The Model M; A Tale of Rebirth, Response and Rebranding. A feature article
The model M is best described as a player’s guitar. I have always felt they represented the ultimate cross between a dreadnought and an OM being more powerful than OM and better balanced than a dreadnought. Many friends have asked about the M (currently renamed as the 0000) as it appears to be a recent and rather rare model offered by Martin.
However, the M is not a standard Martin model at all and began with an archtop guitar made during the Jazz age….
Archtop guitars during the 30’s were big sellers, outstripping many brand’s flattop sales. Gibson and Epiphone dominated the market. Martin, in response to flagging sales decided to enter this market by introducing three new models, designated C, R, and F. Whilst the R corresponded to the flat-top size 00 (14-5/8″ lower bout), C to the 000 (15″), the 16″-wide F had no equivalent preWar flattop. In essence, the F was the same depth as a 000 but with the lower bout expanded by an inch.
If you haven’t heard of these Martin archtops, don’t be surprised. These guitars were very similar in construction to the flattops barring a carved top. This differs from the more famous brands whose guitars had carved
backs and elevated fingerboards. In essence, the Martin archtops weren’t designed from the ground up.
As many players know, it is impossible to describe or characterise an instrument’s tonal qualities through language. As a rough generalisation, these Martin archtops sound like a combination of flattop and archtop guitars. They were stuck between a rock and very hard place and failed to capture the flattop or the archtop market. The last of these Martin archtops rolled off the production line soon after 1942.
-The F model pictured above- has several unsual features- the fingerboard has been replaced to a 28 style inlays, the guitar itself is a lefty and has been refinished, but the dimensional specs are readily apparent.-
Our story picks up during the 60’s and 70’s. The similarity of construction of Martin archtops to their equivalent flattop models made it easy to convert them to flattops. By replacing the top and resetting the neck, these guitars were given a new lease of life in a different guise. Pioneering legendary luthier/repairmen such as Walter Lipman, Jon Lundberg, Mark Silber and Mario Martello performed many of these operations. In fact, the F size was especially sought after for converting as Martin offered no equivalent flattop size.
If one person was instrumental in the birth of the model M, it was David Bromberg. A singer and instrumentalist, Bromberg used an F conversion extensively during the 70’s appreciating the unique strength of the F shape. The bigger body gives rise to more bass and power than the OM and the shallow depth cuts out the boominess of a dreadnought. Furthermore, the shape and over dimensions makes the M more comfortable than a dreadnought to play sitting down. Bromberg showed the guitar to Martin who responded to demand and a good idea in 1977 with production of the first guitars based on the F shape, rechristened as the model M.
Demand for M models was as turbulent as it’s birth and rebirth. Often overshadowed by the dreanought and the Jumbo, few were ordered and in fact by the 1990’s only the large retailers in the US were stocking them. However, the market for used M’s has remained very strong and in my experience, used examples sell very quickly.
In 1997, the model M was renamed by Martin. The new designation of the 0000 was 2 fold. Firstly, it gave the M a logical nomenclature being the next step up from the 000 as the 000 is from the 00. Secondly, it was hoped that the M would have a more recognisable identity.
However, demand was not strong enough and in 2003, Martin announced that they would discontinue the 0000 shallow bodied jumbos. By 2004 it had dissappeared from standard catalogs but remains on the custom order sheets. Furthermore, larger dealers have placed considerable orders for 0000 models shortly after the announcement, demonstrating the F/M/0000 model isn’t dead and buried.
Martin isn’t the only company making these models. Several independent luthiers in particular John Greven have offerings based on the orginal F conversions, as the picture on the above illustrates!
Update: since the time of original publication, Martin have reintroduced the M36 and M38 and there are more M models available through the custom shop and David Bromberg models.
Model M/0000 fact sheet:
Scale length 25.4″
Length 20 1/8″
Upper bout 11 11/16″
Lower bout 16″
Maximum Depth 4 1/8″
Enjoyed the article? Stay tuned on an in depth article on the Martin F9 model.
Content ©2007 Terence Tan.
Model F picture courtesy of John Greven- ©2005 John Greven. Used with permission.