The Martin F-Series were Martin’s first true electric guitars, although by no means Martin’s first archtop, the design reminiscent of the F series (non-electric) F-7 and F-9 archtops of the 1930’s.
The series comprised the single pickup, single cutaway F-50, the dual pickup single cutaway F-55, and the double cutaway dual pickup F-65. All models came in a single finish, described by Martin as Honey Burst, and were offered with an optional bigsby tailpiece. The bound body was of a laminate construction, with the finished top being maple. The neck was mahogany with a rosewood fretboard and a traditional Martin headstock and logo with three-per-side tuners, and joined the body at the 14th fret. The F Series were the only Martin to ever use plexiglas bridges, possibly the only guitars ever to do so. (The reason plexiglas was used was that a Martin board member at the time owned a plexiglas factory and was keen to get into the guitar hardware business). All F-Series guitars were built in Nazareth PA.
All models used DeArmond Dynasonic single coil pickups, identical to those used on many other guitars of the period but with a custom chrome cover and bobbin formed to fit the unique cutouts. The pickups were made for DeArmond by Rowe Industries in Toledo OH, and as far as I can determine the offset cutout in the cover is unique to Martin electrics.
The F-55 was also notable in that it was Martin’s first single cutaway guitar. By extension, the F-65 was Martin’s first double cutaway guitar as well. Close examination of the rear of the F-65 in the gallery below will show that the double cutaway was acheived by retaining the body heel to the 14th fret – a creative but somewhat unusual solution to create a double cut.
Typical Martin attention to design detail is clear – the unique pickup cover cutaways and the complementary designs on the tailpiece of both the chrome trapeze of the stop tail and the black panel on the Bigsby tailpiece, the body high visibility dots to show the position of each volume and tone control are just some examples.
The F Series were made between late 1961 and 1965, and followed the normal Martin 6-digit serial number sequence, shared with all other instruments from this period. The serial number can be found (with a little help from a flashlight) inside the upper F-Hole.
From a collectors point of view
Martin fans don’t like these guitars. I mean they really, really don’t like them. To a certain extent, that’s because they’re not acoustics, and Martin makes really, really good acoustics. You will hear opinions up to and including scorn from some experts, and Martin themselves only gives the series a passing nod, and you won’t find very much in either official or unofficial histories about these instruments.
Let’s be honest, the F series will never be up there with pre-CBS stratocasters and 58-60 Les Pauls as collectors pieces, but any early 60’s US manufactured instrument from a major, respected maker that was made in relatively small quantities is collectible. What’s more, they’re still affordable, although the prices are climbing.
All the normal rules apply, original condition is paramount for an F to be collectible. Personally my favorite is the F-55, it plays extremely well, with a jazzy feel and to my eye looks the most balanced.
There is, however, one point to warn would be collectors about: the bridge. All three F-Series models left the factory with a plexiglas moveable bridge assembly, as shown in all the examples on this page. Many examples had those bridges replaced with more traditional wood pieces early on in their careers – if it doesn’t have the plexi bridge, it’s not original.
There are rumors that people latch on to, such as the bigsby equipped versions didn’t have the plexi bridge when they left the factory. Sorry – they all had them. If it hasn’t got it now, it’s been changed, however maybe with good reason. I’ve recently learned (thanks Bud!) from another collector that the plexi bridges frequently failed. String tension caused the bridge to flatten, eliminating the radius. You can see the effect in a picture he provided me here.
Dating and production numbers
Relatively few F-Series instruments were made between 1961 and 1965: just 519 F-50’s, 665 F-55’s and 566 F-65’s. Only 15 of each were made in 1961, with production not getting into full swing until 1962.
The three F-50 prototypes were numbered 179828-179830, the three F-55 prototypes were numbered 179831-179833, and the three F-65 prototypes were numbered 179834-179836. This would date the prototypes around the fall of 1961.
The table below shows the start and end serial number for Martins made between 1961 and 1965. This can be used to date the manufacture of F-Series instruments.
In the August 1962 price list, the F-50 listed at $225, the F-55 at $275 and the F-65 at $300, with the Bigsby option adding $55 and a case another $50. In comparison the top-of-the-line flat top of the day, the D-28 was $335 and the D-18 just $210, making the F-65 with Bigsby the most expensive guitar on the price list in 1962.
The gallery shows front and back shots of each F series model. Note that the F-50 depicted has faded more dramatically than the F-55 and F-65. F Series instruments show a wide variety of fade variance. Also in the gallery is the August 1962 Martin price list which shows the models, their cases and other useful background.
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Who Played these then?
Probably the most well known F series guitarist was Johnny “Guitar” Watson, who played an F-65 with Bigsby in the mid 1960’s. This can be seen in publicity shots of the era, and is featured on at least three album covers: