Border Patrol

Top Borders and Rosettes on Martin Guitars

Early Martin Guitars

In the days before the standardization of sizes and styles in the 1850's, the dimensions and features of Martin guitars varied from one example to the next.  Certain features or themes, however, have been repeated from Martin's earliest days until today.

While it is possible that less valuable examples with simpler features have not survived the years, the lack of existing examples of plainer, less adorned C.F. Martin built guitars indicates that Martin, who was the proprietor of a music store in New York City previously trained as a luthier in Vienna, created fancier guitars built to order, while his store sold less expensive instruments imported from Europe.

Early C.F. Martin built guitars typically featured rosettes with pearl inlays set in black mastic in the pattern illustrated here.

Martin Stauffer Guitar

Throughout the late 1830's, the motif shown above was often combined in a pattern with slender "moons".

1837 Martin Hudson Street Guitar

  Guitars built by C.F. Martin at his Lower West Side Hudson Street address also featured a top border of half circles, often referred to as "thumbprints", which are believed by some to have been constructed from pearl button blanks cut in half.

Some of the very first Martin guitars, such as this Hudson Street example, feature the herringbone marquetry that is still a hallmark of Martin guitars over 175 years later.   This Hudson Street Martin has herringbone marquetry inlaid adjacent to the ivory side bindings as well as adjacent to the ivory border surrounding the ice cream cone heel with the clock key adjustment.


Early Martin & Coupa Spanish Style Guitar

Martins dating to the early 1840's feature a rosette comprised of three concentric rings: a wider central ring surrounded by two thinner, simpler outer rings, a pattern that has also been a trademark of Martin guitars to this day.

In addition to the herringbone design, the two Martin & Coupa guitars below feature two other patterns seen often in the 1840's, one alternately referred to as the "half herringbone" or "rope" pattern, and the other comprising alternating tiny black and white squares.

These patterns can alternate placement between both the inner and outer rings of the rosette as well as the top border, while the full larger herringbone can be seen on the inner ring, the top border, and the back strip of the guitar, as well as side borders of Hudson Street Martins and the center strip seen on the sides of the "Renaissance" guitar below.

Strips of wood marquetry were imported from artisans in Germany from Martin's earliest days in America until world War II.

C.F. Martin and the company that followed him often chose to build two guitars simultaneously, clearly with an eye towards efficiency, when they had an order for one, varying the marquetry used to slightly differentiate them. 

These two early koa guitars are otherwise identical, and appear to have been made at the same time. 

The first guitar illustrated on this page above is a near twin to one in the Martin Museum, an example also shown on the cover of the "History" volume of the new edition of the Longworth book. The guitar owned by Martin features the tiny alternating black and white squares in place of the herringbone top border seen here, in addition to having a one piece back and slightly different inlays.

Early Martin Spanish

Martin & Coupa Koa Guitars

Martin "Renaissance" Style Guitar

The rosette with a pattern sometimes referred to as "sharks teeth" is also seen on Martin guitars from the 1840's and 1850's, sometimes in black and white, and sometimes in green, and has been seen on Style 24 Martins as late as the 1880's.

Martin 1840's Spanish Guitar

The beautiful band of tiny pearl diamonds in the top border is unique to this example, which in many other ways is quite similar in construction and features to the "Renaissace" Martin above. 

The rosette, with rows of tiny diamonds on either side of a wide band of pearl, is one of three basic rosette patterns with tiny pearl diamonds seen on 1840's Martins before simpler solid bands of pearl became popular.


1840's Size 1 Alternate X brace Spanish Style Guitar

The rosette on this guitar features a single band of tiny pearl diamonds, another of the three rosette styles featuring bands of small pearl diamonds in the 1840's.

1840's Martin & Coupa Alternate X Braced Spanish Style Guitar

This example, which is quite close in size to a standard Size 2 Martin, also foreshadows a standard Martin Style 21, with simple, tasteful appointments including a herringbone rosette and back strip and a top border consisting of simple light and dark lines.

1840's Martin Hybrid X Braced Spanish Style Guitar

  And here we see an 1840's Martin Spanish Guitar in the style of a 1-28, with the checkerboard seen on a post war 28 back strip in place of the herringbone, and a very early presentation of rosette rings in the form of a standard Style 28, but with outer rings including the tiny rope pattern in the style often seen on Martin & Coupas of the period.


1850's Martin Ivory Fingerboard Stauffer Style Guitar

This rosette, with rows of tiny diamonds on either side of twin bands of ivory, is the third of three rosette patterns with tiny pearl diamonds seen on 1840's Martins before simpler solid bands of pearl became popular.

The "mix and match" nature of Martin's construction of borders, rosettes, and backstrips is evident here when we realize that it is the same tiny alternating black and white squares seen here in the rosette that have been added to either side of the top border to form a more complex design, as it is also often added to the sides of "arrowhead" backstrips.  Also note that the top border seen here is constructed from the same style of marquetry strips that have been doubled and "mirrored" side to side to form the "arrowhead" backstrips.

This example also has marquetry on the sides adjacent to the ivory binding.

Here we the center strip on the back of this guitar, with an "arrowhead" pattern comprised of a double strip of marquetry mirrored side to side, bordered by the extra strips of tiny black and white squares.

1850's Martin with pearl rosette and pendant.

This example has a unique rosette with colorful blue abalone we have not seen before.

Early Standard Styles

By 1852, Martin began to standardize styles which had become known by one number indicating the size of the guitar followed by a hyphen and a second number indicating the wholesale price of the guitar, this second number in time simply being referred to as the "Style". 

The Style 42
The Style 42 is known by it's strips of abalone pearl bordering the top of the guitar, the sound hole, and the fretboard extension, and an ivory pyramid bridge, offered in a size 2.

Early Martin styles including the Style 27 and all those above the Style 28 were described by Martin as "Ivory to the nut", with fingerboards bound in genuine Elephant ivory.

Before 1896, no Martin guitar had inlays on the fingerboard.

1896 Martin 2-42

The Style 40

The Style 40 was an early design, very similar to the pearl bordered style 42, but for a lack of pearl inlay surrounding the fretboard extension, and offered as a size 2.  

This combination of appointments on the top was revived for the Style E guitar made for William Foden in 1913, but his guitars had full inlay surrounding the back and sides, similar to a 45.

The Style 34

The Style 34 is recognized by a pearl central rosette ring and wood marquetry bordering the top, with an ivory pyramid bridge, first originally offered as a size 2.

Martin 2-34

While a number of different marquetry patterns were used on the Style 34, the colored herringbone pattern is common on early Style 34 Martins in Size 2.

The Styles 27 and 30

The Style 27 and 30 were similar to a style 34, with pearl rosettes and wood marquetry borders, but with the ivory pyramid bridge of the Style 34 replaced by an ebony pyramid bridge.
Here you can see a Style 27 with a Style 30, which appear to be nearly identical.  In fact, in some years, the only difference between the Style 27 and Style 30 were the tuners, which were brass on the Style 27, and silver plated on the Style 30.  The main distinction was that the 2-27 was a size 2 guitar costing $27, while the 0-30 was a slightly larger guitar costing $30.


Today we read "00-28" and see a hyphen separating two distinct set of numbers which are unrelated, and which can be mixed and matched as from a Chinese menu, the 00 referring to the size of the guitar, and the 28 referring to the quality, the higher the quality number, the higher the quality of the appointments on the guitar.

When the numbering system was established in the early 1850's, Martin offered different size guitars with different distinct levels of appointments.  Martin offered a size 2, for instance, as both a 2-17, a simple size 2 guitar costing $17, and a 2-27,  a size 2 guitar costing $27.  A size 1 was oferred as a $28 guitar with lesser appointments than the 27, having no pearl on the rosette.  But the price was $1 higher because it was offered in a larger size.  An 0 size guitar was offered as a $34 guitar with pearl rosette and an ivory bridge.  A pearl bordered guitar was offered as a size 2 1/2 for $42, while a size 2 version was offered without pearl bordering the fretboard extension for $40.  Eventually the prices rose with inflation, but the numbers remained the same.  By this time the Style 42 had come to represent both the smaller 2 1/2 - 42 as well as the larger 0-42, and the Style 34 had come to represent both the 2-34 and the larger 0-34.

1860's Martin 2-27 with rosewood veneer spruce back

Style 28

The Style 28 can be recognized by a top border with the herringbone pattern which has become one of Martin's most recognized and enduring features.  The Style 28 was first offered as a size 1 guitar.

1870's Martin 1-28


We also see variations within a style of purfling.  The size of the herringbone purfling could vary greatly from year to year.

The smallest herringbone appeared just before the turn of the century.

1898 Martin 0-28

On the 1898 Martin 0-28, we see 18 herringbones per inch.

On this 1930 Martin OM-28, we see 10 herringbones per inch.

Style 26

The Style 26 is similar to a Style 28, but with a simpler top border, most often a "half herringbone", or "rope" pattern, first offered in a size 1.
1870's Martin 1-26

Style 24

The Style 24 is another one of Martin's more interesting and varied models, with marquetry of various designs on both the rosette and top border, as well as "side filets", narrow strips of light colored wood on the sides, bordering the top and back binding.  The Style 24 was offered as a Size 2 1/2 guitar.

c. 1850 Martin 3 - 24 with cedar neck and rosewood veneer spruce back.

1850's Martin 2 1/2 - 24 with Spanish neck and rosewood veneer spruce back.


1850's Martin 2 1/2 - 24 with ebonized neck and rosewood veneer spruce back.


1888 Martin 2 1/2 - 24

1892 Martin 2 - 24

Style 23

The Style 23 is another interesting model, with side filets, but with a top border of simple strips of wood replacing the fancier marquetry of the Style 24.  The Style 23 was available as a size 2 guitar.

1855 Martin 2-23

Styles 20, 21 and 22

The Styles 20, 21, and 22 were among Martin's earliest models, with the Style 20 being a size 2 guitar selling for $20, and the Style 21 being a size 1 guitar selling for $21. 

The Styles 20 and 21 both featured herringbone patterns on their rosettes and back strips.

The Style 22 may have been simply the odd listing for a guitar selling for $22. 

The Style 21 was later offered as a size 2, with a size 0 appearing by the 1890's.

The early Style 20 sometimes had a multicolored herringbone rosette.

Style 22

1850's Martin 2-22

Style 21

1897 Martin 1-21

The Styles 17 and 18

The Style 17 is traditionally quite similar to the Style 18, but available in smaller size 2 /12, and for many years offered with fan bracing while the 2-18 featured X bracing.  The Style 17 also became available in early years as a size 3.

1893 Martin 2 1/5 -17

The following is a list of some of the sizes and styles most commonly seen in the 19th century:


2 1/2 - 17

2 - 18

2 - 20

1 - 21

2 - 23

2 - 24

1 - 26

2 - 27

1 - 28

0 - 28

2 1/2 - 30

0 - 30

2 - 34

2 - 42

Before the Styles Were Defined

In the 1850's, Martin began standardized their models, giving them names derived from their size and price.  A 2-27 was a size 2 guitar selling for $27.

Before this time you will find some examples of the guitars these styles were based on, and which are nearly identical to guitars made decades later, and other examples which are either unique,  or combine elements which appear in different contexts in later times.
Here are two such examples exhibiting the zig zag motif later seen on the backstrip of a Style 28, the first similar to a Martin 1-21, with zig zag marquetry in the place of herringbone on the rosette...



...and the second similar to a Martin Style 1-26, with the zig zag replacing the half herringbone on the top border:

Pearl Rosette Style 28

The sighting of a couple of rare examples similar to this size 1 guitar have caused speculation that this is the the earliest form of the Style 28, originally including pearl inlay on the rosette.  It's also possible that this is simply a combination seen before the styles were defined.


And here we see a variation of the pearl rosette 1-28 with the "zig zag" top border.

Style Size 2 1/2 Style 20

The style 20, generally a size 2, sometimes appears as a size 2 1/2, possibly before the styles were defined.

1860's Martin Style 2 1/2 - 20

Later Defined Styles

Style 45

rom 1904 until the restriction of materials and a reduced skilled labor force caused it's end with World War II, the Style 45 was the most adorned model in the Martin catalog, with strips of abalone bordering the top, surrounding the fretboard extension, and in the center ring of the rosette, as well as bordering the instrument's back and sides.  The Style 45 was reintroduced with the revived interest in the "folk guitar" in the 1960's.

Before 1902, the Style 42, which lacked the inlaid border on the back and sides of the Style 45, was the fanciest cataloged Martin. 

The inlaid back and sides that distinguish the Style 45 first appeared in 1902 as a "Special" version of a Style 42,  #9372, which also featured an elaborate vine pattern on the fretboard and a fancy inlaid pickguard of the type seen on Martin's most elaborate mandolins. 

#9488 was the first example with pearl bordering the back and sides and appointments of the type more typical of a standard Style 45 as it appeared with it's official introduction in 1904, with "Snowflake" inlays on frets five, seven, nine, twelve, and fifteen.

The Style 45 has been produced in nearly every size until pearl Martins were discontinued in 1942.

1902 Martin 00-42S Style 45 Prototype


1919 Martin 0-45

While Martin transitioned from red spruce
as a top wood to Sitka spruce in 1945, at the end of World War II, this guitar is one of a small number of Martins built in 1919, at the end of World War I, with a top of Sitka spruce, which had come into prominence as "aircraft spruce" or "airplane spruce" with the advent of the First World War.


In 1930, Martin introduced a DeLuxe variation of the "Orchestra Model" Style 45, with even greater adornment, including a pearl inlaid pickguard and bridge and gold plated engraved tuners with pearl buttons.  After producing roughly a dozen examples, however, the model was discontinued within the year as parts became difficult to procure.

1930 Martin OM-45 DeLuxe


Style 42

The Martin Style 42 has been produced in nearly every size until pearl Maritns were discontinued in 1942.

1894 Martin 0-42



The Style 42 was introduced in the 000 size in 1918 with the production of two guitars, one of which, #13364, was ordered by the Ditson stores with the same distinctive fan bracing designed for playing with steel strings in the Hawaiian style that was seen on the early Ditson Dreadnaught. 

#13364 also sported an original cloud shaped pickguard inlaid into the top.

1918 Martin 000-42


Style 40

A handful of Style 40 Martins were produce in styles 2, 0, and 00 in the early 20th century.

The style 40 was revived again in the 1920's for the Hawaiian 00-40H

1934 Martin 00-40H

Style 34

The Style 34 eventually became available until just after the turn of the century in sizes 2, 1, 0 and 00.


Styles 27 and 30

The Style 27 was continued until 1907 as a size 2 guitar, with the addition of a size 1-27 in later years.  The Style 30 became available until the early 1920's in sizes 2 1/2, 2, 1, 0 and 00.

1893 Martin 2-27

1870's Martin 2-27


Style 24

The Style 24 was one of Martins earliest models, and continued to be produce into the 1880's with early style appointments nearly identical to examples made in the 1850's.

1888 Martin 2 1/2 - 24

Style 21

The Style 21 is another early model that has remained relatively unchanged to this day with features dating to the 1840's. 

Originally offered as a size 1 guitar, the Style 1 later became popular as a 12 fret size 0 and 00, and a 14 fret size 000 and Dreadnaught.

1897 Martin 1-21

Style 18

The Style 18 was one of Martin's simpler and most enduring models, with straight lines on the top border, and a simple rosette.  While earlier examples were built with rosewood backs and sides, examples made beginning in 1917 have been built with mahogany backs and sides. While first built as a size 2, the Style 18 eventually became available in nearly every size to 000 and Dreadnaught.

1943 Martin 00-18


Style 18 "model 32"

The first 14 fret 0-18 was sold as a "model 32" with a standard shaded finish.

1932 0-18 "model 32"

While the earlier Style 17 was built with spruce tops and rosewood backs and sides until discontinued in 1898, and revived with mahogany backs and sides from 1906 to 1918, the Style 17 was revived in 1922 as an all mahogany guitar, as was it's slightly less expensive cousin, the Style 15.  The Style 15 is nearly identical in appearance, with a matte finish while the finishes on the Style 17 varied in different years.

While first built as a size 2 1/2, the Style 17 was later built primarily as a size 2, 0 and 00.  The Style 15 has been marketed as a size 0 only.

1936 Martin 0-17

1943 Martin 00-17

The 1932 0-17 was sold as a "model 32", but it was only in 1933 that Martin added a standard shaded finish on the top, back, and sides.

The C1 was Martin's very first archtop model, beginning in 1931.  This example is from the very first batch. 

1931 Archtop C-1 Prototype

The alternating black and white Celluloid lines on the top border of the Martin C-2 archtops are said to be the inspiration for the top border consisting of plain straight lines that would later appear on the post war Style 28 to replace the long lived herringbone top border in 1947.  In fact, the flattop Style 44 Martins produced for Vahdah Olcott-Bickford, illustrated below, preceded the Martin archtops with the same design, with the C-2 merely making the same natural progression from ivory to Celluloid that occurred on herringbone trimmed guitars.

The 15" carved top roundhole C-1 was essentially replaced by the slightly smaller 14 3/8" pressed top roundhole R-18 about the same time as the C-1 became an "F" hole guitar in late 1932.  By the end of 1933, the R-18 had also become an "F" hole guitar.  By mid-1936, the R-18 was also built with a carved top.

1933 Martin R-18 Guitar

Martin made a total of six prewar 12 string guitars, three flat tops and three arched tops.  This unique 1932 C-2S was the very first of Martin's archtop 12 string guitars.

1932 Martin C-2S 12 String Guitar

The Martin Style 35

The Style 35 was added in 1965 when Brazilian rosewood became scarce and difficult to source in large enough sizes for the backs of Dreadnaught size guitars.  The Style 35 was built with a three piece back, replacing the larger pieces of rosewood with three smaller pieces originally designed for the sides.

To make the Style 35 more attractive, Martin added a bound fingerboard and a six ply top border.  The loss of the headstock volute made the guitar easier and less expensive to produce.

1965 Martin D-35

  Variations on a Theme

This size 1 example is unusual for combining the rosette of a style 26 or 28 with a top border more typical of a style 30 or 34 in 1874, after the models had been standardized for some time.  I've seen three such example from this period, one with an original coffin case with a "Size 1 Style 28" label.


This unique 0-34 has a wide pearl center rosette ring which to my knowledge has not been seen on another example from the period.  This example can be dated to c. 1867 by the transitional mix of pre '67 and post '67 stamps on the interior of the guitar.  This wide band of pearl is similar, however, to the band of pearl used in the 1840's in combination with the bands of small pearl diamonds illustrated above.  The color of the wood on the outer rosette rings is also unusual, though you'll also notice natural wood rings on the Martin Style 24.

The Martin Style 23, 24, and 34 guitars do have more variation in trim than other Martin models, but the choice of marquetry does vary on Martin guitars, and is not in itself indicative of a different style.


And sometimes life is just filled with mysteries.

This Martin 1-28 was made in 1907.  I've seen at least three similar examples from this period.

This unusual Size 1 Martin in the basic form of a Style 21 is most likely from the 1880's, also after the standards had been established, but has an inner rosette ring pattern reminiscent of checkerboard variations commonly seen in the 1840's.  While this guitar was built well after sizes were firmly established, the dimensions of this example also differ significantly from the typical Size 1 of the period.

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