 2011:

great stuff -- thanks for the education

Sueswan on October 16, 2011:

Hi Wes

I really enjoyed this hub and the videos added to the experience.

Voted up and awesome.

Patricia Shaw on October 15, 2011:

Very interesting writing, beautiful guitar and great picking music. Loved it!

justom from 41042 on October 15, 2011:

A hot chick, Tom Paxton, Steve Goodman and David Bromberg mentioned in the same hub? That alone would make it a great hub but the info is killer too!! Nice work Mr. Shaw

tamron on October 15, 2011:

Lots of great info. on guitars! Vote Up and ping Ya!

50 Caliber from Arizona on October 15, 2011:

Shaw Todd manWes, a great presentation of some good info,

the dude showing the finger pick styles of two picks thumb and booger picker showed me something I'd never have thought or tried but loosing the triple pick on bright picking songs does in fact bring emphasis forth.

cool beans, dust