2006 Martin D-18VS, as made famous by Michael Kiwanuka
Vintage Series Martin D-18, iconic classic, with a 12-fret design inspired by the original D-18s from the early 1930s. Michael Kiwanuka's shared the love for D-18s throughout his career, often to be seen with a sunburst D-18VS in his early years. The perfect compadre, whatever your style.
First produced under the Martin brand in 1931, D-model guitars were not an instant hit. Far from it. Guitarists of the day were used to smaller builds and didn't take to these big-bodied beauties. Sales were slow. Until, that is, Martin had their eureka moment. "Let's make a virtue of the big bass response, and advertise it as a bass guitar". Not the bass guitar we know today, but something that could fill in the bass range of a country music group, instead of the more traditional (and heavy and bulky) double bass. And the rest is, inescapably, history.
Plenty of famous guitarists to choose from when it comes to the D-18. The headline-grabber is probably Kurt Cobain, whose 1959 D-18E sold in auction for a staggering $6m in 2020. But bucking a tendency on this site towards associations with "older" guitarists, I'm pitching Michael Kiwanuka for this one. A craftsman of beautiful songs ever since his debut in 2012, and a perfectly chosen winner of 2020's Mercury Prize. Oh, and yes, a dedicated fan of Martin D-18s. Check out the glory of him playing Bones unplugged on a sunburst D-18VS below.
This D-18VS is an absolute treasure. In excellent condition, lovely balanced tone across all 6 strings, and that sense that you're tapping into the very beginnings of the dreadnought with that slotted headstock, ebony fretboard and 12-fret-neck. Sounds fabulous, lovely low set-up. Just a joy!
See & Hear It In Action
Bones, Michael Kiwanuka, 2012: From his acclaimed debut album, an unplugged moment, with Michael playing a sunburst D-18VS. Lovely tone - and a lovely song to boot!
A D-18VS Demo from TFOA: Some nice picking and a real sense of the balanced tone of a Natural D-18VS here, courtesy of the very appropriately named The Fellowship Of Acoustics.
Number of Frets
Sitka Spruce & Mahogany
Waverly Vintage Open-Gear
Belly Bridge, Bone Saddle
Dinner-table trivia: The "D" stands for "Dreadnought", named in recognition of the enormous Dreadnought battleships that cruised the planet's oceans in the early 20th century and through World War I. And, less of a wow factor, the "18" indicates the style of the guitar. In this case: Spruce top, mahogany back and sides, five-ply top binding, dot inlays. Plus the features that hark back to those very early days of the D-18: slotted headstock, ebony fretboard, one-nine-one soundhole ring, tortoiseshell side and back binding.
The D-18 had a predecessor: the D-1, launched in 1931 - although "predecessor" is loose and "launched" is generous. The D-1 had its own predecessor: one of the "big" guitars Martin used to build to be branded and sold by the Oliver Ditson Company of Boston. The D-1 started with a Ditson design and became the own-branded predecessor to the D-18. It wasn't accompanied by any full fanfare big production. Only 2 D-1s were made! Even the D-18, launched in 1932, didn't fly out of factory. Just 29 12-fret-neck D-18s were released before the now more familiar 14-fret version was introduced in 1934. Put differently, if you've got an original 12-fret-neck D-18 or, holy of holies, one of the two original D-1s, you really don't need to be wasting your time reading further. You know everything here, and a lot more besides!
The 14-fret-neck may have quickly achieved dominance across all major acoustic brands, but Martin clearly held a candle for the 12-fret-neck over the years, and started to offer 12-fret-neck options in limited styles from the mid-60s. Come the 1990s, and the nostalgia bug had well and truly bitten: the Authentics, the Golden Eras, the Vintages, all giving a platform for both 12 and 14 fret specs that venerated the past, and made the most of modern build techniques. Premium materials, artisan skills, uncompromising tones, all inspired by those very early Dreadnoughts.
This Vintage Series D-18 is a perfect example. A truly beautiful build, with the rarity of something outside today's norm, a 12-fret-neck. The experts will point to the richer and more complex harmonics, the more balanced tone. I'm not an expert. But I decided to try a play-off with our 1974 Martin D-28. I love them both, but it's totally true: the 12-fret-neck D-18 does have a more balanced tone, less boom at the bass end, more clarity across all 6 strings. Whether that's the 12-fret-neck, the mahogany back and sides, the scalloping choice, I don't know. And honestly, I don't really care. Sometimes you don't need to know the how or the why, you just need to look and listen. Let experience take the lead over explanation. This D-18VS will lift your senses!
Sources & Links
The Dreadnought Story, By Martin: If you want to know the full story behind Martin's Dreadnoughts, then there's no better source than the family itself. Packed full with wonderful stories and insights over the years.
An All You Can Eat History and Spec Compendium: Absolutely invaluable, once again Guitar HQ come up trumps with all the questions you could think of (and those you can't) covered.
D-18VS Spec & Info Courtesy of Greg Gagliano: Frequent contributor to Vintage Guitar Magazine and 20th Century Guitar Magazine, Greg Gagliano knows his stuff! A wonderful site if you dig around further, and some lovely insights into the D-18VS specifically.
D-18VS Spec & Info Courtesy of My Martin Gallery: Lovely site for collectors by a collector who loves his Martin guitars. Worth a browse beyond just the D-18VS.