That 150-year-old Martin acoustic found in the back of a woman’s house has sold to an ex-Fender CEO

Martin 1870s parlor guitar
(Image credit: Studio 1 Vintage Instruments)

In late October, it was reported that an 85-year-old woman based in New Zealand had stumbled on a piece of music history, when she unearthed a dusty Martin acoustic guitar from the 1870s in her back room.

At the time, the vintage parlor guitar was appraised by multiple experts from the US and Martin historians, and was valued at around $15,000 – a sum that equated to a $25,000 NZ dollars.

Armed with this information, and with the backing of New Zealand’s Studio 1 Vintage Guitars, Margaret Simpson – the owner of the 150-year-old acoustic – said that all funds raised from the sale of the ancient instrument would go towards supporting her daughter, Jo, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for terminal breast cancer.

Now, the 1870s Size 2 Style 34 guitar has been purchased by Larry Thomas – a former Fender CEO, who reportedly bought the Martin for $11,000 (approximately $17,000 NZD).

“I saw the guitar online and was curious to know more about it. I reached out,” Thomas said (via Stuff (opens in new tab)). “It was then I came to know about the owner, and it being an old family possession.”

“I hope that this helps the woman continue her cancer treatment,” he continued. “I was not as much concerned about whether I paid a few thousand too much, but I’m happy to help contribute to the family.

“I’m excited to see and play this guitar, and I hope to be the custodian of this old Martin for the next few years.”

Thomas was appointed Fender CEO in August 2010 and retired four years later. During his time with the company, he oversaw the launch of the Fender American Vintage and Select series.

He was formally succeeded by the company’s current CEO, Andy Mooney.

As per Stuff, Margaret and Jo Simpson were both “delighted” that the guitar sold, with Margaret saying it was still a “great surprise” to see the eventual selling price.

The Martin in question spent around 60 years in Margaret Simpson’s house without its owner ever realizing its true value. Simpson, who bought the guitar for a trivial sum from the head of music at Motueka High School in the '60s, only discovered its worth when she unearthed the instrument and took it to Studio 1 Vintage Guitars in an effort to raise money for Jo.

Even so, she had no idea it would be worth so much when she stumbled upon it: “I must confess I never thought [a guitar with] a name like Martin would have anything special,” she joked at the time.

In terms of specs, the six-string sports ivory binding, colored herringbone purfling and back stripes, an abalone rosette inlay and Brazilian rosewood back and sides. It also boasts a custom-fitted ebony bridge, which would’ve been retrofitted in place of the usual ivory alternative.

The money generated from the sale will go towards funding Jo Simpson’s chemotherapy treatment, which costs $5,000 per month. Three-and-a-half months of treatment will be covered following Thomas’s purchase of the guitar.

Simpson’s treatment will stabilize the cancer, giving the 51-year-old more time to spend with her young children.

A Give A Little page (opens in new tab) to help fund Simpson’s chemotherapy treatment has also been set up.

To find out more about the guitar, head over to Studio 1 Vintage (opens in new tab).

A similar story occurred last year in the UK, when an unnamed resident found a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard that they ended up selling to Joe Bonamassa.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.