Martin Custom Masterpieces

Published on 27 February 2024


What’s better than a top-of-the-range Martin acoustic? Well, not much, apart from maybe a Martin Custom guitar!

Martin are one of the most significant names in guitar making history. Since 1833, they’ve pretty much defined what the term ‘acoustic guitar’ means to the world, through designs like the Dreadnought and the Orchestral Model. These designs are used by almost every major and minor guitar manufacturer in the world, to one degree or another. They invented X-bracing, another world-changer that has become the definitive standard in acoustic guitar building. Originators, trend-setters and influencers, Martin & Co have been at the top for nearly two centuries. Who better to build custom guitars?



Made the Traditional Way

Martin D-45 Harvey Leach

Martin Custom Shop Major Kealakai K-1

Martin Custom OM-45 John Mayer 20th Anniversary

The Original Acoustic Guitar Custom Shop


Made the Traditional Way

Martin & Co still operate from the same Nazareth, Pennsylvania premises they’ve inhabited since they moved from their famed North Street premises. Nowadays, in addition to the factory itself, there is a guitar museum open to tourists, and upstairs you’ll find the illustrious Custom Shop.

Here, a small team of dedicated Custom Shop staff dream up, design and build some of the greatest acoustic guitars on the planet. From exhaustively accurate recreations of historical Martin guitars to elaborate and highly decorative pieces for special events and commemorations, Martin’s Custom Shop is a busy and impressive place.


They do things the ‘old way’ as much as possible. Hand work is preferred as much as possible, and ‘hide glue and cloth strip construction’ is a term often used in relation to their process. Hand-tooling, hand-shaping of bracing, tried and tested methods for carving, fixing and setting…it’s all part of the daily dialogue for Martin’s Custom Shop artisans.

Like most brands with a custom shop, Martin’s make varieties of their own designs, perhaps with different tonewood combinations, interesting decorative effects or even full-on historical recreations. I’ll show you a little something from each of these types today, as a very small taster of the wonders that emerge from the Martin Custom Shop!


Martin D-45 Harvey Leach



Take a look at this beauty! The already ornate D-45 is here festooned with incredible, super-detailed inlay work, making the D-45 Harvey Leach a real masterpiece of a guitar. Beautiful lotus flowers float on an exotic pond, making their way from the headstock all the way down the neck towards the body in an elegant procession. A heron marks the 12th fret amidst dragonflies and Koi carp. It’s an idyllic scene, brought to life by inlay artist Harvey Leach, and there are only 25 of this worldwide.


This work has been inlaid into the ebony fingerboard, figured spruce top and ebony headstock fascia. This stunning work is already on top of the trademark D-45 abalone purfling around the top, back and rosette. For an extra treat, turn the guitar over and check out what’s been inlaid to the Madagascan rosewood back!



Martin Custom Shop Major Kealakai K-1

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily expect you to know who Major Kealaki was (I certainly had to look him up!) but this lovingly recreated edition of his guitar is actually waaaaay more significant than you might think.


So, the Major was a Hawaiian guitar player and conductor of the Royal Hawaiian Band back in 1916. A 000 player, he approached Martin to build him a bigger and louder guitar in order to give him the volume he needed to compete with ever-bigger audiences. Significantly, this resulted in an instrument that later became the dreadnought! Talk about a milestone in guitar history?!


This special edition K-1 Major Kealakai is a faithful recreation of that very guitar. They’ve recreated the distinctive Ebony bridge, copied the silhouette and slotted headstock perfectly, and selected the best quality timbers - Adirondack Spruce and Sinker Mahogany - to recreate this immensely important instrument.

Martin have also treated the topo and the bracing to their VTS treatment, which is their take on torrefaction. Torrefaction is a process of using heat to dry out the wood, resulting in a tone that is very similar to century-old vintage guitars. You hear a more strident, powerful, complex tone, which adds to this recreation’s authenticity.


Martin Custom OM-45 John Mayer 20th Anniversary

Now, this is a guitar for the stage! Imagine the spotlight reflecting off this platinum finish and inlay work! 


This guitar has been built to celebrate 20 years of Blues-rock megastar John Mayer’s association with Martin. It’s basically a glammed up version of his favourite OM-45, but what glam! There is genuine silver in the binding and purfling (alongside considerable levels of abalone), and there are wonderful details such as the soundhole rosette continuing ‘through’ the top of the fingerboard in the form of an inlay! It’s very cool, very tasteful and extremely eye-grabbing!



The Original Acoustic Guitar Custom Shop

Martin’s Custom Shop is a compelling blend of the traditional and contemporary. As I’ve brushed upon today, you can be s wild or as conservative as you desire: they have the people with the skills to turn those dreams into a reality. With access to the finest timbers, the best inlay artists and nearly two centuries’ worth of experience, it’s a custom shop like no other.

Click to View our Selection of Martin Custom Guitars



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I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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