Arrowheads and Other Treasures

Marquetry on Martin Guitars

Since its earliest days, the C.F. Martin Company has maintained a tradition of decorating its guitars with imported strips of ornamental wood marquetry.

Early Martins starting at $24 (eventually designated Style 24) were often built with decorative marquetry back strips with an "arrowhead” pattern joining the two halves of the back.

Arrowheads without Dentils

c 1860 2-24


c.1870  2 1/2 - 26


1888 2 1/2 - 24

1893 2-27


1840's Pearl Rosette Zig Zag


Nineteenth Century Martin rosettes and top borders, as well as back, side, and end strips, were most often comprised of two basic elements of marquetry, “Dentils” and "Rope”.  

As Martin began to use fancier “arrowhead” patterned marquetry, "Dentils” and “Rope” were added to the marquetry to increase complexity and interest.

Dentils are an architectural feature, which are named because... well they look like teeth!

Here you can see "dentils" added to an arrowhead...

The Herringbone pattern that has become a signature feature of Martin guitars is actually made of two rope patterns mirrored side by side. 
The herringbone is most often recognized as the top border of pre-war Stye 28 Martins, and in the rosette and back strip of Style 21 Martin guitars.

The Style 26 typically features the "half herringbone", also known as the "rope"...

When the "rope" is added to marquetry, it becomes what is most commonly recognized today as Martin's "Style 45 back strip".

These two nearly identical Martin & Coupa  guitars illustrate how Martin would often mix and match.  One can only assume that Martin had an order requesting “Goncoa Alves” wood veneer for the back and the sides, and wanting to take advantage of the economy of scale, chose to build a second guitar at the same time, to be available for a second sale.  Not wanting to infringe on the uniqueness of the original buyer’s guitar, Martin varied the trim.  This pattern of behavior is common with early Martin guitars.  

The first guitar has dentils in the rosette and a rope top border, while the second has herringbone in the rosette and dentals in the top border…

Arrowheads with Dentils

1840's Ivory fingerboard Vienna Headstock Guitar

1840's Size 1

1885 0-34


1894 0-42


1907 0-30

The marquetry used by Martin was imported from Germany, as selected and ordered from this sample card from C.H. Burdorf of Hamburg...

It’s often noted that the missing pieces must have been the ones selected for possible use.  Where did they go?  Mystery solved!  The Gura book includes this letter from Schatz to Martin, with marquetry pieces attached…

"Style  45" Back Strip without Rope

1916 Southern California Music Style 1500


1917 0-30


"Style  45" Back Strip with Rope

While known primarily as the "Style 45 back strip", this pattern was originally used most often on the Style 21 before appearing on Styles 40, 42, and eventually the Style 45, introduced in 1902.

1840's Pearl Rosette 1-28

1880 1-21

 c.1896 2 1/2 - 42

1897 Tinted Top 1-21

1902 00-42S


1922 Martin Wurlitzer 0-42 / 2092


1934 00-40H


1897 1-21


"Diamond" Back Strips

Diamond back strips are seen mostly in limited time frames, most often on Styles 22 and 23 in the 1850’s, and with rope added for the mid-1840's Style 28.

c. 1855 2-23


c. 1850’s 2 1/2 - 22



1850’s 2-23

  1880 1-21

“Diamond" Back Strips With Rope

1845 Size 1 Early Style 28 with hybrid X

"Herringbone" Back Strips

The Style 21's recognizable signature combination of herringbone three ring rosette, herringbone back strip, and straight line 5 ply top border, can be found as early as on this 1840's Martin & Coupa...

1916 Martin / Southern California Musical Instrument Company  "Nunes” Model 1400


c.1860  2 1/2 - 20



The herringbone became the standard for the pre-war style 21 back strip and Style 28 top border.

1928 0-21


"Zig-Zag" Back Strips

Often seen in color early on, the "zig-zag" became the standard for the pre-war Style 28.

1870 2-27

c. 1870 1-28

"Checkerboard" Back Strips

Seen on a few early rosettes and top borders, the "checkerboard" became the standard for rosewood Martin back strips after WWII.

1964 00-21NY



The “Checkerboard” was derived from what was apparently earlier referred to as the “DeGoni Chain” which appeared on the border of the Size 1 precursor to the Style 28, with Hybrid X “DeGoni” Style Bracing, as well as period rosettes.

1845 Size 1 Early Style 28 with hybrid X

"Straight Line" Back Strips

In the 1840's Martin adopted many of the features of the guitars of Spain, including simple straight lines of Holly hardwood, as seen on this Recio from Cadiz...

1840's Martin & Coupa

1840's Spanish Martin

1860's 3-16

After the 1840's, Martin used simple straight lines only for few less expensive models such as the surprisingly uncommon mahogany Style 16.

1921 Olcott-Bickford Artist Model

Classical Guitarist, teacher, and Martin endorsee Vahdah Olcott-Bickford preferred high quality guitars with the simple trim of the Spanish guitars.  

The simple straight line top borders of the post-war Style 28 that replaced the pre-war herringbone is said to date back to the earlier archtop Martins, but in truth appeared earlier on the Olcott Bickford guitars.

1965 D-35

Martin adopted the simple straight lines in the 1960's for the newly introduced D-35


Side Strips

Another traditional feature of Spanish guitars adopted by Martin in the 1840's is the use of two piece sides, also divided by simple lines of Holly hardwood, as seen in this Recio... 

1840's Martin & Coupa

For fancier guitars, Martin began to use more ornate marquetry in place of the simple Holly lines.

1840's Renaissance Martin

The two piece sides could make the instrument structurally fragile, so they are reinforced by beautifully crafted traditional brackets called "horqueta"...

1840's Spanish Martin & Coupa

1840's Spanish Size 3 Presentation Guitar

Side Filets

The Styles 23 and 24 are recognized by their "side filets", the simple lines of light wood on the sides, adjacent to the rosewood bindings.

In the early 1800's, some of the higher grade Martin guitars adopted side filets of fancier marquetry...

1837 Hudson Street Martin

Ivory Fingerboard Martin

Marquetry side filets often consist of one half of the two mirrored pieces that make up the corresponding arrowhead.

1840's Spanish Size 3 Presentation Guitar

1840's Spanish Martin

1850's Martin Style 33

"The End".

  End strips were seen mostly in Martins 
earlier decades…

c. 1860 2 1/2 - 22


c. 1855 2-23


c 1860 2-24


...but were among the interesting and personalized early features carried over on the Style 24, long after other models had become simplified and standardized.

1888 Style 2-24

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