Martin Guitars

1834 Martin Terz Guitar

Here is a rare early Martin terz guitar. Terz means "third" in German and refers to the fact that these guitars were tuned three half tones higher than normal. This guitar has a scale length of only 22-1/4". A short scale length is a feature of all terz guitars.

Sadly, this guitar has seen a lot of abuse over its long life. The moustache bridge has been replaced by a pyramid bridge. The neck has been stripped of its "ebonized" finish but, on the other hand this allows the construction of the head stock joint with the neck to be seen to advantage. The single sound hole ring does not look original.  Although the top appears to be the very fine grained European spruce that Martin used on pre-1840 guitar, the whole guitar has been refinished. The guitar originally had an elevated fingerboard and clock key adjustment mechanism but this have been replaced and an ebony fingerboard glued to the top of the guitar.

Now for the good news! The guitar retains its type 2 "C. Frederick Martin" label which dates it to 1834. More importantly the guitar retains its original domed head stock shape and "two side screws". Although the Martin records indicate about 25% of the guitars made in 1834 had "two side screws", this is the only example known. The tuners themselves are relatively crude, with cast brass buttons and  roughly cut gear cogs, and suggest that Martin brought a supply with him from Saxony. Only one other guitar, from early 1837, is known with a domed head stock and "two side screws" but in this case the tuners are of a different type.

The last photo shows a detail shot of a type 2 label from another guitar. The type 1 label is practically identical to the type 2 label but is missing the line "from Vienna, pupil of the celebrated STAUFFER". Only one type 1 label is known. It is in a guitar on display at the Martin Guitar Co. Museum.

Period features

Back and sides: Bird's-eye maple

Top: European spruce (although the grain spacing is more variable than usually seen on pre-1840 Martin guitars)

The chapter on dendrochronology in "The Century that Shaped the Guitar" (Westbrook 2005) convincingly demonstrates the top wood of early Martin guitars is European spruce. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that C. F. Martin Sr. brought a supply of European spruce with him when he emigrated from Saxony. All known pre-1840 Martin guitars have this type of top wood. Since Martin made approximately 400 guitars between 1834 and early 1840 this must have been the extent of his original supply.

Single strip of rosewood binding on top and back (probably original)

Original ebonized neck and head stock has been stripped of its ebonized finish

Brass two side screws with brass buttons

"C. F. Martin/New York" stamp on back near heel


Lower bout: 11.38" (289 mm)                                    Depth at upper bout: 2.31" (59 mm)

Upper bout: 9.13" (232 mm)                                      Depth at lower bout: 3.13" (79 mm)

Body length: 15.56" (395 mm)                                   Diameter of sound hole: 3.38” (86 mm)

Total length: 33.19" (843 mm)                                  Scale length: 22-1/4" (565 mm)

Fingerboard width at nut: 1.75" (44 mm)                Fingerboard width at 12th fret: 2.25" (57 mm)

Photos courtesy of Gary Burnette


5 thoughts on “1834 Martin Terz Guitar

  1. This little gem is very special…I would have Loved to owned this one. The earliest Martin “Terz” guitar I ever owned, was from 1870’s.

  2. It is not mentioned but the back of this guitar is “Birds Eye Maple”. This is not a common wood found on guitars but this example is especially fine. It is amazing that C.F. Martin was able to make that many guitars so soon after his arrival. I assume that he brought many of his tools with him on the long trip from the continent. When I moved to Korea in 2003, I too brought all my tools and my wife complained “Why do you need all those tools?” Probably his wife did too but it meant that he could start making his guitars soon after arrival. I always wonder why 1833 is the date listed for the company? Should it not be 1834 as he arrived late in 1833 and did not start making guitars until 1834.

    1. Martin landed in New York on November 6, 1833 but didn’t open his shop until the end of April 1834. What did he do in the meantime? We now know that Louis Schmidt (of Schmidt & Maul fame) landed in New York on the same ship as the Martin family. It turns out he was living with the Martin family so he was obviously C. F. Martin’s apprentice. So, Martin was able to build guitars and take in repairs from the very beginning. I have seen an early guitar that is constructed just like the oldest Stauffer Martin in the Martin museum but has absolutely no markings. I am quite convinced this guitar IS a Martin guitar and was made before Martin got his stamp. So it must have been made prior to April 1834, possibly as early as late 1833. The ledger book also contains some entries from late April 1834 that indicate Martin received money for a guitar he had sold earlier (so he was certainly making guitars before the shop opened). Not only did Martin bring all his tools but he also brought at least 400 European spruce tops with him. If you ever look at a pre-1840 Martin note the extremely fine grained spruce top. All Martin guitars made until 1840 have this type fine grained spruce tops. A collector in England has done research that proves this wood is European spruce and was cut down in the early 1800’s or earlier.

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