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.
C.F. Martin & Company—American Made, Globally Desired
C.F. Martin & Company was established in the United States in the year of 1833. From that time on, they've maintained an international reputation as manufacturers of some of the very finest steel-string acoustic guitars in the world. I own one. In fact, they're so good that I used to own two others. Martin has always been, and will certainly always be, a premium brand.
When you play steel-string acoustic guitars, you always wind up wanting to own at least one Martin. If you are an American, you can't do much else but look at this very old company, its proud history, its fantastic line of instruments, and be proud that they are American, and that you are too.
C.F. Martin & Company produces more than just steel-string acoustic guitars. The guitars are, however, the thing they are mostly associated with, and we should narrow the focus down even a bit more. Martin is mostly known for producing fantastic dreadnought guitars. What is a dreadnought? Well, it's the large acoustic steel string guitars Martin originated.
The dreadnought was a body style created by Martin guitars. They didn't catch on right away, but once they did, everyone in the world also had to produce dreadnought models. It's the most successful body style for a steel-string acoustic guitar, and it probably always will be.
While most guitarists are familiar with the Martin D-18, what about the models on either side of it, like the D-19 and the D-17m? Neither of these models is currently in production, and this makes them very collectible and very desirable. For our purposes, we're going to have a look at these two lesser-known Martin flat tops.
Martin D-19 vs. Martin D-17m
Discontinued Martin guitars are always going to be collectible. I certainly don't have the money to collect guitars, but perhaps you do. Speaking of money, what are we talking about here? I'm seeing D-19s for sale from between eighteen hundred to just a bit over two thousand dollars. The much more recent D-17m guitars are going for between twelve and fourteen hundred dollars.
If I were in the market right now for one of those guitars, I'd go for the D-17m. Why? Because it's a much more recent model, and in the past thirty or so years, C.F. Martin & Company has seen an explosion of foreign and domestic competition. The production standards Martin has employed in the past few decades have been spectacular, in my experience, and it is because they simply must be. Competition is essential to the guitar industry, as it is with all other forms of business and service.
That said, the D-19 is more collectible and more valuable. However, in terms of tone, I would honestly put more faith in the D-17m.
Review of the Martin D-19 Guitar
The Martin D-19 is rare and definitely worth it. Martin D-18 guitars have always been a favorite of mine, and millions of others. The Martin D-28 is probably the most sought-after steel-string acoustic guitar in the entire world. The Martin D-35 and D-45 are also extremely desirable guitars. Most folks know about these, but what about the D-19?
I've seen exactly one D-19 in my life. This was roughly twenty years ago. I was working at the Dallas Independent School District, I was on my one-hour lunch break in old east Dallas. I ate quickly at a fast food joint, then walked to a pawn shop about fifty or so yards away. I went in and looked around, and there was a Martin hanging on the wall, but it was behind the cash register. Nobody was going to get to see that without asking.
I asked what model it was, and a man told me it was a D-19, and that it was a rare guitar. I believed him, as I'd never once heard of a D-19. I didn't have a lot of time, so I didn't ask to have a hands-on look at the guitar, but I kept on thinking about it. I would go back to the same place time and again to see if it was still there. Finally, I considered taking out a small loan, but the next time I went to the pawnshop in old east Dallas, the Martin D-19 was gone.
What Does a Martin D-19 Guitar Sound Like?
C. F. Martin & Company produced the Martin D-19 from the years 1976-1988. These are essentially Martin D-18 guitars with a few additional visual style features. The biggest and most noticeable part of the visual flair is the dark-stained spruce soundboard.
The point was to make a guitar that looked as though it was made entirely of mahogany, save the inner bracing, which is always of spruce. Make no mistake, that is absolutely a spruce soundboard. Additionally, the D-19 had a D-28 style rosette and D-21 style top purfling.
Some of these guitars are much lighter, and some of them are much darker. The tops go from stained to where they are nearly chocolate-colored, to stained so lightly that you can't help but wonder if everyone on the production team was on the same page or not.
What does a D-19 sound like? Well, as stated, I never actually got to handle the only one I'd seen. I was keeping my eyes on it, and it slipped away. Anyway, it's going to be (in every tonal way) the same as a Martin D-18. Oh sure, the science is that every last thing on an acoustic guitar affects the sound, but I'm going to go on record saying no one can hear any difference in some stain on a solid spruce top.
If you want to hear someone play one, and knock the tune completely out of the ballpark, take a listen to the video below. If I could play as well as this guy, I'd have already uploaded videos of every single thing I ever knew.
Review of the Martin D-17m Guitar
The Martin D-17m is much the same as the D-19 in that it is an all solid wood construction mahogany body dreadnought with a shaded spruce top. In the case of the D-17m, the staining of the top is conducted in a much more rigorously consistent manner.
The appointments, instead of being a bit more dressed, as in the case of the D-19, are instead a bit more sedated. Another exciting thing going on here with the D-17m is the incorporation of an alternative tonewood. While some websites are calling the fingerboard material East Indian rosewood, the truth seems to be, in fact, a cousin of that wood is used instead.
I was always a bit confused about the fretboard positioning marker inlays on this model. They used the same type they use on the much fancier HD-28. I don't understand why they did this, as the idea seemed to be to make something less fancy, and so, less expensive than the D-18, but with a cool tinted top. The rosette is as simple as it could possibly be.
What is this mystery material? It's no mystery, it is solid morado, and the same material is used to make the bridge. I've got another bit of important information about this, and it is that morado is the exact same thing as Pau Ferro, something Fender is now also using for fingerboards on some of their Strats.
It's important to know that more than one hundred years ago, the Martin '17' line of instruments had spruce tops. Later in the twentieth century, the Martin 17 series instruments were all mahogany, including a solid mahogany top. I own a 00-17, which is just so, but the newest Martin 17 series guitars are spruce-top guitars but stained so as to appear to be all mahogany.
What Does a Martin D-17m Guitar Sound Like?
The much newer, but also discontinued, D-17m doesn't evoke the D-19 at all. It evokes the Martin 17 series, which dates all the way back to 1856. The love of a simple brown guitar which covers any base required isn't something fading away.
Unlike the D-19, where the stained tops are inconsistent in their darkness or depth, the D-17m could only be confused with a D-15, which has an actual mahogany top, and not one stained to look like it is mahogany. Make no mistake, there are a lot of differences between the sound of an all-mahogany dreadnought and one with a spruce top, like the D-17m.
There's nothing in the style appointments of either the D-19 or the D-17m which could cause a blindfolded person to be able to hear the difference between either of them and a D-18.
The whole aesthetic is minimalist, but with the power of mahogany and spruce, built by the masters of Martin. The soundboard is gloss, the back and sides are satin, and the binding is a dark tortoise, adding to the whole brown guitar theme.
Thanks for reading!
© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw
Nell Rose from England on July 05, 2019:
I will show my husband this. I have no idea about guitars at all, but he plays the electric and acoustic. Interesting stuff!
Kaili Bisson from Canada on July 04, 2019:
How cool! The guys with Skaggs are amazing!
Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on July 04, 2019:
Thanks Liz! I was raised around persons who had more respect for Gibson and Martin guitars than they had for the Pope. They may or may have not had much for the Pope, but that's another story.
Thanks Kaili! Not buying the D-19 cost me much more money in the end, I wound up buying a much more expensive D-18GE, and then (very very sad face here) selling it when the economy went bust during the great recession.
Yeah that guy in the video is pretty fantastic. I've been to The Walnut Valley Festival 3 different times. I recall one year I sat through the entire flatpicking guitar contest next to some kid who was about 16 or 17 years old. Then he got called to compete, a few years later he got the job for Ricky Skaggs band.
You're practically a savant if you're working for Ricky Skaggs. Anyway, that dude in the vid is definitely on a high level of slickness.
Kaili Bisson from Canada on July 01, 2019:
Oh dear. Too bad that D-19 got away on you Wesman. The D-19 vid you posted is fantastic.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 29, 2019:
This is an interesting fact file on the D series of guitars, comparing different versions.