It goes without saying that Martin guitars have a history behind them. For over 150 years Martin has been producing some of the best acoustic instruments in the world and in that time thousands upon thousands of people, both professional and amateur alike, have had a Martin in their hands. They have a presence in the music industry that is nearly unparalleled and this goes a long way to explaining why so many new players are drawn to the brand. For most of us, even before we started playing guitar we loved Martins, whether we knew it or not. Countless artists have used these guitars to write and perform some of the most popular music of the last century and it's fair to say that the Martin sound has played a huge part in the sound of popular music itself.
With so much talk of the D-35 over the last year I thought it would be fun for this week's article to be a rundown of some of my favorite performers who have played and loved this model.
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Dubbed the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley is one of, if not the most recognizable musician of the 20th Century. With over 30 number one singles, over 20 number one albums and an estimated 600 million records sold, his widespread popularity is indisputable. This is a man who resonated with so many people that an entire industry has risen up around impersonators and to this day you can have “Elvis” play at your birthday party or perform your marriage ceremony.
My favorite Elvis impersonator.
Although not adopted until late in his career, Presley's D-35 may be one of his more well known instruments, as it appeared in many promotional photographs from his final tour in 1977. But this guitar’s time in the limelight was short, ending on Valentine's Day, 1977 when a frustrated Presley tossed this guitar across the stage, damaging it’s Sitka Spruce top. Rather than being repaired, the guitar was given to a fan in the audience who later sold the guitar at auction for roughly $20,000.00. Not a bad haul for just the cost of admission.
Required Listening : “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise”
While admittedly not an acoustic number, I challenge anyone out there to find an Elvis song that is more fun than this one. Also, on a side note, your significant other will not find it amusing when you tell her this song must have been written about her/him.
The Man in Black himself. Making the often difficult transition from country musician to widespread fame, Johnny Cash was a legend in his own time and deservedly so. Cash released over 50 studio albums, one of the most famous live albums in history and was the subject of a biographical film, which has been met praise from both critics and audience members. And while his personal life may have been flawed, this only helped his artistic side, giving credibility and authenticity to the raw, unfiltered stories his songs would tell.
Cash was always a fan of Martin instruments and played a variety over his nearly 50 year long career. He worked with Martin on his customized black D-35, with a polished black finish on the body and neck. This black D-35 would be Johnny’s go to guitar for the remainder of his life, played by him for over 20 years. Martin has since released a signature edition of this guitar, giving all Martin players a chance to own this iconic instrument.
The Martin D-35 Johnny Cash
Required Listening : "Delia"
I can think of no other song that so perfectly encapsulates exactly what made Johnny Cash the icon that he is today. Simple arrangement, dark yet still humorous lyrics and a haunting melody, Delia is without a doubt my favorite Cash recording.
Although his career ended tragically soon, Jim Croce’s influence on 1970’s pop music speaks for itself. A true blue collar worker, Croce worked as a welder, construction worker, farm hand and truck driver before finally signing a deal with Capitol Records in 1972, where he achieved his first number one hit with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”.
Although Croce started writing music on 12-String guitars, in 1970 he made the switch to a Martin D-35, customized with a narrower neck by a friend of his. This guitar, along with a Martin D-18, would be played by Croce until his death in 1973, helping to sculpt the clear delicate fingerpicking sound he would be known for.
Required listening : “Time in a Bottle”
Simple and beautiful, there’s a reason that this is one of Croce’s best loved songs. Also, it stands as one of those few early 70’s folk songs that still makes grown men weep (I’m also looking at you, “Cat’s in the Cradle”...)
Known for his blending of traditional Bluegrass and Country stylings with harder Punk and Rock influences, Seth Avett has developed a unique sound, which is loud and brash without sacrificing intricacies. Releasing albums as both a solo artist and as a member of the Avett Brothers, Seth Avett has played on over a dozen albums in as many years, playing everything from sentimental folk to fuzz laden rock all while making it seem effortless. Although he may be the newest artist on this list I have no doubt that in 20 years he'll be seen as one of the greats of American rock and folk.
Seth Avett has been playing a D-35 for his entire public career, starting with an off the shelf standard D-35 until eventually collaborating with Martin on his own signature D-35 Seth Avett. His signature model varies from the traditional D-35 formula, using a High Altitude Swiss top and Adirondack braces instead of the usual Sitka spruce. This gives the guitar an even sharper attack than the standard model, lending itself perfectly to Avett’s aggressive strumming and picking style.
The Martin D-35 Seth Avett
Required Listening : “If it’s the Beaches” and “Talk on Indolence”
After going through the entire discography, I couldn’t pick just one song to do the band justice. “If it’s the Beaches” showcases the band's songwriting and some of Seth’s more intricate playing. “Talk on Indolence” is a good example of what traditional folk music sounds like when the musicians grew up listening to too much Nirvana.
Of course , we’ve barely scratched the surface. Artists as varied as Judy Collins, Pete Townsend, Rory Gallagher and Bruce Springsteen have all played D-35’s at some point in their career, no doubt drawn to the traditional yet unmistakably unique sound this model offers. Be sure to tell us who your favorite Martin players are and what model they used to make the music that sticks with you.