Class of ’68: Acoustic enjoys a close encounter with a 1968 Brazilian D-35
Over the years, we have had the great privilege of playing a number of vintage instruments, both electric and acoustic. Some have had celebrity owners, others have come our way because of the job we do. When our friends at Replay Acoustics said they had a vintage specimen of the birthday boy D-35 that they would happily lend to us, we really couldn’t refuse. After all, it’s great to look at both ends of this model’s history – we have two contemporary models and now one from only the third year of production.
So may we present to you a 1968 Martin D-35, serial number 240803 and a mighty fine specimen it is, too. As far as battle scars are concerned, there are actually very few in evidence. There are three minor hairline cracks in the guitar’s back that run along the wood grain – all previously treated and rendered benign – and are practically invisible unless you really know they’re there. There’s another to the front, just below the pickguard and a slight knock on the headstock, but apart from that, this D-35 seems to have endured the last 47 years in the hands of players who have treated it with due respect. There’s no buckle rash to the back or much wear to the rear of the neck or frets and we must say that we’ve seen instruments much younger than this with many more dings and blemishes than are present here.
The only work that has been carried out that we know about for sure is that it’s recently had a neck reset and so it’s in fine fettle and a beautiful example of an early D-35.
When we first opened the case, we thought that the top must be Adirondack because of the wide grain, but this struck us as a bit odd because Martin weren’t using that particular spruce during the 1960s. We confirmed this with Dick Boak who told us that Martin stopped buying Adirondack during the 1950s and so the top is almost certainly Sitka. He went on to say that some of the Sitka spruce purchased back then by the company exhibited the wide grain pattern we’re seeing here. As you can see from the photographs, the top has mellowed down to a lovely amber and the binding around the top and back has taken on that vintage creamy off-white hue, too.
In 1968, Brazilian rosewood was still the order of the day for the D-35’s back and here the grain isn’t by any means the wildest that we’ve seen but still shows signs of the characteristic whorls and swirls in the wood, particularly on what Martin refer to as the “wings”. This was a time when that particular timber was only just beginning to show signs of becoming difficult to obtain and was still fairly commonplace on acoustic guitar backs. How things have changed!
As you will have read in the interview with Chris Martin IV, we were struck by the shape of the headstock – something that became really obvious when we had all three D-35s lined up on stands. We were curious to know when it was that Martin altered the shape but, as Chris said, this was not an intentional design adjustment but merely due to the wear and tear of a component in the factory. Once they realised what was happening, the part was replaced and Martin headstocks took on their familiar flat-topped design once again.
We took the opportunity to play the same tune on all three D-35s and the ‘68 won hands down in the tonal stakes. Chris Martin didn’t seem surprised by this, merely saying, ‘Yeah, well; it’s Brazilian and it’s time, y’know…’
We’ve said many times in the magazine that it’s fearfully difficult to describe tone, but this D-35 definitely has a richer, smoother and more broad timbre to it than its modern counterparts. Brazilian rosewood is renowned for producing complex overtones and uncanny sustain and that is certainly the case here. Just picking the harmonics at the 12th fret produces a sort of “bloom” and an almost cathedral-like wash of resonance as the notes decay. Chords sound massive, too; strumming an E minor in the open position becomes a physical experience as it’s possible to feel the guitar vibrating against your chest. The basses are very strong and the trebles… well, if sound can be ascribed a colour then the trebles here are golden. There’s also bags of volume on hand, the Brazilian rosewood seemingly having increased the useful dynamic range to the extent that, even when played whisperingly quiet, you’re still rewarded with an amazing tonal response.
That’s enough frothy emotional stuff from us. If you’re in the market for a vintage instrument in very fine condition with a set of larynges to die for then visit Replay Acoustics’ website.
With thanks to Replay Acoustics for the generous loan of the instrument.