Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 42

M

artin Orchestra Model (OM)
guitars made prior to World
War II are some of the finest ever made
for fingerpicking. That's rather ironic,
considering they were created specifically for flatpickers. * Much has been
written about the OM-28, but some of
that info, including how it was designed
for Perry Bechtel, is a bit misleading. The
real story is more complicated.

OM
IRONY
The Real Story of Martin's 14-Fret Orchestra Models
BY GEORGE GRUHN
AND JOE SPANN
VINTAGE GUITAR

42

March 2018

Guitars with 14-fret necks were hardly a new
concept when the OM-28 was introduced in
late 1929. All too often, the debut of the 14fret neck on the OM has been portrayed as
a marvelous innovation by Martin, when
in fact the Gibson L-5 had one from
its inception in 1923; the even earlier
Gibson Style O had a 15-fret neck.
Bechtel (1902-'82) was a phenomenal plectrum-banjo player
and jazz guitarist who performed
with a Style O prior to '29, so
there's little credibility in the
idea Martin made a guitar with
a longer neck simply because
he was accustomed to playing
plectrum banjo. And because
he was an expert guitarist, it
makes no sense to think he
wanted a long neck to be more
like a banjo, especially when
he already had the Style O. By
'29, he certainly would have
been familiar with the L-5.
Martin archives reveal another important factor was the
development of the "Carl Fisher"
tenor guitar (with 14 frets clear of
the body), which preceded the OM
by several months and was developed
at the urging of Al Esposito, employee
of New York City retailer Carl Fisher,
specifically to keep customers Frank Victor and Frank Petrucci from purchasing
Gibsons. The design eventually became
the Martin O-18T, the company's most
popular tenor guitar.
Numerous documents in Martin archives prove Bechtel's critical role in the
development of the OM. But, his special
guitar was created after the Carl Fisher
model. Correspondence makes reference
to Perry's Gibson model O, initially asking
for 15 frets clear of the body and a duplicate


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