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Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions

29 Feb 00 - 06:34 PM (#187058)
Subject: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: MK

I am going to my local luthier tomorrow to check out a 1980 version of this instrument.

I would really like to hear from any Mudcatters who either have one, or have had one, and all impressions of it.

Is is a good fingerpicking instrument in terms of tone, playability, intonation, and comfort?

Be brutally honest with your responses, please. I'm not locked into buying it, but would like as much info on this particular model, since it's relatively obscure. I do know that David Bromberg had a hand in the design specifications for it.

Other things I'd like to know: Are the braces scalloped? Does it have an adjustable truss rod, small maple birdgeplate, etc.etc.etc.

(Thanks....with any luck I might get a whopping 1 or 2 responses before this thread dies.)   8-)

29 Feb 00 - 09:35 PM (#187160)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Owlkat

Hi hi,
I had a chance to play an M-38 in Toronto. Now that I think about it, it would have been about 1980. I found the neck nicely contoured, the body dimensions were quite pleasant for my size (I'm a compact size person), and how easy it was to get as much sound as I could handle without really hauling on the strings. If I hadn't fallen in love with a '47 000-18 hanging on the wall next to it, I'd have bought it without hesitation. It is a good tool for fingerpicking, slide, and melodic flatpicking. The body shape also gives a better balance between the bass and treble, so it's not quite so boomy as a dreadnought. There.
I'm done.

29 Feb 00 - 11:48 PM (#187231)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Liam's Brother

I have an M-36 which, you may know, is very similar. I have also played a few M-38s. The main difference is a 2-piece back (M-38) vs. 3-piece back (M-36) and extra trim on the M-38.

The guitar size is very comfortable for me. I prefer the body to a dreadnought body (which I also have). It also seems to be an excellent compromise for finger picking, strumming and flatpicking. The M-38 is particularly handsome, I think, though the color of the top could put off a purist.

Mine sounds fine with both light and medium gauge strings. The one you're going to play is 20 years old so it's had plenty of opportunity to mature. What you hear is what you're going to get, pretty much, for the next couple of decades.

The guitar you're going to look at most likely does not have an adjustable truss rod. 1986 is the year when the adjustable rod became standard, as I recall. Just take a look. Martin made approximately 2,000 M-38's; they have been discontinued and the size is now called 0000.

If it's in very nice condition, I think $1800 is a very good buyer's price; $1600 for an M-36. Good luck and let me know how it works out.

All the best,

01 Mar 00 - 08:22 AM (#187396)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Whistle Stop

You're talking about a nice instrument. Dan (Liam's brother)has already said most of what I was going to say. I used to own an M-36 (the three-piece back version, with somewhat less binding) back in the early-mid 1980's, and of the many guitars I have owned, it is the one I am most sorry that I didn't hang onto. It was also a 1980, and the truss rod was not adjustable or accessable. The body size and shape was perfect, to my way of thinking: large lower bout, tighter waist than a dreadnought, shallower than a dreadnought. It had that great Martin sound, with more bass than a 000 style but not quite as boomy as a dreadnought, and I found the body style very comfortable to play, sitting or standing. I played everything on it -- from bluegrass strumming to Celtic-style fingerpicking -- and it handled all nicely. I played it with light strings; I'm sure it would have responded very well to mediums (whether my fingers would have responded as well is another matter).

David Bromberg participated in the design of the M-36/38. I believe the first one was made out of the back and sides of an old Martin archtop; the top was replaced with a flat top, the neck was reset, and there it was. I saw Bromberg playing his trusty 38 in an all-acoustic show in the early 1980's, and he was all over it (no surprise there; great musician). Dan is right about the color of the top being less than ideal; they used some kind of tinted "aging toner" (I hate it when they do that!), and on some models it looks pretty close to Halloween orange, at least to my eyes. But if you can get past that, it's a great guitar. Good luck.

01 Mar 00 - 10:13 AM (#187442)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Skipjack K8

And I thought this was a lonely hearts thread!

Skipjack (GSOH WLTM VWEW for afternoon fun)

01 Mar 00 - 11:22 AM (#187503)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: MK

Dan, Owlcat, Whistle Stop: I appreciate very much your responses......The instrument I was considering is pictured here (8 down from the top).

The store wants 2100.00 CDN + taxes. ....but I no longer have a good feeling about this instrument since the store has not responded to my emails or phone calls inquiring for more info (perhaps because I offered to trade them a OOO-28EC which I have had nothing but problems with --but is worth more than the M-38.)

Also the fact that it's had it's bridge shaved (which to me implies the owner tried to put off an impending neck reset) which I would end up having to pay for sooner rather than later..and even further down the road, having to replace the bridge. And the water stains inside bug me too.

I thank you all again for your advice. I go with my guts on guitar purchases and my gut is telling me that this particular one, is NOT the one for me, so unless the store calls me today and insists that this is something I just have to see, I think I'm going to pass.

Maybe another one, at another time.

01 Mar 00 - 01:17 PM (#187576)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Whistle Stop

Good luck. Obviously, I can't spoeak to the merits of this particular instrument, but the model is a good one. Of course, the 000-28 (EC or not) is also a good model, individual variability notwithstanding. For myself, I find that the bass response on the M series instruments is more satisfying than on the 000 models, but it's really a matter of personal preference. I wouldn't be too worried about water stains from an overfilled Dampit (pretty common, and not too serious, as long as it wasn't such an egregious situation that it caused structural damage), and the "shaved bridge" may just mean that they lowered the saddle as a concession to a previous owner's tender fingertips (again, pretty common, and easily rectified if that's the only issue). But going wiht your gut is the right thing to do. For myself, I would be very hesitant to buy any quality instrument -- particularly a 20-year old instrument -- without having first cradled it in my arms. Happy hunting, and don't rush it -- with patience, you'll find the one you want.

01 Mar 00 - 01:29 PM (#187584)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: MichaelM

I think you should pester the store a little more. They have a deserved reputation for honesty and good service. I have dealt with them for over ten years and had no problems that weren't resolved. It's possible your e-mail has been lost. I would be very surprised if they were ignoring you. Brother Rick Fielding is a frequent habitue of this establishment. He may have handled this instrument and be able to give you some commentary on its worth.

Michael Miland

01 Mar 00 - 02:19 PM (#187609)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Rick Fielding

You're psychic Mike (or psycho!) Just played it. It has a superb sound and feel...and is in need of a severe neck re-set and new bridge. T'would be worth it if you knew that the same sound would result....but no one does!


01 Mar 00 - 02:20 PM (#187610)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: MK

Thanks Owlcat.

Thanks Michael Milland. I too have been dealing with the Fret for several years and agree with EVERYTHING you said about them. They're probably busy with other things, and Dave doesn't always check email...or phone messages if things are snap, crackling and popping in the store which they usually are. I also don't have a burning in my gut that I have to drop everything and rush over there to see/play it.

Brother Fielding has been to the store today and has played and critiqued the said instrument in question, and just left me a phone message saying he has some definite opinions on I am awaiting a call back from him. The one thing he conspicuously did NOT mention in his message to me, was that I should BUY THIS INSTRUMENT NOW. I trust Rick's judgement on these matters over and above my I'll wait to hear his assessment of it.

Thanks again to all who responded to this post. (Actually got more responses than I would have expected, since it was neither a lyric or BS thread.    8-)

01 Mar 00 - 03:15 PM (#187634)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Easy Rider


You owe it to yourself to go in and play the instrument. If you don't, you'll always wonder about it.

01 Mar 00 - 03:50 PM (#187647)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: MK

I've now spoken with Brother Fielding. I am going to go see it tomorrow morning. If it's a good as Rick says (and the bridge and neck angle are live-able as is for the say the next 3 to 5 years) then I'll grab it. Have already called the store and told them to hold it for me, pending we'll see.

Thanks again to all those who responded.

07 Jun 12 - 09:55 AM (#3360453)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: GUEST,Terry St.Clair

I've owned my 1977 M38 since 1983 and is the best guitar I've ever owned. It has a beautiful balanced sound and perfect for both live and recording. It is my most treasured possession and worry that it could get damaged at some gigs so I've recently had two beautiful guitars made by English luthier Rob Armstrong, giving the M38 a well earned rest, but it still gets used for special gigs.

07 Jun 12 - 04:12 PM (#3360610)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: GUEST,Songbob

I played one once, for about an hour at a music gathering, and it was superb. I own a luthier-made guitar, a Running Dog Jumbo, and it's a wunnerful thang, too, so I know a good guitar when I play it. The M-38 was as balanced as you could ask for, responsive, and easy on the hands. It played equally fine finger-picked (with and without picks, and flat-picked.

Lurvely geetar!


07 Jun 12 - 05:02 PM (#3360631)
Subject: RE: Martin M-38 - Thoughts, Impressions
From: Ebbie

So, Justapicker, did you buy it? Twelve years is a long time, I know...