Martin Shaded Top

The Martin dreadnought is the greatest icon in the acoustic guitar world. The D-45, D-28, D-35, and D-18 models are always present at the moments that change the course of history. There must be many people whose lives have been turned around by the tones produced by these guitars held by artists. You have probably seen dreadnoughts in various situations: at live performances, on CD jackets, in magazines, and in music stores.

By the way, what color was that guitar?"
Is this a foolish question? Of course it is natural. However, in this world, there are front and back, light and shadow. Do you know that behind the color that you have taken for granted is the existence of the rare "Shaded Top"?

Today, there are only one or two shaded tops in the whole of Japan. This column is about Martin's pride and joy, "Shaded Top," and this is not a modern reissue item, but a collection of eight originals representing the era. I can say with certainty that this is a longtime project of TC Musical Instruments. As of this writing, we have the largest collection of vintage "Shaded Top" instruments in the world. We would like to introduce the guitars of "Shaded Top" that we have all been involved in.

First of all, what is a "Shaded Top"?

For guitar players, the easiest way to explain what a "Shaded Top" is is to use the term "Sunburst. Shaded Top" has existed since the prewar era of the 1930s, when it was known as the "Golden Era. While the Sunburst finish was the basic color for Gibson, the Shaded Top finish was an option for Martin guitars.
Sunburst" was a common color at Gibson. Gibson's history began in the 19th century with the production of mandolins. The F-5 is a flat mandolin, but it has a gently arched top and an F-hole. Since the flat mandolin itself is in part modeled after the violin, its finish is also influenced by the violin.

Later, Gibson expanded its market share with arched-top guitars, but the aforementioned technology was still utilized to create instruments with violin-like features, such as arched bodies and F-holes, and the "Sunburst" finish was applied. Further down the line, Gibson made a great leap forward with flat-top guitars, and of course, flat-top guitars with "Sunburst" coloring appeared on the market. The vertical history of the instruments handled by Gibson naturally led to the establishment of the [Sunburst] culture at Gibson.
On the other hand, Martin had a period of mandolin production, but their main business was guitar production from the beginning, and their culture was derived from the classical guitar. The small guitars of the so-called "New Yorker" style of the 19th and early 20th centuries naturally adopted natural finishes.
The gradation also has the taste of each of the two companies: Gibson's [Sunburst] has an oval shape that is closer to the endpin than the soundhole, while Martin's [Shaded Top] has a square design that follows the body shape.

The D-45 is a style 45, a numbering given only to guitars that have received the highest quality wood and are made by the hands of the most skilled craftsmen available. The D-45 is a top of the line guitar from Martin. The D-45, the flagship of the line, accounts for only about 1% of all Martin guitars produced.

1975 D-45 Shaded Top

The first one is the "Shaded Top," and you can see the difference in the color of the individual guitars when you compare them to this one. The previous year, 1974, was the last year for German spruce top, and from this year, 1975, Sitka spruce was used, The number of D-45s produced in 1975 was 192.

1976 D-45 Shaded Top

Shaded Top" is the most reddish of the 8 D-45s introduced here. The balance of the gradation in both the neck direction and endpin direction is outstanding, and the relative color is really beautiful and literally stunning.
Many people may think of the D-76, a commemorative model for the bicentennial of the founding of the United States, when they think of the year 1976 in the Martin company. In 1976, the annual production of D-45 exceeded 200 pieces for the first time, 256 pieces. I wonder how many [Shaded Top] were produced in 1976, the first time the annual production of D-45 exceeded 200 pieces. As a side note, in 1977, only 76 D-45s were produced due to the strike.

1979 D-45 Shaded Top 1/2

Two "Shaded Top" guitars of the same year but with different color tones can be compared. One has a darker color with a more massive appearance, which is a result of the ageing of the lacquer coated instrument. The other has faded more strongly than the other two and has the lightest coloring of the eight. In a sense, this bright and pop appearance overturns the image of "Shaded Top. The appearance changes depending on the environment of use and storage, which is one of the joys of vintage instruments. It is rare to be able to compare with other D-45's of the same year with the same color.
The year is 1979, just in the transitional period. The darker [Shaded Top] is equipped with Schaller pegs that would be installed later, and the lighter [Shaded Top] is equipped with Grover pegs in the final year.

1979 D-45 Shaded Top 2/2

In 1979, a record 291 D-45s were produced, the highest ever. Incidentally, in 1978, the previous year, there was a strike at Martin. It is assumed that in 1979, the company happened to have a stock of wood that could not be used in the previous year. The number of D-45s produced seemed to stabilize, but three years later, in 1982, only 45 were produced. It was a time when as many as were made would have been sold. The selection hurdle was still high, and it was not an option for Martin to compromise and increase the production. Even though this is the highest number ever produced, only 291 pieces were produced worldwide, which shows the same rarity.

1983 D-45 150TH Shaded Top

All guitars produced in this year, the 150th anniversary of Martin, are branded with a square label for commemorative models designed by Martin, and an oval label for guitars ordered by customers. As you can see in the photo, the label is oval-shaped for user-ordered guitars. The head, fingerboard, pickguard, bridge, and heel cap are all decorated with inlays. A true luxury item.
Shaded Top" is a beautiful combination with the inlay work. The color of the rim is strong and the 3-tone taste is exquisite. As if by design, the wood grain and texture of the sides and back match the [Shaded Top] and inlays, creating an even more luxurious feel. It is unknown who placed the order for these specs at that time, but the result is a work of art with a great sense of style. The basic specs are the same as in the 1970s, but with Schaller pegs. 74 D-45s were produced in 1983.


The D-28 first appeared in 1931. Two prototypes were built based on guitars that were being made to order by Ditson at the time: the D-1 with a mahogany body and the D-2 with a rosewood body. These were later to become the D-18 and D-28.

From its birth to the present day, the D-28 has undergone many design changes: in 1944, the bracing was changed from scallop to standard; in 1946, the fingerboard inlay was changed from slotted diamond to dot; in 1947, the inlay was changed from herringbone to stripes; and the back marquetry was changed from zigzag to block. The back marquetry also changed from zigzag to block. There were also changes in pickguards and bridges, but the most famous change was the change from Hakaranda to rosewood in 1969.

1953 D-28 Shaded Top

Comparing the 8 D-28s in this exhibition, this one has the clearest and most impressive "Shaded Top" image. You can recognize the black edge and the width of [Shaded Top] is wide. Vintage Martin collectors are always looking for pre-1944 herringbone D-28s, while vintage Martin players are always whispering, "D-28s are best in the 1950s". The D-28 is a highly regarded guitar in terms of both material and quality, as it coincides with the symbolic period when America was at its most vibrant. The long saddle, covered cruson, and beautiful quarter-sawn hakaranda back and sides are all of a completely different quality from those of the modern era. The 1953 D-28 was produced in 675 pieces.


The D-35, released in 1965, is characterized by its three-piece body back, which is made of three pieces of rosewood, with maple and rosewood glued together in three fine layers. Although the three-piece construction was an idea conceived to conserve the Hakaranda due to resource shortages during the war, the D-35, combined with the change in bracing material, produces a tone different from that of the standard D-28, The D-35, however, was a new type of instrument, and it has gained a new group of fans.

The soft impression of the sound matched well with the folk boom, and the D-35 was very popular in Japan in the 1970s, and was used by many professional musicians.

1975 D-35 Shaded Top

The width of the shaded top is a little narrow while the color of the edge remains strong. There is a difference in appearance that can be noticed only when you see several pieces side by side. The color of the original "Shaded Top" has a gorgeous impression.
The high mid tones are very pleasant, and the arpeggio playing is very impressive, as you would expect from the D-35. The thick core sound characteristic of the 1950s gives a sense of volume, but it is also very elegant, and the overall impression is delicate and well-balanced. Depending on the player's emotions, it can handle everything from dynamic performances to gentle melodies behind the scenes. The production number of the 1975 D-35 is an impressive 6260 pieces.


The D-18 was born in 1931 along with the D-28, and while the D-28 is a well-balanced guitar for chord playing with a powerful low-mid range, the D-18 is characterized by its delicate and sparkling high range. The well-played D-18 is considered by many professional musicians to be the "must-have" guitar when choosing a Martin.

In fact, among the musicians who have used the D-18, Elvis Presley, who had just made his debut, is particularly famous. Eric Clapton, who has an image of a triple-O, uses the D-18 on many of his recordings because he likes the way it rides on the microphone.

1975 D-18 Shaded Top

Shaded Top] This guitar is similar to the aforementioned D-35, but the color of the rim is a little lighter and reddish. The color range is also slightly narrower. Coincidentally, the sides and back are mahogany, which matches well with this slightly lighter color. The total color including the bridge and fingerboard is different from the other "Shaded Top" models.
The weather check on the top is just right, and the balance with the [Shaded Top] is exquisite. 3069 D-18s were produced in 1975, about half the number of D-35s.

At the end

Martin and Gibson, two companies in rivalry with each other, have developed together because of a sense of competition to catch up and overtake each other's growth. In 1935, Martin also added the "Shaded Top" option to the D-28.

Gibson [Sunburst] is the "sunshine" and Martin [Shaded Top] is the "shade. It may have been fate that the naming coincidentally refers to the relationship between the two.