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Perfection in a Rare Guitar: the Martin D-45

Martin D-45 | Rare Guitar

Lot 18 in the November 6, 2011 Musical Instruments Auction: American Guitar, C.F. Martin & Company, Nazareth, 1941, Style D-45, stamped D-45, 79583 at the upper block, Est. $180,000-240,000

What is it that makes some musical instruments rare or collectible? I can think of several important factors:

• First rate materials that are no longer available
• Extremely fine workmanship
• A very limited production
• An interesting historical context in which the instrument was made

These factors combined for a “perfect storm” that made the Martin D-45 the first guitar of the twentieth century to gain widespread popularity as a collector’s item barely 20 years after its production. We are proud to offer one at the Skinner Musical Instruments Auction on November 6, 2011 in Boston, MA.

C.F. Martin & Company had always made guitars in a very conservative style, and was even reluctant to list the D-45 as a regular item in their catalogue. Beginning in 1933, a few dozen were made at the request of famous cowboy personalities and specialty music stores. Gene Autry, Nolan “Cowboy Slim” Rinehart, Tex Fletcher, Jackie Moore and others wanted big guitars that would get them noticed. Martin added more pearl inlay on these instruments than on any D-size guitar that they had made previously, and used only selected pieces of spruce and rosewood of exceptional quality.

In 1938, the D-45 finally merited mention in the Martin catalogue with a one-line description as “a very handsome guitar.” By 1942, a total of only 91 of these rare guitars had been made, and production during wartime ceased.

Martin D-45 | Fallon Instruments

Martin guitars, like Stradivari violins, are famous for their immaculate interior work. Note the shapes of the “scalloped” top bracing, carved to lessen weight on the top without sacrificing strength. This resulted in more sound and a quicker and sensitive response. Photo courtesy Fallon Instruments.

The D-45 coming up in the Boston auction bears the serial number 79583 and comes from the family of the original owner. It was reportedly played on the Grand Ole Opry radio show a number of times, but was never used professionally, so it has the patina of age without showing a career’s worth of pick wear. It is well conserved, having never been repaired or refinished, and retains all of its original parts.

There were 24 D-45s built in 1941, in batches of six. This was the first of the fourth batch. This rare guitar is available for public viewing in our auction gallery at 63 Park Plaza, Boston, MA from November 4th through 6th. The auction estimate ranges between $180,000-240,000.

It was a thrill to pick up and play this guitar. Despite its massive proportions and the amount of pearl trim, it is surprisingly light. Great care was taken to give these instruments the maximum amount of strength with the least amount of materials. How does it sound? Like a house.

13 thoughts on “Perfection in a Rare Guitar: the Martin D-45

  1. Wow, congratulations for the fine listing, David. Fifty years ago, as a kid, I had a 1939 D-45 in similar original condition. It went to to pay for college. I now content myself with dreadnaught and jumbo Larsons which players know are just as good but not yet as widely appreciated by the collector market. It will happen though, quite a few modern boutique makers are coming out with reproductions of the Larson Brothers work. Check my website for a few of my 1930s originals including a 1938 Larson version of a D-45. Best, Dave Portman

    • I hope you are the Dave Portman I knew in Ithaca. I once came across a website with a picture of the
      very young Lois, you and me with three 45’s. I think the picture was taken outside our apartment on Game Farm Road. I looked for the website again, but can’t seem to find it.

      If you’re the right Dave Portman, I’d love to hear from you.

      Cheers,
      Mike Bradley

  2. If the pre-WWII Martin D-45 is the Strad, the Stuart Mossman made Golden Era is the Guarneri of guitars. I would love to own & play a D-45, but as that is/was out of my price range, I was fortunate to have a Golden Era custom built for me by Stuart Mossman in 1983. The Mossman shop had its business ups & downs, and consequently a very low output of instruments. Stuart died of cancer around 1998 and the name is now carried on by a shop in Texas. Mossmans are also popular in professional music and can be readily identified by their uniquely shaped pick guards. More history can be found on the net. Have a great auction!

    • Stan,
      Thank you for the information on Stuart Mossman. We will be interested to see how the market develops on these in the future. Hang on to something that’s good — loving something is the best reason to own it.

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  4. So, what did it actually sell for?
    If you got over a hundred grand I’ll be surprised (actually, I’d be surprised at anything over 50 or 60K, but there are some very rich people in the world!!)

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  6. My brother owns the D-45 Martin given to him by Burl Ives when the singer, a close friend of our family, moved on to a smaller guitar that was easier to manage.

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