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George Gruhn Discusses Martin Sinker Mahogany Guitars


The Thrill of the Sinker

It has long been an elusive goal to build new guitars that sound and feel equivalent to some of the finest golden era vintage instruments of the 1930s. We feel like the new Martin sinker mahogany guitars are the closest new instrument to meet that goal we have ever seen. In all 150 of these instruments will be produced by the end of 2018 and they will all come through our doors. After 48 years of retail, it is an honor to carry these instruments.


All Wood is not Equal

While it is possible to meticulously measure vintage instruments and attempt to duplicate these specifications, it has proved to be extraordinarily difficult to duplicate the tone and feel of the vintage originals. What makes a guitar great first and foremost is design, followed by structural craftsmanship, followed by materials, and finally aesthetic beauty. While there are quite a few skilled craftsmen producing very good instruments today, endangered tropical hardwoods are in short supply and some, especially Brazilian rosewood are highly regulated and in some cases prohibited from import. In addition, even when the proper species of wood is available, very little virgin forest old-growth wood is obtainable and much of what is currently offered for sale is either not properly aged and stabilized or has been kiln dried rather than air seasoned.


We were excited to learn that Martin had obtained a small quantity of mahogany from trees that had been cut in virgin forests in Belize in Central America between 1880 and 1920. The Central American mahogany is the species used by Martin on the pre-World War II golden era instruments. This wood is of the same genus, but a different species than the South American mahogany most commonly used today. It is denser, darker in color, more attractive, as well as different sounding than the wood on standard new model instruments. When these trees were cut down, the logs were floated down rivers to the sawmills.  Approximately one third of the wood sank during the process. The wood was lost for nearly a century. With the use of sonar and scuba gear, the wood was found and acquired by Martin Guitars.


This wood was selected for the neck, back, sides, neck block, and end block in these spectacular guitars. The sinker Mahogany is used in conjunction with Adirondack spruce with forward shifted scalloped bracing and meticulous design work—incorporating the best features of vintage instruments and modern features including a two-way adjustable truss rod and comfortable neck dimensions. When combined with Martin's superb Custom Shop workmanship, this has yielded instruments that we know are some of the finest quality new guitars made by any maker since prior to World War II.


The Sound of the Sinker

While tone is subjective, instruments can be objectively judged on five standards which are indeed measurable: balanced volume on all strings on the entire length of the fingerboard, balanced sustain such that all notes on all strings sustain equally, balanced dynamic range such that all notes on all strings respond equally well to low, medium, or high volume, balanced complexity of tone such that all notes on all strings have a similar complexity of tone with a balance of high-end and low-end harmonics in addition to a strong fundamental note, and finally balanced clarity of articulation such that all notes on all strings in all positions are balanced in clarity. These are objectively measurable criteria.. Few guitars excel in all five criteria, but when they do, they are typically superb instruments. The new sinker mahogany Martins excel in all of these measures.


While each of the three models currently in stock (14 fret neck with 16 inch body width 0000-18, 12 fret slot head neck with extended length body 0000-18, and dreadnought) has a distinctly different voice, all are of equal quality.


Looking Ahead

In 2018, in addition to the three models currently available, we are adding cutaway 0000 size guitars with an oval soundhole and a 22 fret fingerboard and are offering style 18 as well as more ornamented versions of each model featuring the most highly figured sinker mahogany available, highest grade Adirondack spruce, style 45 neck inlay with snowflake fingerboard inlays, herringbone top trim, zigzag backstripe, and ivoroid bindings on the neck and body edges.


As there is only enough of this distinctive wood in stock to produce only 150 instruments this year, we hope you can stop in and try out these amazing instruments. They are truly unique and we are proud to have them.



-George Gruhn, Gruhn Guitars