A Quick Biography of a Magnificent Martin

Here are Wildwood, we deal with an awful lot of rare, exquisite instruments, but this Martin is unprecedented even for us because it is a family heirloom that has only ever been owned by a father and then his son. Believe it or not, that's just the tip of the iceberg for this instrument's odd and interesting history. So, before we get to tone talk, this 1953 Martin D-28 demands to have its story told.

The previous owner of this guitar bought it brand-new in 1953. When the music store employee brought a Martin hardshell case out to bundle with guitar, the soon-to-be owner was disappointed, and he asked for a cooler case. The employee brought out a brown Gibson Lifton case instead, and that mismatched case became this guitar's lifelong home.

At the time of the purchase, the previous owner was not a player, but he planned on learning, and he wanted a nice instrument to practice on. Unfortunately, life got in the way of his six-string ambitions, and he never really played it. But, he had many musician friends, and he would invite them over regularly to play his prized D-28. Because it wasn't a daily player, this guitar stayed incredibly clean over the years.

After the owner passed the guitar down to his son, it sat unplayed for a long time--about fifteen years. Finally, he decided that he wanted the guitar to be played and loved, so he brought it down to Wildwood and gave us the honor of showcasing it.

A Mystery-Topped Marvel

Of course, we did some research on the instrument and discovered another interesting tidbit: this guitar is one of the "Mystery Top" D-28s. You see, in 1953, Martin experimented with using different woods for their tops. They didn't keep the best records at the time, so we don't know for sure, but we're pretty certain that this one has an Engelmann spruce top. Engelmann spruce is a softer wood than the more-common Adirondack and Sitka varieties, and as a result it produces a rich bouquet of complex overtones with a little bit less fundamental frequency than its counterparts. It's also a bit more responsive and dynamic, and it really speaks out even at low volumes. This "mystery top" gives this D-28 a striking, inspiring voice that stands out from other vintage Martins.

Sonic Evaluation

If you haven't guessed by now, I am head over heels in love with this guitar, and it will haunt my dreams for a long, long time. Where to start? It has a lovely round, piano-like attack that gives way to room-filling, rib-rattling resonance. The Engelmann spruce top has opened up beautifully with age...well, actually "beautiful" doesn't quite do the rare and magnificent tone of this guitar justice. When you strike a big open G chord, the blend of richness and clarity defies explanation. The overtones are lush and complex, but they have been tempered by age, so they sound sculpted and well-defined. While some dreadnoughts with rich voice can sound flubby or tubby, this one simply sounds colorful.

Time has also added a bit of extra midrange punch to this guitar, and you can probably hear the fundamental better now than you could have in 1953. This gives it a really nice balance between overtones and fundamental! Beneath the woody mids, you can hear deep, robust bass response, and above them you can hear sweet, lush, reverberant trebles.

This D-28 is a world-beating strummer because of its considerable headroom and rich sound. But, it is also one of the best dreadnoughts for fingerstyle that I've ever had the privilege of playing. It's incredibly responsive and dynamic, and it speaks with a sonorous voice even at lower volumes. For fingerstylists looking for huge vintage tone, it's hard to do better than this D-28, but it can handle any task you might ask of an acoustic guitar with great aplomb. It would make a wonderful addition to the quiver of anyone who appreciates fine acoustic tone.

Condition Report

Though this '53 D-28 is in excellent shape for an AARP-eligible acoustic, it has accumulated a bit of wear over the years and undergone some repair work. There is some damage on the top and the bass-side lower bout, and the pickguard has a repaired crack. It has been refretted, and the neck has been reset. A few parts have been replaced: the bridge plated, the saddle, and the back bracing, which was replaced with Martin bracing at some point. Other than that, it's in great shape! It comes with a sweet Gibson Lifton case, too. If you don't mind a little honest vintage wear, you can snag a world-crushing D-28!


Brand Vintage
ModelVintage 1953 Martin D-28
Body FinishOriginal Nitro
Top Wood"Mystery Spruce" (Probably Engelmann)
Back & Sides WoodBrazilian Rosewood
Neck WoodMahogany
Neck ShapeVintage V Profile
BracingStraight X-Bracing
Neck Dimensions.840 1st - 1.000 9th
Fretboard MaterialEbony
Scale Length25.4"
Nut Width1 11/16"
Nut MaterialIvory
Truss RodT-Bar Neck Reinforcement
RosetteStyle 28
BridgeNon-Original Ebony
Bridge String Spacing2 1/8"
TunersVintage '50s Kluson Waffleback
CaseGibson Lifton Hardshell Case

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Serial Number: 129297

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