A Comprehensive Review of the Martin N-20 Guitar: History, Features and Buying Guide

What if I told you that the sound of a guitar could change the course of music history? That’s exactly what happened with the Martin N-20 guitar. In the mid-60s, a young folk musician, forever altering both his career and the narrative of acoustic guitars, bought an unassuming, newly released model. But let’s not give the story away too soon.

Hi, I’m Adam Perlmutter, a lifelong guitar enthusiast and professional music journalist. I’ve seen and played countless guitars, but the resonating charm of the Martin N-20 still strikes a chord with me. Given my expertise and passion, I am thrilled to guide you through the mesmerizing world of the Martin N-20 guitar, exploring its captivating history, exceptional features, and what to consider when buying this masterpiece.

Whether you are a seasoned musician or a budding strummer, this comprehensive review will deepen your appreciation for this game-changing instrument. You may not know it yet, but we are about to embark on a journey that will forever change the way you see and hear acoustic guitars. We’ll uncover the heart and soul behind the Martin N-20’s celebrated fame and why it continues to be sought after, decades after its inception. Join me as we uncover the captivating story of this iconic instrument.

The History of the Martin N-20 Guitar

The History of the Martin N-20 Guitar

To fully understand the allure of the Martin N-20, let’s go back some decades. The Martin Guitar Company, a brand synonymous with quality and craftsmanship, first introduced the signature N-20 model in 1969. This spruce and rosewood work of art was something fresh and unique in the line-up of Martin, renowned for its dreadnoughts and jumbo guitars. The ‘N’ designation hinted it was part of Martin’s classical series, utilizing nylon strings for a sweet, warm tone that quickly mesmerized musicians and enthusiasts alike.

My personal journey with the 1969 Martin N-20 began in the early stages of my career. Having developed a keen interest in vintage guitars, the allure of the N-20 was both immediate and enduring. The rich warmth of its tones was distinct, enveloping the listener in a harmonic embrace that was distinctively Martin yet magically unique. Each strum felt like a conversation; each note, a narrative, unraveling the paradoxical allure of an instrument that was modern yet vintage.

Did you know the Martin N-20 has been part of historical music moments? Let’s travel back in time to uncover its captivating story. The N-20 shot into fame when it became Willie Nelson’s “Trigger”. Nelson’s relationship with his guitar—forever scarred, yet forever loved—gave it a personality. Becoming more than just wood and strings, it became an icon, symbolising Willie’s distinctive outlaw country sound.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get up close and personal with “Trigger”, and it lives up to every bit of its reputation. Every mark on its weathered body tells a story, a testament to the countless performances and rich history it has witnessed. Through Willie Nelson, the world saw the true potential of the Martin N-20 – a guitar that aged gracefully, creating richer sounds as the years passed.

There’s a nostalgic charm about the Martin N-20 that’s hard to deny. Its simple design allows the craftsmanship to speak for itself. Whenever I run my fingers across the fretboard of my own Martin N-20, I can’t help but feel a connection to the illustrious legacy of the Martin Guitar Company. It’s a continued reminder of their commitment to creating guitars that aren’t just instruments, but partners in the music-making journey.

To say that the Martin N-20 left an indelible mark on our music history would be an understatement. As we delve deeper into the charm and allure of this remarkable instrument in the chapters to come, you will understand why musicians old and new, famous and amateur alike, hold the N-20 in such high regard, and why it remains a prized possession for collectors and fans of vintage guitars around the globe.

Understanding the Features

Materials and Design

Materials and Design

Continuing our exploration of the Martin N-20 guitar, we now turn our focus to its materials and design, a key aspect in understanding the features of this remarkable instrument. Each component is crafted with precision, contributing distinctively to its overall sound and playability.

Foremost among these materials is Brazilian Rosewood, the essence of the guitar’s back and sides. Revered in guitar craftsmanship, Brazilian Rosewood is known for its deep, rich tonality and strikingly beautiful grain patterns. Its use in the N-20 not only adds to its aesthetic charm but significantly enhances its sound quality, producing a warm, resonant tone.

As far as the design is concerned, the N-20 boasts a vibrant herringbone trim, a signature of earlier Martin guitars. Furthermore, the guitar’s unique head design and gold tuners enrich its vintage appeal. However, these elements are not merely ornamental. The design details augment the guitar’s specifications, optimizing performance and contributing to exceptional sound projection.

From my training in contemporary improvisation and intricate transcription tasks, I’ve found that every material and design detail in a guitar plays an imperative role. It’s their synergy that ultimately influences the instrument’s output and user experience.

Let me give you an apt analogy: just as every ingredient contributes uniquely to the flavor of a gourmet dish, each material in a guitar adds to its sound quality. The guitar’s design, akin to the recipe, determines how these ingredients bind together to bring forth the final product – a melodic masterpiece that is both aural and visual delight.

The careful selection and intricate combination of materials like Brazilian Rosewood, paired with a well-thought-out design, results in the distinct, precious sound of the Martin N-20. As we venture further into this review, you’ll understand how these specifications play an essential role in distinguishing the N-20 from its peers. It’s a fascinating exploration, and I am thrilled to guide you through it.

Sound and Playability

Sound and Playability

Sound and playability have frequently been at the heart of my reviews, informed by my tenure at both ‘Premier Guitar’ and ‘Acoustic Guitar’ magazines. Today, let’s delve into these critical features of the Martin N-20 guitar.

As a nylon-string classical guitar, the N-20 presents a unique sound distinctly different from steel-stringed counterparts. Perhaps its most defining characteristic is its clear, pronounced treble response, emphasized consistently across the fretboard. This stems from Martin’s use of the modified Bouchet bracing – a feature that I believe exemplifies the brand’s commitment to acoustic precision.

What caught my attention, though, is the guitar’s extraordinary balance between warmth and projection. This to me, is an exquisite symphony – the rich, mellow tones meet the high-pitched brightness creating an aural experience few guitars offer. The modified Bouchet bracing I mentioned earlier allows the top to vibrate more freely, lending to the increased resonance and projection.

But, what does this mean for playability, you ask? The Martin N-20 is a delight to play. Its wider neck and string spacing results in greater room for fingerstyle techniques – a feature that many classical guitarists, including myself, appreciate. Martin’s N-20 gives players the ability to craft articulate melodies or intricate fingerpicking patterns with ease.

Moving forward, grip and comfort become remarkably noticeable owing to the Martin N-20’s feather-light weight and meticulously crafted neck profile. This fine balance of sound and playability not only brings the player immense joy but also extends audiences an unforgettable listening experience.

As we move on to explore other alternatives to the Martin N-20 in the next section, let’s bear in mind that any comparison will inherently carry these undeniable sound and playability characteristics of the N-20 as its reference point. To comprehend this guitar’s uniqueness, we must understand its competences and the sheer musical experience it provides. Change gears, and let’s review the Martin N-20’s counterparts next.

Comparisons and Alternatives

Comparisons and Alternatives

In the mostly subjective realm of acoustic guitars, the quest for the perfect tone and feel can often be a winding journey, weaving through the labyrinth of brands, models, and upgrades. With decades of guitar-playing experience and an array of reviewed instruments under my belt, I hope that I can lend my perspective to help you navigate these potentially overwhelming choices. My target in this chapter? To gauge how the Martin N-20 fares in the grand scheme of musical tools, throwing light on worthy alternatives, their respective fortes, and where they fall short. Without further ado, let’s dive into the melodic melee.

In the vast world of guitars, where does the Martin N-20 stand? Let’s compare and see how it stacks up.

First off, let’s consider the signature models. Signature guitars are often a double-edged sword; they can offer a direct pathway to emulate your guitar-hero’s tone but can also narrow your unique auditory voice. I placed the Martin N-20 head to head with the Eric Clapton Signature Martin 000-28 and was duly impressed with both. Decked with East Indian Rosewood back and sides, the 000-28 boasts of a balanced and articulate response, snappy enough for Clapton’s percussive style. On the other hand, the N-20, crafted with uniquely resonant South American rosewood, renders a softer, warmer tone – a critical element if your acoustics skews towards Willie Nelson’s soulful serenades.

Another consistent competitor that pops up in the acoustic guitar forum discussions is the Taylor 810. The 810’s noticeable brightness, snappier response, and cutaway body style make it a favourite among finger-style players. Yet, when strummed, the N-20’s mellower overtones have a certain rustic charm that is undeniably endearing and earthy. Ultimately, the decision hinges on your tonal preference and playing style.

One cannot overlook vintage alternatives when discussing the N-20. I had the pleasure of playing a 1960’s Guild F-50; this guitar offers beautiful warmth and resonance, yet lacks the tonal balance and defined mid-range that the Martin N-20 proudly brings to the table.

I’d urge potential buyers to not be swayed by pure nostalgia or brand endorsement. What works wondrously in your favorite artist’s hands may not necessarily translate well with your personal touch. Remember, tonal beauty is in the fingers of the beholder.

Engaging in the quest for your ideal guitar should be an exciting, enlightening journey – not a labyrinth to navigate. Armed with knowledge and open-minded curiosity, you’re well on your way to finding the perfect partner in your musical odyssey. As we move onward in our rundown of the Martin N-20, I hope that these comparisons will help you form a comprehensive picture, facilitating your decision-making process towards your next potential guitar acquisition.

Buying Guide

Buying Guide

After a considerate understanding of the history, features, and sound of the Martin N-20 guitar, it’s time to explore where, why, and how to buy one. This section is crafted from years of navigating the guitar market, and cultivating a discerning ear for quality, to provide you with a roadmap in the process of purchasing your own Martin N-20. So fasten your seatbelts as I share meaningful advice built on my experiences and knowledge of the guitar market.

If you’re asking the ‘where’, I would recommend reputable sources such as guitar stores, authorized dealers, and well-known online platforms. You could visit stores like Carter Vintage Guitars which offer an excellent range of used acoustic guitars. The benefit of physical stores is the ability to try before you buy, allowing you to hear and feel the guitar’s sound, resonance, and playability. This experience is absolutely crucial before any purchase is made. But remember, research beforehand and always have your guitar buying guide on hand. Every insight you can glean will aid in your decision-making process.

For the ‘why’, it’s important to understand what sets the Martin N-20 apart from its competitors. It’s the harmonious blend of craftsmanship and sound quality that has made the guitar beloved among musicians – renowned and beginners alike. But remember, the Martin N-20 price reflects its attributes. It’s not an entry-level guitar, but an investment in the quality and heritage of Martin instruments.

Ready to play the beautiful melodies of the Martin N-20? Equip yourself with insights to navigate the guitar market efficiently.

And on to the ‘how’. Buying a new guitar, especially one as special as the Martin N-20, requires a few considerations. If buying used, inspect the guitar thoroughly for any signs of damage. Ask about the guitar’s lineage – who owned it and how it’s been stored – as these factors influence the instrument’s longevity. If you’re opting for a new guitar, be prepared to spend a little more. The Martin N-20 price may be higher than used models, but the advantage is knowing that the guitar has been untouched and kept in optimal conditions.

In my experience, there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ guitar. It’s about discovering the guitar that captivates you with its sound and resonates with your creative spirit. Whether you’re buying from a store or online, it’s important to be comfortable with the purchase and reassured about the authenticity and quality of your guitar.

To conclude, I believe our guitar-buying journey should be facilitated by expert knowledge coupled with personal intuition. The Martin N-20, with its rich history and impressive performance, is undoubtedly a treasure to be appreciated by every musician who recognizes its value. Armed with these insights, I trust you will make the best buying decision and embark on this rewarding journey.


What is the history of the Martin N-20 Guitar?

The Martin N-20 Guitar, also known as the Martin N-20WN Guitar, was introduced in 1968 and is renowned for its association with legendary musician Willie Nelson. It’s a classical acoustic guitar that features a body made entirely of Brazilian rosewood. The guitar was discontinued in the mid-2000s due to restrictions on Brazilian rosewood.

What are the main features of the Martin N-20 Guitar?

The Martin N-20 features a body and neck made of solid Brazilian rosewood. It’s fretboard and bridge are crafted from Ebony, and it sports a Sitka Spruce top. It’s also equipped with a unique headstock shape that is now synonymous with the Martin brand.

What should one consider when buying a Martin N-20 Guitar?

Given that production of the Martin N-20 has been discontinued, it’s important to check for signs of wear and tear when buying used models, particularly in the neck and body. Also, ensure the serial number matches Martin’s records. Finally, since these are high-end guitars, it’s recommended to seek advice from a professional or experienced buyer.


What makes the Martin N-20 a timeless piece of artistry? Let’s conclude our musical journey by revisiting the key points. It begins with its history, the Martin N-20 guitar has journeyed through time, fulfilling the wishes of renowned musicians while creating an enduring legacy in the world of acoustic guitars.

Its distinct features and design stand out, with quality materials that guarantee longevity and optimal performance. The Martin N-20 offers an exceptional sound and playability experience, unmatched by many alternatives in the market. Although purchasing a guitar could be an overwhelming process, our comprehensive buying guide simplifies it for you, ensuring you enjoy the process while making an informed decision.

There’s a majestic aura surrounding the Martin N-20 that compelled me to explore and share about this instrument. As we conclude, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment, reflecting on the vital role this guitar has played in my personal and professional life. Its timeless appeal and rich musical quality continue to mesmerize, defining the Martin N-20 as a true symbol of acoustic elegance and artistry. All of this contributes to an enlightening and enriching journey, uncovering the distinct charm of this timeless musical treasure, the Martin N-20 guitar.

Leave a Comment