Great Acoustics: Joan Baez’s Circa 1880 Martin Style 0-40
In 1966, Joan Baez, then 25 and already an internationally renowned singer and activist, encountered an old Martin that really spoke to her. Joan Saxe, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, had just acquired a circa 1880 Style 0-40, and when Saxe met Baez that year, she handed Baez the guitar and asked if she could help troubleshoot some string rattling. Baez played the instrument and, apparently mesmerized by its dulcet tone, offered to trade Saxe not one but two guitars for the 0-40, promising to reverse the swap if it proved unsatisfactory.
For the next couple of years, Baez performed and recorded extensively with the 0-40—it’s heard on her 1967 album, Joan, and seen on the Japanese pressing of David’s Album. But in 1968, Saxe asked Baez to undo the trade, as the old Martin had been a gift from her grandmother. Saxe continued to enjoy the 0-40 for many years, and put it up for auction with Freeman’s when she could no longer play it, not long before her 2016 death. The auction generated much excitement among collectors, but C.F. Martin & Co. scored the winning bid, for $12,500. Since late 2015, the 0-40 has resided in the Martin Guitar Museum, at the company’s Nazareth, Pennsylvania, headquarters.
Aside from the association with Baez, the 0-40 is a remarkable instrument in its own right. Martin only made a dozen or so examples of this deluxe parlor-sized guitar, with its Brazilian rosewood back and sides, bound ebony fretboard, abalone purfling and rosette, and brass (or sometimes German silver) engraved tuners with bone buttons. While this 0-40 is in mostly original condition, save for work on the bridge plate, the instrument’s extensive finish wear—not to mention Baez’s handwritten set list, still taped to the upper bass bout—speaks to its storied provenance.