Catch of the Day: 1970 Martin D12-20

1970 Martin D12-20

Martin’s naming system can be a little mysterious at times. Take this 1970s D12-20 for example. At first glance it looks like an 18 style. Like an 18 from 1970 it has a spruce top, mahogany sides and back, dark binding, rosewood bridge and fretboard and a black pickguard. So what makes it a 20? It has black bridge pins with white dots, a style 28 checkered back strip and an extra white line on the back binding. That’s it. Three extra cosmetic feature two of which nobody can see when you’re playing the guitar. And where did the 20 designation come from? Again, that is mysterious. In 1896 there was a small rosewood guitar called a 2-20 in the price list but by 1898 it was gone. And don’t get me started on the N-20, a rosewood nylon string guitar Martin introduced in 1969.

So, apart from it’s peculiar naming history, what is the D12-20 like as a guitar? Personally, I think they sound really nice. Martin introduced the model in 1964, a couple of years after the Rooftop Singers had a massive hit with “Walk Right In,” a record that featured two 12-string guitars. Martin opted to use their 12-fret dreadnought body shape, a decision that I think makes this guitar sound so good. On a 12-fret dreadnought the string length is the same as on a 14-fret guitar, but the bridge is moved closer to the center of the top, where the strings can drive the top more efficiently. Martin also opted to use a slotted headstock, which makes restringing more of a chore than it would otherwise be. I suspect a lot of players complained about the slotted headstock because in 1970 Martin introduced the D12-28 which had a solid headstock and 14-fret neck. I don’t think the D-12-28 sounds as good as a D-12-20 but they sure are easier to restring. This particular D12-20 is listed on eBay and the auction ends on February 22. The current bid is $414.90 but it will undoubtedly go for more than that.

Click here to see the listing.

UPDATE: This guitar sold for $1525 on February 22, 2014.


This fancy back strip and the extra white line on the back binding are what make this a 20 rather than an 18.

This guitar is very clean except for these light pick scratches, which look like they were done all at once by one heavy handed player. Ouch!