Our top 10 acoustic guitars
There are hundreds of superb acoustic guitar models, built by dedicated craftspeople around the world. But where some follow in the footsteps of giants, some instruments changed the way the world made music… We selected ten of the best ever... here are the first two, with more to follow...
Martin OM-42 1929
This landmark model changed the way acoustic guitars were made – and played…
Until the late 1920s almost all flattop acoustic guitars had necks that joined the body at the 12th fret. What’s more, they were nearly all gut strung. This is the way classical and Spanish guitars had always been and there seemed no reason to change things. Enter banjo player Perry Bechtel. Switching from his instrument, whose neck was a full 15 frets clear of the body, to a 12-fret acoustic highlighted the guitar’s inferior playability and dynamics. Martin responded to Bechtel’s pleas with an instrument that would change musical history. Combining steel strings with a neck-to-body join that left 14 frets clear of the body, the Orchestra Model, or OM as it became known, was the first truly modern acoustic guitar. Based on the medium 000 body size, the OM was an instant hit. As with all Martin models it soon became available in a range of body woods and the company’s already well-defined scale of ornamentation. The choice of bluegrass players who want traditional looks but require plenty of space for their frantic fingerboard excursions, the OM has never been out of production since its launch. Not surprisingly, other manufacturers have copied the OM, to the point where it’s now an industry standard design.
Martin D-45 1931
Classically beautiful, this pearly queen of acoustic guitars is a battleship in disguise
Martin’s stunning D-45 emerged two years later at the behest of the most famous cowboy singer of them all, Gene Autrey. Although dreadnought guitars, named after the British class of battleship, had been in the Martin line since as early as 1916, when they made guitars in this big, square-shouldered style for the Oliver Ditson company, it wasn’t until 1931 that the model truly came of age. Built using Brazilian rosewood back and sides and a spruce top, this combination of timbers is what the dreadnought had been waiting for. Rich, dark bass tones, punchy mids and a treble register so articulate that almost any style sounded great, ensured that the D-45 would go down in history as one of the greatest acoustics of them all. While a country player was indeed the originator of this fabulous model, as the folk boom of the 1950s gave way to the folk-rock of the 1960s, Martin brought back its once forgotten flagship flat-top and this flashy yet sophisticated instrument became the ‘must be seen with’ accessory of all the top artists of the day, including Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Even Jimi Hendrix owned one!