Why are there so many versions of the D-28 for sale?
From its introduction in early 1930s, the Martin D-28 set the standard that all other acoustic guitars have been compared to ever since. Like other iconic products of superior engineering and exceptional craftsmanship, the revolutionary design of the quintessential rosewood dreadnought continued to evolve as the years went by, setting trends and establishing new standards that have been copied by guitar makers around the globe, yet never duplicated.
Today, Martin offers more than one version of this most-iconic acoustic guitar, inspired by various renditions from the D-28’s historic past. And we are going to take a closer look at each of them in this blog post.
The original D-28s were invented during the tenure of Frank Henry Martin, the great-grandfather of Martin CEO Chris Martin. They are now the most desirable and practically priceless acoustic guitars on the planet.
Frank’s son Frederick was responsible for the longest lasting and most influential of the various D-28 designs, dating from the late 1940s. But he also introduced the HD-28 in the 1970s, which brought back some fabled features from his dad’s pre-war Martin era.
In this century, Chris Martin went much further in creating meticulous pre-war Martin reproductions, when he introduced the Authentic Series, including the current D-28 Authentic 1937 and D-28 Authentic 1937 Aged. And more recently, he introduced the D-28 Modern Deluxe, which combines vintage Martin mystique with the sort of ultramodern engineering undreamt of by his most visionary of forefathers.
All of them are handcrafted from top-quality all-sold tonewoods, seasoned to perfection in Martin’s famous acclimation room. All of them have a traditional nitrocellulose lacquer finish and a traditional hand-fitted dovetail neck joint set in solid mahogany neck blocks, both playing important roles in the creation of the traditional Martin tone. Yet every D-28 model available today has features unique to its specific design, tailored to create related but individual voices in the Martin choir, found at prices available to most every budget.
First on our list is the direct descendant of the very first D-28, which has kept that fabled name to this day, and currently resides in the Standard Series of professional-level Martin guitars.
Today’s Standard D-28 is the model most like the design that was codified in the late ‘40s. This was the D-28 of Fred Martin, aka C. F. Martin III, Chris’ granddad. It remained virtually unchanged for 70 years.
The hallmarks from this icon of peerless luthiery include the 14-fret Dreadnought body size constructed with the Martin-invented X-bracing pattern of straight, non-scalloped braces, and made in Martin’s Style 28 of that era, consisting of rosewood back and sides, a top of quartersawn Sitka spruce, decorated with black and white ply purfling, bound in white, and attached to a long-scale neck with an ebony bridge and an ebony fretboard inlaid with white domino dot position markers made from genuine mother-of-pearl.
The ply purfling and dot markers were borrowed from the Art Deco archtop guitars that Martin made during the Jazz Age. And once applied to the D-28, it became the aesthetic motif copied by countless companies, producing guitars in countless countries throughout the world, at all levels of price and quality. And with all of them were trying to cash in on the image of the one and only Martin D-28, as it was being played by the most influential musicians of their day, from Hank Williams and Elvis Presley of the 1950s, to Johnny Cash and the Beatles of the 1960s; John Prine and Joni Mitchell of the 1970s, to Dwight Yoakam and Michael Hedges of the 1980s, and so on.
The D-28 made with non-scalloped bracing projects fundamental notes of very pure tone, which are both strong and steady. The warmth and power of the Sitka spruce top is enriched with the complex tonal color pallet of the East Indian rosewood back and sides, and yet it is a voice of exceptional articulation. Each note retains its identity during strummed chords or rhythmic picking patterns, and there is a pronounced definition to the deepest bass notes and the highest trebles, while the mid-range notes never get lost, even during ensemble playing.
Reimagined for Modern Times
In 2017, the Standard Series D-28 received its first significant redesign in seven decades. While it retained the black and white ply purfling, dot fret markers, and straight, non-scalloped braces, those braces were moved to the forward-shifted position of the D-28s made in the mid-1930s. The result is increased bass response, for an even more robust 14-fret dreadnought, which still has the muscular yet defined fundamental notes that makes the Standard D-28 so beloved by its devoted fans. It was a bold move resulting in a bold voice, earning many new fans for the straight-braced sound.
Another leap forward for the Standard D-28 is felt in Martin’s contemporary High Performance Neck, which combines an easy-to-play Modified Low Oval profile with the High Performance Taper to the fretboard. It offers the roomy comfort at the nut and the sleek, fast playability up the frets that are most-desired by today’s guitarists.
The classic looks of this legendary tone machine also received a makeover. The quartersawn spruce soundboard was treated to Martin’s Aging Toner. The pickguard was switched from black to faux tortoise shell, and the binding was changed to Antique White. In combination, these new specs make a brand new D-28 look like a mint-condition vintage D-28 from the 1950s, when the royalty of Rock and Country music were making their ascendency, with their Martin guitars in hand.
This exciting new design concept, with its amalgamation of post-war aesthetics and its vintage forward-shifted bracing and modern playability was so successful that it inspired Chris Martin to convert the entire collection of Standard Series models to the same vintage appearance, with forward-shifted bracing for every Dreadnought-size instrument. So, in 2018 the new and improved HD-28 debuted along with the rest of the Reimagined Standard Series.
The H in HD-28 refers to the bold herringbone trim around the edge of the top, which gives it the appearance of a vintage D-28, as do the abalone Diamonds & Squares fret markers and the Zig-zag back strip. In combination, these features represent Martin’s Style 28 as it was known in the years stretching from the American Civil War until World War II.
Otherwise, it has the same High Performance Neck and the same gorgeous tonewoods as the D-28, East Indian back and sides, and quartersawn Sitka spruce for the soundboard, ebony for the fretboard and bridge, as well as the same Antique White binding, Aging Toner, faux tortoise pickguard, open back Grover Sta-Tite nickel tuning machines with butter bean knobs, and the Old Style gold Martin logo across the headstock.
The most significant difference from the D-28 isn’t seen, but heard. And it comes from the HD-28’s scalloped bracing, which supercharges the tone-producing engine under the hood.
When scalloped, a significant amount of wood was removed with a chisel, resulting in lighter, more-flexible bracing. And that means a more-flexible soundboard that responds better to lighter playing, while also producing greater body resonance when under a more vigorous attack. And that body resonance translates into a sense of depth and space, because of the subtle echo heard from the open cavern behind the fundamental notes.
The HD-28 fundamentals ring clear and precise, with the sense of openness or space between each note. And the complexity of the wavering overtones and echoing body resonance meld with the main notes to create a voice of lush rosewood tone.
Whether a guitarist prefers the sonic focus placed on strong fundamentals supported by the warmth of a rosewood undertone, which comes with the non-scalloped braces of the D-28, or if they prefer the more open and resonant voice that comes from the scalloped braces of the HD-28, these two closely related Martins are also near enough in price to make an envious, if difficult, choice for those who cannot own one of each.
But for the guitarist who can afford a step up to truly deluxe features and the latest innovations in modern luthiery, there is the D-28 in the Modern Deluxe Series.
D-28 Modern Deluxe
Beginning with the design of the very popular HD-28, the D-28 Modern Deluxe has upgrades to just about every facet of this new and improved gem of an acoustic guitar.
D-28 Modern Deluxe
The Sitka spruce top has been treated by Martin’s exclusive Vintage Tone System, which uses high heat and air pressure to transform the molecular structure of the tonewood, until it takes on the physical properties of wood that has seasoned for many decades. It makes a new guitar sound like it has been played-in for years upon years. The openness and depth to the voice is truly astonishing.
The bracing is made from VTS Adirondack spruce, which was formerly only available on the Authentic Series Martins, and it has been carved in the Golden Era style, which more closely resembles the forward-shifted scalloped braces of Martins made in the 1930s. Like the top, the VTS treatment allows vibrations to pass through the braces more efficiently, and they are attached with natural protein glue that provides a similar service.
The High Performance neck is made from solid Genuine Mahogany, and carved into Martin’s new Vintage Deluxe profile, which closely resembles the neck shape of a priceless Martin from 1930, without the bulky mass in the upper-frets of most pre-war Martins. It has a skewed shaping that adjusts to the shape of the hand as it moves up the frets, and is amazingly comfortable.
The neck also has a two-way adjustable truss rod made from titanium, which reduces the weight noticeably. It feels as alive with reverberation as the neck on a pre-war Martin made with a wooden rod, yet it has the strength and adjustability of a modern rod made from steel.
But the deluxe features do not stop there! The bridge plate is made of VTS Adirondack spruce sandwiched between thin, strong plates of carbon fiber, and the bridge pins are made from Liquidmetal, a type of metallic glass. The combination allows considerably more sound-producing energy to make their way from the strings, through the braces, to the soundboard, where they are converted into a sonic rainbow of colorful, beautiful soundwaves.
All of these futuristic features have been proven though many special and limited edition Martin models. And now they have been offered as a package deal in the Modern Deluxe Series, along with the Vintage Deluxe neck profile.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the D-28 Modern Deluxe comes with flamed European maple binding and heel cap and golden wear-resistant EVO frets that are complimented by the gold color of the Waverly tuning machines. And the colorful abalone inlay of the C. F. Martin logo continues down through the abalone Diamond & Squares fret position markers. It looks spectacular, almost as good as it sounds!
For all its modern and deluxe features, it really does feel and play with the dynamics of a very old Martin. And it can be had at a significantly lower price than the actual pre-war Martin D-28 recreation found in the Authentic Series.
D-28 Authentic 1937
Built in small numbers by specially-trained employees of the Martin Custom Shop, this guitar was created after Martin took a particularly excellent 1937 D-28 to the Smithsonian Institute and similar facilities, where it underwent examinations using CAT-scan, X-ray, and other technologies to document its every detail. And then they were replicated to the best of modern Martin ability to create the D-28 Authentic 1937.
D-28 Authentic 1937
Everything from the shape of the V neck to the exact shape and position of the small maple bridge plate is copied from that one pre-war guitar.
The back and sides are made from Madagascar rosewood, which is a close replacement in visual beauty and rich, complex tone for the Brazilian rosewood that was used by Martin in the 1930s. By not using that very rare, endangered species of rosewood, it reduces the list price by some $30,000. Otherwise, it has the same Adirondack spruce used for the top and braces, which have been treated with Martin’s Vintage Tone System, dialed in to replicate the physical properties of wood that has been aging naturally since the 1930s.
The braces are in the exact position as the original, and they are “tucked,” meaning the bridge plate is tucked under the braces, which are notched to fit it, and the ends of the X brace are tucked into the kerfing around the edges where the top meets the sides. This technique insures that the greatest amount of vibration makes it from the strings to the soundboard, just like it was done back in the day.
And like those days, the entire construction is done with hot hide glue, which provides a superior bond, as it sinks down into the wood fibers, likewise promoting energy transference with minimal dampening. And the finish is applied to be as thin as found on vintage Martins, and using the same techniques used in the 1930s to achieve what Martin calls their Vintage Gloss look.
The Genuine Mahogany neck is fronted by an ebony fretboard of vintage depth and supported by a traditional steel t-bar. This entire instrument is so much like a pre-war D-28 in weight and feel that it would be impossible to tell one from the other when blindfolded.
And maybe without the blindfold, when it comes to the D-28 Authentic 1937 Aged, which has been hand distressed to look like a vintage instrument, when it comes to the micro cracking in the finish, known as crazing, and various little signs of playing wear carefully added to make this brand new instrument look anything but.
Each Aged guitar is done individually, under the supervision of a senior craftsman who learned relic and aging techniques in various custom shops before coming to Martin and applying his accumulated knowledge on these amazing Authentic Series Martins.
Aged or no, the sound that comes out of these guitars is nothing short of glorious.
The 2019 versions of all these magnificent Martin D-28s offer a most-delicious menu of choices, appropriately priced to provide exceptional value for the handcrafted tone available nowhere else but at C. F. Martin & Co. And none of them can be had at a competitive price and top shelf customer service better than you can find right here at Maury’s Music.