Pickguards on C. F. Martin Guitars
Early Martin mandolins often had elaborate pickguards of real
tortoise shell which were inlaid into the tops of the instruments, as
was common on fine 19th century mandolins.
C. F. Martin Style 5 mandolin from 1899
Martin guitars did not come
standard with pickguards until late 1929, however, Martin occassionally
put pickguards on their guitars on special order.
Early Martin pickguards were often inlaid into the top.
This 000-42 was special ordered by the Ditson Company in 1918 with a cloud
shaped pickguard inlaid into the top.
This 1924 Ditson 111 also had a custom pickguard inlaid into the top.
The pickguard was formally introduced on the OM-28 in a small form
that is traditionally referred to as the "teardrop" pickguard.
The reddish guard with large swirls on this OM-28 is one of several
styles appearing from 1929 to 1939.
The early OM-18, OM-18P, and 0-18T had a deep blood red pickguard
that is distincly different from the guard Martin was using at the same
time on the OM-28.
The Martin OM-18, 18P, and OM-28 were joined in 1930 by the OM-45 and
DeLuxe. The DeLuxe is the only catalogued vintage Martin to sport an
inlayed pickguard, reminsicent of the early mandolins. This was the
fanciest and most expensive production Martin guitar ever, and no more
than a dozen examples of this model were made in the short time before
the model was discontinued.
The 1930 Martin OM-28 and OM-45 DeLuxe
1930 Martin OM-45 DeLuxe
A number of Martins from 1928 and 1929 have what appear to be original
pickguards, as well as belly bridges, a style of bridge that was not
introduced until 1930. These guitars remained unsold at the
factory, with serial numbers, but unfinished, or "in the white", due to
the financial hardship of the Great Depression. So Martin
"improved" these instruments before they
left the factory by adding the latest features. Martin also
requested that dealers return
unsold guitars to Martin to be upgraded, perhaps one of the earliest
examples of a "factory recall".
Another shade of pickguard, used concurrently, was the brownish guard,
as seen on this tenor guitar, which appeared in lighter and darker
At about the same time as Martin formally introduced the pickguard as
standard, other forms of the pickguards appeared on Martin guitars made
for other companies on special order, including the 0-17S, a spruce top
variation of the 0-17 made for the Montogomery Wards Stores.
1930 Montgomery Wards 0-17S
The larger form of the standard Martin pickguard was introduced in 1933.
While somewhat similarly shaped pickguards are referred to as "teardrop
pickguards" on Gibson guitars, traditionally, only the smaller early
form has been referred to as the teardrop on Martin guitars. In
recent years, the term has been used more frequently to refer to the
larger Martin guards as well.
Here's a larger guard in the lighter, more reddish style which appeared
from 1929 to 1939.
These darker brown guards were also used from 1929 through mid-1939.
This 1937 has a lighter brown pickguard with clearer windows.
In mid-1939, this reddish guard with swirls appeared. These look
suspiciously like Martin pickguards from the 1960's, which leads many
mistakenly assume these to be '60's era replacements.
From 1942 to about 1945, a distinct pattern appears in dark brown with
small clear windows.
This was followed by a period of various darker, brownish red pickguards
with more consistent swirls.
In the early 1950's, when bluegrass was taking hold, and the danger of
pickwear from flatpicks was a concern, Martin sometimes built guitars with
larger pickguards on request.
It's interesting that this early to mid-40's style dark brown, small
window pickguard reappears at the same time Martin returned for a short
period to red spruce. Perhaps Martin felt the reddish guard
suited the reddish tone of Sitka Spruce better than the paler,
yellower, red spruce. Perhaps the always thrifty Martins were
simply using up old stock in this transitional period. Or perhaps
there's some truth in both ideas.
A distinct close grain pattern with a bright, orange tone appeared in
1956 and 1957. On this guitar it's paired with an attractive
lighter, blonder tortoise binding.
From the late 1950's through 1966, Martin pickguards had large
swirl patterns and a distinctly reddish tone.
In the beginning of 1967, black acetate pickguards replaced the
tortoise pattern nitrate based guards, although some tortoise guards
still show up occassionally after this date.
With the introduction of the M-38 in 1977, Martin began using tortoise
pattern guards once again.
1984, Martin discontinued the practice of applying finish over a
pickguard which was glued directly to the top with lacquer finish used
The pickguard attached directly to the top was responsible
for the famous "Martin pickguard crack" which appeared when the pickguard
material shrunk over time at a faster rate than the spruce top.
The newest style pickguards are a self-adhesive type, supplied with
adhesive material on the back of the pickguard.
Martin has used pickguards with a visible
dot screen tortoise pattern printed on the rear side of the acetate guard.
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