How To Choose a Martin Acoustic Guitar

D-18 vs. D-28 and Much, Much More

For nearly 200 years, Martin has been crafting the finest acoustic guitars in the world. The creators of the dreadnought body shape, the storied company and its instruments have been a bedrock of American music.

From Hank Williams to Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell to Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan, the list of famous Martin players pretty much matches the list of the 20th century's most influential artists.

With a history that deep, Martin has a deep inventory of guitars to match. But it has an internal logic that's easy to follow once you learn the ropes.

So, if you're in the market for a Martin—and why would you not be—watch our video and keep reading to know how to find the best Martin guitar for you.

Quick Picks

What's the Difference Between D-18, D-28 & More Body Styles?

How to understand Martin naming conventions

If you know nothing else about Martin, know this: Every Martin model has a prefix, a hyphen, and then a model number. The prefix tells you the type and size of the guitar, while the numbers tell you how fancy the appointments will be.

A D-18 is a dreadnought, and a fairly bare bones one at that. The D-28 is nicer, with more expensive rosewood instead of mahogany back and sides. The D-45 is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, with lovely binding, pearl inlays, and an ornate rosette. No matter what prefix lies in front, the suffix will give you a pretty good indication about the level of niceties you can expect.

These naming conventions hold true with few exceptions across Martin's inventory, vintage and new, though there are some additional letters that can be added to either side of the hyphen.

For example, the HD prefix, as found in the HD-28 and other guitars. Here, the shape (D) is the same as a standard dreadnought, while the added H refers to the herringbone inlays that help to distinguish the guitars from their close siblings. (Note though: There are Martins with herringbone features that don't have the H in their prefix.)

Martin will also sometimes add a suffix letter or letters to the end of the name—like the E in D-18E—to indicate another special quality. In this case, the extra E means the guitar has an electric pickup.

Now that you know the basics of Martin naming conventions, let's look at a more thorough breakdown of what all these letters and numbers mean.

Body Style Picks, From 0 to Jumbo

Martin Prefix Descriptions: What the Pre-Hyphen Letters Mean on Martin Guitars

  • 0, 00: Concert. The collective 0/00/000 guitars are Martin's parlor guitars and have the smallest body sizes, with 0 being more slender and 00 being slightly larger overall.
  • 000/OM: Auditorium/Orchestra Model. 000s can also be called Auditoriums, while OMs are Martin's Orchestra Model. The body of these guitars are identical.
  • 0000/M: Grand Auditorium. These models are a little larger than the 000 but still relatively thin-bodied.
  • GP: Basically an OM body with the depth of a dreadnought.
  • D: Dreadnought, Martin's signature body shape.
  • J: Jumbo. Martin's largest body size (along with Grand Jumbo).
  • LX: Little Martin. A newer prefix for Martin, these are 3/4"-sized guitars, equivalent to Taylor's Mini line, and built with HPL instead of solid woods.
  • DJr: Smaller and less deep than a traditional dreadnought, still built with solid woods.
  • SC: Single Cutaway, a newer body style with an asymmetrical shape.

Dreadnought Picks, From Plain to Ornate

Martin Number Descriptions: What the Post-Hyphen Numbers Mean on Martin Guitars

  • 1: These indicates the use of high-pressure laminate (HPL) instead of solid wood or traditional ply construction.
  • 2: HPL back and sides, solid wood top.
  • 10: Solid sapele wood with a satin finish, as seen on Road Series models.
  • 11: Spruce wood top, solid sapele back and sides, gloss top finish.
  • 15: The lowest number you'll commonly find on traditional body shapes. All mahogany wood, often features A-frame bracing.
  • 12: Black body binding, full gloss finish. (Note: When used as a prefix, it means 12-string.)
  • 13: White body binding, full gloss finish.
  • 16: All solid wood, spruce tops, and, depending on the model, can have mahogany or rosewood bodies.
  • 17: Closer to 15s than 16s (16s were built later, as less expensive alternatives to 18s). A new 17 series lineup appeared in the 2010s, with satin finishes on spruce tops.
  • 18: For dreadnought shapes, these are the entry-level option, but still feature high-quality wood and construction, like spruce tops with X bracing, mahogany back and sides.
  • 21: These do not have the high-end look of higher-number models but use more premium woods than 18s.
  • 28: The 28s have rosewood back and sides vs. the 18's mahogany, and feature a few extra finishing touches.
  • 35/36: Very similar to 28s, but with bound necks and thinner internal bracing. Three-piece rosewood back and sides.
  • 40/41/42/45: These are most luxurious guitars Martin makes and feature the most premium woods, detailed pearl inlays, rosettes, and other high-end touches.

Martin Model Variants

Martin Suffix Descriptions: What the Post-Hyphen Letters Mean on Martin Guitars

  • A: Indicates a shallower body
  • C: Cutaway, also used as a prefix
  • E: Electric
  • GE: Golden Era, a vintage-style series from the '90s and early 2000s
  • GT: Gloss Top (as opposed to fully gloss or fully satin finish)
  • K: Koa
  • LS: Large Soundhole
  • M: Mahogany
  • N: Nylon strings
  • V: Vintage, another vintage-style series with a V neck shape
  • R: Rosewood
  • S: Slotted headstock
  • X: X series, a newer, more affordable line

Comparing Martin Series

Nearly every historic model Martin ever built is still being built today, and you can find them at all levels of affordability.

Like Gibson, Fender, and other classic guitar companies, how closely Martin adheres to historical accuracy can usually be measured by price. So if you want a hand-built Martin, constructed the same way it was made 100 years ago, you're going to have pay for the highly skilled labor and premium parts.

If instead you'll accept some modern construction techniques for what is essentially the same or at least a very similar guitar, you can save a lot of money. Or, if you want a budget-friendly acoustic for traveling or casual strumming, there are plenty of options at that level too.

Beyond the naming conventions above, Martin organizes its lineup through various series. Here's a selection of the current runs.

Martin Standard Series

The backbone of Martin, Standard Series models stay true to Martin history. While they employ some modern construction techniques, the end result is nearly the same as their historic counterparts.

Martin Modern Deluxe Series

Incredible, high-end instruments that marry classic craft and top-tier modern upgrades like carbon fiber bridge plates.

Martin X Series

X series guitars are great for beginners, travelers, or anyone else that wants Martin tone without worrying about a prized model.

Martin Road Series

Built for working musicians and with playability in mind, the Road Series will make for nice companions on stages and in studios.

Martin Authentic Series

Built with exacting detail to match Golden Era instruments—and with wood aged to match the resonance of vintage soundboards—these Authentic series Martins are as close as you can get to pre-War guitars in the 21st century.

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