by Roger Deitz
As a rule, the value of a vintage guitar accrues with the passage of time — assuming gentle handling and careful maintenance of the instrument. here is an exception to the rule. This N-20 classic guitar, manufactured by C.F. Martin, shows more than minimal wear, yet it is priceless because of it’s integral role in three decades of Willie Nelson music.
Designed by John Huber, the N-20 guitar was introduced to add a more European-style classic guitar to the Martin line. Martin made these “old style” N-20 guitars, which feature a 25.4-inch scale length (just like a dreadnought) and a square peghead, in 1969 and 1970. When the N-20 was first marketed it sold for $475.00.
Completed on January 28, 1969, Nelson’s N-20 has Brazilian rosewood back and sides; later models were made of Indian rosewood. The top is spruce, and both the bridge and fingerboard are ebony. Like all N series guitars, it has a narrow waist, an almost figure eight shape, and a wood marquetry rosette. The braces — mostly spruce, with a few mahogany — are constructed with a modified Bouchet pattern, a fan different than Martin’s modified fan.
Ted Newman Jones of Newman Guitars in Austin did some rebracing around the “second soundhole” of this guitar and added gold machines. By the way, he concurs with Nelson’s cohort Poodie Locke that “the guitar is in dire need of a fret job.” Jones says the fingerboard has a “naturally scalloped appearance” due to excessive play. The extra soundhole, which has become even more pronounced in the ten years since this photo was taken, is Nelson’s innovation, as is a Baldwin electronic pickup. No one can argue; the guitar sounds just fine! Just like Willie Nelson.