c.1972 Martin D12-20 Twelve String Guitar

This is a nice old 12-fret D12-20 that I recently was traded. It's a player's guitar for sure, as it had some funky alterations to its bridge and I had to remove a giant moon-shaped pickguard and buff out the crud from under it to get it at least presentable.

This was Martin's first official 12-string model (essentially ended production 10 years after its introduction in 1964(?) I think) and it shared the original (Ditson) dreadnought body shape with a longer upper bout and round corners, more centrally-located bridge, and 12-fret neck join. It's essentially the same guitar as the "original dreadnoughts", save slightly heavier bracing and a larger slotted headstock to accommodate the tuners.

After setup, cleaning, light fret dress, etc. this guitar plays really really nicely and has that big sound you'd expect of a Martin, made rounder and fuller by the 12th-fret join. 1 7/8" nut just like the original dreadnoughts... though for a real purpose here, as it gives perfect spacing for the extra strings.

Build is similar to a D-18 (mahogany b&s, spruce top, hog neck, rosewood board and bridge, etc.) save that there's an extra white purfling line around inline from the binding and there's a D-28 style (I think?) backstrip inlaid on the rear.

New pickguard. Note strange bridge: I've filled holes (still have to touch them up just a bit) behind the main holes because the bridge was shaved really low so there's not enough angle from the rear holes to get over the saddle at the proper angle. I've cut extra string ramps from the main holes and slotted the saddle so that I can load all 12 strings from the 6 first holes... this is similar to how old 1920s Stella 12-strings with pin bridges were loaded. Looks sharp, too. Also note how someone installed a whole new section of bridge in front of the (original) bone saddle. Peculiar.

A looker, yessir.

And original tuners are working just fine. They're quite tarnished, however.


Anonymous said...

Interesting info on your Martin D12-20. I have the same instrument. Bought mine used, from the Podium guitar shop back in 70 or 71 in Minneapolis. The serial number ends in 8699, so apparently, it was manufactured in 69 or 70. Still sounds like a choir of angels.

Thanks for the info. Nice website.

R. Olsen
Los Angeles

Theo Stone said...

Thanks for posting this article. I have D12-20 that I bought in 1971 in Wheaton, MD. It still plays beautifully, neck and top are still perfect, no warping anywhere, though the pickguard is beginning to curl up. :-(

History on the D12-20 is scarce, so I appreciate you providing some background on the production run.


Antebellum Instruments said...

Thanks for weighing in, guys. D12-20s are fantastic instruments. This guitar (in the post) is now equipped with a nice K&K pickup, new 1920s/30s-style repro tuners (with smaller black buttons so fingers don't get caught in a bind), and in the next week or so I'm going to be re-shaving the bridge and making use of all 12 pin holes... thank goodness! I'm really enjoying this guitar as a solid gigging/recording machine.

williedafish said...

I am the original owner of a D12-20 as well -- 1964 -- may be the original year for this model. This guitar has spoiled me.

Very easy to play -- even for a finger-picker like me.

Feather light. Booming balanced sound. Unbelievably dominant in a dropped "D" tuning.

I have considered selling or trading for a D28 -- but can't bring myself to do it.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Willie: I hear it... these D12-20s are seriously great machines. I like them tremendously more than more modern 14-fret 12 strings... the tonality is just so different. Nothing sounds like these... and they feel very "pre war" to the hands. I recently swapped out the stock tuners for some new StewMac vintage repro tuners (1920s style) and having really nicely working tuners is a huge improvement. I haven't tuned the guitar in 4 months and it's still pitch perfect. I can't believe it.

Anonymous said...

I have the D-12-20, serial# 254281, it's in good shape, neck is straight.. although there is a small crack on the lower body on side. I am planning to take it to Martin for repairs. Does anyone know the year this guitar was made? I bought it new in 1972. Still looking at it..

Antebellum Instruments said...

#254281 would be 1969.

lamaleath said...

I have a 1965 D-20 with original case and case tag. The original owner died a couple of years ago and his widow had me over to clean carpets. I spotted this from a distance on a guitar stand at some distance in a room I was not cleaning. On closer inspection, the head-stock was spit and splintered from an accident. This was his baby but was seriously abused post mortem. I ended up paying about $80 in trade. Came home, glued it, clamped it and was playing it the next day. What a sweet, projecting chorus of melodies. Never thought I'd own a Martin. Needs reset but I love it!!!