The CF Martin company finished most of their guitars in a clear natural finish but some of them received the coveted shaded top (or sunburst) finish. Martin did far fewer sunburst guitars than Gibson back in the golden era of acoustic guitars but they were equally as beautiful. They’re also far more coveted by collectors than their natural finished counterparts and therefore more susceptible to wild price fluctuations and hidden surprises. We are always looking to buy orignal shade top or sunburst vintage Martin acoustic guitars. Do you want to sell a vintage Martin guitar? You can contact me here on my Martin buying page.
This 1937 CF Martin 0-18 shaded top has survived in lovely condition and retains all its original finish with no overspray or touch up. An original shaded top finish exhibits some uncommon characteristics that can help determine an original finish versus a refinish or touch up.
One of these important characteristics is the finish texture over the pickguard. The pickguard was installed under the finish on Martin guitars at this time period. Something in the black paint reacts with the pickguard material and causes a bubbling texture. The more that the finish has oxidized or worn, the more bubbling or checking the pickguard will exhibit in the shaded area. Shade top or sunburst Martin guitars that haven’t worn or oxidized much will exhibit very little reaction on the pickguard but will likely still show some finish inconsistency in that area.
This 1937 CF Martin 00-18 from Folkway Music in Ontario, Canada is in lovely condition and exhibits the typical bubbling and cloudiness that we would expect from an original 1930s Martin shaded top finish.
This 1938 Martin D-18, listed as a shaded top with original top finish only, does not exhibit the typical bubbling or cloudiness on the pickguard that we normally see on an original shade top or sunburst Martin finish from the 1930s. This guitar would benefit from a careful examination to determine if the which is original: the finish or the pickguard. It’s also possible that that finish inconsistencies were removed when the pickguard shrunk and was reglued to the top. Since shaded top Martin guitars from the 1930s often sell for double that of a natural finish in the same condition, these determinations would be very important in order to establish a fair market value for the guitar.