An exceptionally rare guitar and a must-have for Willie Nelson fans.

Up for sale is this used and very beautiful 1969 Martin N-20 classical guitar in excellent condition and perfect playing order. This guitar features a solid Spruce top, Brazilian Rosewood back and sides and Mahogany neck with Ebony fingerboard and Brazilian Rosewood facing. The bridge is made of Ebony and the body is double-bound with 5-ply binding on the top and 3-ply on the back. It plays absolutely perfectly with low action and a nut width that's a hair above 1 15/16”, making it slightly on the smaller side of the classical neck spectrum. It’s a lightweight at about 3 lbs 6oz.

This is the twin sister to Willie Nelson's Martin N-20 guitar, arguably the most famous Martin guitar on the planet, we will include with this a photo of Willie Nelson and his Martin N-20 if the buyer requests. So first some history of Willie's guitar...

The Martin N-20 has achieved legendary status through its association with Willie Nelson and his trusty guitar, "Trigger", which he has used extensively since 1969. In his book, The Tao of Willie: A Guide to Happiness in Your Heart, Nelson described the influence of the guitar in his style: "One of the secrets to my sound is almost beyond battered old Martin guitar, Trigger, has the greatest tone I’ve ever heard from a guitar".

How Willie got his Martin N-20 is itself an interesting story. In 1969 the Baldwin company gave Willie a Baldwin amplifier and a prototype Baldwin 800C Classical guitar with a Baldwin Prismatone pickup on it. The guitar which he was given was not a 801CP, contrary to what has been widely reported - the 801CP's are very rare, but as far as the 800C's, we only know of one still in existence. Albert Lee, Jerry Reed, and several others played the 801CP, which was a Baldwin Prismatone pickup mounted on an inexpensive 24 2/4 inch scale 000-sized mahogany-back guitar body supplied by the Harmony company, whereas the 800C was a Baldwin Prismatone pickup mounted on an expensive German-made classical guitar body with a Spanish heel and rosewood back and sides and a 25 1/2 inch scale. We know this is probably "too much information", but it is interesting to some folks (and if anyone wants more verification that Willie's Baldwin guitar was an 800C and not an 801CP, we can provide photographic documentation).

Anyway, during a show at a dance-hall (as far as anyone recalls, it was "John T. Floore's Country Store" in Helotes, Texas, Willie left his Baldwin guitar on the floor of the stage, where it got stepped-on by some ol' drunk who wandered by. Willie sent it to Shot Jackson in Nashville to be repaired, but Shot told Willie "It's broke too bad...I can't fix it". Jackson offered him a Martin N-20 that he had hanging in his shop and, at Nelson's request, Jackson moved the pickup to the Martin. Nelson purchased the guitar sight unseen for $750 and named it after Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger.

Some sources have said that Rick Turner installed that Baldwin pickup from Willie's broken guitar onto Willie's Martin while Turner was employed at Matt Umanov's shop in New York. This is not correct. It is very true that Rick replaced a broken bridge on "Trigger" in the 1990's (and we have photos of that repair "in progress"), and it is also true that Turner did guitar repair in New York, but the fact is that Turner moved to Point Reyes in Marin County California in the summer of '68, where he was performing and making pickups and hanging out with the likes of the Grateful Dead, and long before Willie guitar got his Martin, Turner was in California helping to create the first Alembic bass. All the work on Willie's Martin was done in Shot Jackson's shop in Nashville, having been taken there by Willie's bandsmen David Zettner and Jimmy Day. That is what the late Shot Jackson would have told you and if you ask Willie he will tell you the same thing.

This was in 1969, and about a year later Willie rescued "Trigger" from his burning house. Within that year he had also worn a hole in it, and that hole has gotten progressively larger over the years. As Willie has said "My guitar got a hole wore in it because I play with a pick, and you're not supposed to play a classical guitar with a pick 'cause it ain't got no pickguard and you're liable to wear a hole in it".

Anyway, enough history, and back to the guitar we are auctioning...

We are consigning this guitar for the owner, who is a collector of 1968 and 1969 N-20's, and owns several. He also owns several 1969 N-10s, which is the identical guitar in Mahogany. He formerly owned the original prototype N-20, which was made by Martin Craftsman John Huber and was signed by Huber on April 29, 1968 (coincidentally, April 29th is Willie's actual birthday, though the Doctor wrote April 30th on the Birth certificate which he completed the following day). The N-20 went in to production shortly thereafter. This collector is a great resource for information on the N-20, and his primary performance guitar is equipped with a Prismatone pickup just like Willie's. In fact, he and Willie have shared several discussions about their respective guitars.

He might even be able to help you get an exact reproduction of a Prismatone pickup as well as a reproduction of Willie's distinctive red, white,and blue guitar strap.

The 1969 N-10's and N-20's are sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as "short-scale", but they actually have a standard 25 1/2" scale length, much like a Fender guitar. But in 1970 Martin changed the headstock and extended the scale length to 26 3/8", so the later N-20's (1970 and later) could more accurately be called "long-scale", and they are much less valuable, much less collectable, and much less desirable. They are also harder to play, especially if you're prone to tendonitis, and they lack the warmth of the 1969 models. Plus, the 1969 N-20's are made of (legal "pre-ban" ) Brazilian rosewood rather than Indian rosewood.

While perhaps known best for Nelson's work, this guitar also excels in any fingerstyle application including classical, jazz, folk, latin, and more. The tone of this N-20 is very warm and mellow and the woods have aged quite beautifully.

The last one of these that George Gruhn had was listed for $5,500. See this link:

Oh, and did we mention that these early N-20's are very rare? In fact, few Martin guitars are as rare -- only 262 were ever made.

This 43-year-old guitar has been very well cared for and has some light evidence of use, considering its age. On the back of the neck is some nicking and scratching on the treble-side between the 5th and 8th frets. This doesn't affect playability but you can feel the indentations. We think it was done over time by leaning the guitar against a counter or shelf. There are a few dings on the top and some light fingernail scrapes on the treble-side at the sound hole. There are a few other random nicks on the guitar but this is to be expected of a guitar its age. All in all, it's in remarkable condition. You must supply the autographs and "extra' soundhole yourself if you want to transform this into your own personal "Trigger" replica.

This great old classic comes with a period-correct hard shell case with dark blue lining, although we can arrange to supply you with a Mark Leaf or a Hoffee travel case if you want the ultimate protection for your guitar.

In fact, the Reissues that Martin made back a decade ago now sell for over $10,000 (for the Brazilian Rosewood version), but it seems to us kind of silly to pay $10,000 for a reissue when you can buy the real thing for much less (the reissues in Indian Rosewood often sell for over $5,000)

You may not have another chance to find one of these in this condition...ever.

Year Condition Color Case
1969 Excellent Natural Hard


Val Kolbeck
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