What’s the rarest guitar you’ve ever come across? Whatever it is, chances are it’s not as rare as Matt Swanson’s 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe – an acoustic guitar so rare that it’s been insured for seven figures.
Showcasing his ultra-ornate acoustic to John McBride on Inside Blackbird, the collector does a good job of highlighting just how ludicrously rare the 1930 OM-45 Deluxe actually is: he says only 14 were made at the time, and just nine original pieces are known to still exist today.
It could be rarer still: Martin’s official figures from 2015 (when they reissued the legendary acoustic for $99,999 apiece) put the total number of OM-45 Deluxes made at around only 11. Whatever the actual figure, you get the picture: it’s stupidly elusive.
With that in mind, it probably comes as no surprise that Swanson’s example has been insured for $1,000,000.
“This is one of 14 that Martin made in 1930 for the Sherman Clay company out of Oakland, California,” the collector said by way of introduction. “I hear there’s like nine of these that are known to exist [now]. This is an all-original example – it’s just killer.”
And, when asked for a ballpark figure for the guitar, Swanson responded, “I’ve got this insured for a million dollars. These are the Stradivari of guitar collecting. This era of Martin – and this in particular – those are the ones. And when you find one that’s a great example… you know, we’re talking wood that was like 500 years old when they cut it.”
Why is the OM-45 Deluxe such a heralded piece of guitar history, and a celebrated example of craftsmanship? Well, according to Swanson, it’s because it's part of a select catalog of guitars that should be considered “the greatest guitars in the history of the world”.
“Martin made these guitars in this era and they didn’t know at the time they were making the greatest guitars in the history of the world,” he observed. “They were just on this path of making improvements, but they had this wood, these were handmade, limited production and they’re a feather – this guitar weighs like three-and-a-half pounds.”
Part of what makes the guitar so elusive is its composition. It features exquisite inlay work, an Adirondack spruce top, pristine Brazilian rosewood back and sides – a rarity now, owing to regulations – and an ultra-light build that promotes resonance and tonal vibrance.
“No-one’s really ever been able to replicate,” Swanson said of the guitar. “It’s a special thing.”
“Special” certainly seems to be a huge understatement. The guitar’s supreme tone is put under the microscope in an extended demo section, with Swanson noting it's perhaps best primed for fingerstyle playing.
All we can say is, at least this Martin is appropriately insured – something that couldn’t be said for a similarly rare antique Martin parlor guitar from the 1870s, which met its grisly end during the filming of Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film, The Hateful Eight.
In that case, Kurt Russell’s character seized the genuine acoustic from fellow actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, and – supposedly due to a miscommunication regarding a prop swap, and some intense directing from Tarantino – smashed the guitar beyond repair.
It had only been insured for $40,000 (a measly figure, when the historical importance of the guitar is considered) and resulted in Martin flat-out refusing to lend film studios any guitars from its Museum ever again.