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Vintage Tone System (VTS)

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Vintage Tone System (VTS)

The new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) uses a unique recipe that is based on the historic torrefaction system. VTS acts much like a time machine in which Martin can target certain time periods and age the top/braces to that era. This focused method allows Martin’s craftsmen and craftswomen to recreate not only the pleasing visual aesthetics of a vintage guitar, but also reproduce the special tones previously reserved for vintage instruments.

Further, Martin Guitar’s Research and Development (R&D) team rediscovered a process used by our craftsmen and craftswomen in the early 1900s to final dress the lacquer on our instruments by hand. The end result is a warm glow appearance that is as enticing to the eye as it is to the touch. The Vintage Gloss finish leaves the guitar with a satin appearance, far from the appearance of a satin spray.


Models with Martin’s Vintage Tone System

As someone walks into the world-renowned Martin Guitar Museum, one quickly gets a sense of the history and the reverence those vintage instruments deserve. The first thing someone would want to do is play one of these coveted instruments, quickly realizing how precious they are. The team at Martin Guitar has asked ourselves countless times, why are these guitars so very special? There are many opinions, but several start to rise to the top of the list. Look, feel and tone are the consistent responses from the many players, while history and tradition do not fall far behind.

With such a great array of original vintage Martin guitars available, Martin’s Research & Development team, led by the GM of the Custom Shop, began to discuss ways of capturing that quintessential Martin guitar vintage tone in a new guitar without having to purchase a vintage Martin guitar.

Capturing that sweet Martin vintage tone is guaranteed to happen if you simply purchase a new Martin and allow it to age naturally. This is always a sure-fire way to own a piece of American guitar history; the tone simply sweetens throughout its life. But in today’s world, patience is a virtue most of us could use a bit more of, in our opinion.

Sound is subjective and we have discovered that players tend to favor this component differently. However, it’s fairly agreed upon by players we know that a 1937 D-28 has a special tone that received broad recognition. This two year journey has led the team at Martin down an interesting and enlightening path.

The new Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) is a process developed by the Martin Research & Development team with its foundation rooted in the historic torrefaction process. Torrefaction is a thermochemical treatment of wood at very high temperatures. The process is carried out under atmospheric pressure and in the absence of oxygen. During the process, water contained in the wood is released, and the biopolymers (cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin) decompose, leaving behind the remaining solid, dry, and much more stable wood material. While natural aging is different, there are many similarities between the two and the end results are similar as well.

The R&D team at Martin used the industry standard torrefaction process in several guitars during the past few years and those programs yielded very positive results in enhanced tone and stability. Looking closely under a microscope at wood that has been through a torrefaction process and comparing it to wood that has only been conventionally dried, one would see differences in the cell structure.

The R&D team took a ‘previously destroyed’ vintage Martin guitar top from Martin’s 1937 archives and began to compare its cell structure to wood that had been through the standard torrefaction process. There were significant differences that cannot be revealed without divulging the Martin process, but needless to say, the R&D team discovered they had more work to do in order to replicate cell structure from that particular time period.  

Revelations like the one illustrated above led the R&D team to closely inspect a 107-year old Martin guitar top and compared it to the torrefied tops replicated under the standard process. The similarities were astonishing. As the R&D team looked closer, they realized they had uncovered a way to reproduce some of the key properties that contribute to how a vintage guitar sounds, compared to a brand new guitar.

Using the 107-year old Martin guitar top as a benchmark, the R&D team focused their efforts on modifying the torrefaction process to better address several key areas: tonal properties commonly associated with vintage instruments and the impact of torrefaction on the color hue of spruce. The Martin Vintage Tone System (VTS) process for soundboards and bracing came from taking tops of key decades throughout Martin Guitar’s history and developing a torrefaction process to more closely match time periods and properties of the samples. These developments gradually progressed during a two year period until the perfect combination of tone, stability, color, and cell structure was achieved.

Continuous testing and validation progressed until the process allowed the team to replicate the cellular structure of tops and braces to within a selected time period. The result was the ability to replicate key properties of a guitar top from the 1930’s-1940’s or from the mid 1800’s (approximate time periods ranging from 50+ yrs-200+yrs old). Having the ability to target a historical era and have guitar tops with key properties of an actual vintage guitar top made the decision to focus this project initially on Martin’s Authentic Series line an obvious one. Martin’s Authentic line of guitars targets the years and guitars that were groundbreaking or have been adopted by musicians as the holy grail of that time.

These innovations allow Martin Guitar to select guitars from their very exclusive Museum collection and reproduce those models and their respective characteristics that help make them sound great. The team at Martin Guitar does not believe that one size fits all and each guitar deserves to be reproduced accurately, not only in specifications and materials, but in tone as well. Being able to purchase a new Martin that embodies that vintage tone for the respective time period will instantly give customers a tone normally reserved for those rare old guitars.

Download the Vintage Tone System (VTS) PDF

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