In the early 1930s, Martin—like many of its biggest competitors—began to experiment with different guitar designs to satisfy the rapidly changing needs of contemporary players. In 1931, Martin even began producing archtop guitars (a relatively new convention made especially popular by certain builders in New York and Michigan). Ultimately, Martin’s introduction of the 14-fret dreadnought in late 1934 revolutionized both the Martin company itself and the 20th century acoustic guitar. As a consequence, these Martin archtops were made in fewer and fewer quantities, and they were almost forgotten altogether as American music progressed through the ’40s and ’50s.
This 1933 Martin C-1 is a unique find because in many ways its story paints the perfect portrait of these forgotten, passed-over Martin archtops. When you open this well-preserved alligator chipboard case, you find a ’33 C-1 Archtop in excellent condition and a time capsule of depression-era folk music ephemera. Although this guitar’s original owner had all the right books (period Nick Lucas method and period Roy Smeck method books included!), it doesn’t look like guitar playing ever stuck. Because of that, this guitar is well preserved, and it includes a unique collection of cool case candy, including method books, song lyrics, and two ’30s conversion nuts for Hawaiian-style playing.
The most interesting detail, though, is the included 1934 C.F. Martin catalog, which doesn’t list the Dreadnought body as an option. In 1935, the new dreadnought body permanently altered the course of Martin’s history, and this 1934 catalog would be the last produced without dreadnoughts front and center. In many ways, finding it in the case with this archtop completes the picture perfectly.
In its own right, this 1933 Martin C-1 plays very nicely and has warm, dynamic archtop tone. We’re fairly surprised more players and collectors haven’t discovered these because they truly are great guitars, albeit undervalued in today’s vintage market.