November 1, 2003

Martin Guitar Masterpieces: A Showcase of Artist’s Editions, Limited Editions, and Custom Guitars
By Dick Boak

The close relationships Martin has forged over the decades with renowned guitarists is reflected in the sheer number of Artist’s Editions that grace the pages of its catalogs. Heck, just this week alone, three new signature models arrived at GP’s offices: an Andy Griffith D-18AG, a John Mayer OM-28, and a Lucinda Williams D-37W. These are beautiful guitars that represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Martin’s production of very special instruments. Now, a fabulous new book by Martin’s artist relations and publicity chief, Dick Boak, tells the story behind many of the Artist models, as well as the eye-popping Limited Editions and Customs that have become crown jewels in Martin’s ever-growing line.

As you might anticipate, Martin Guitar Masterpieces is filled with gorgeous images of instruments of often indescribable beauty. Witness the custom OM-50 ordered by Eric Clapton, with its ornate body inlays and incredible “tree of life” fretboard. Slowhand was reportedly so impressed that he wanted a crocodile-skin case for it! Then there’s the even more spectacular China Dragon and Peacock D-45s that were made to commemorate, respectively, the 700,000th and 750,000th guitars Martin has made since its founding in 1833. A chapter is duly devoted to Larry Robinson, the man who created the jaw-dropping shell and precious-metal inlays that have destined these commemoratives to a life behind glass.

Of course, many of Martin’s Artist Edition guitars reveal far more restrained tastes on the part of the players who have received the honor of a personalized model. Take, for example, the thin-bodied (000 depth) and very Spartan D-16BH created for Beck, or the amazingly responsive and equally no-nonsense OMC-18VLJ cutaway Orchestra model built for fingerstyle master Laurence Juber. Other instruments crafted in conjunction with Keb’ Mo’ (HD-28KM), Shawn Colvin (M3SC), Sugar Ray (DSR), and Kenny Wayne Shepherd (JC-16KWC) similarly reflect the practical attitudes of these hard-working players.

Many of the stories behind the Artist Editions are as interesting as the guitars themselves. I love the one about the Martin repairman who, when restoring Joan Baez’s 1929 0-45, discovered on the bottom side of the soundboard this hand-scrawled message from an disgruntled repairman: “Too bad you are a communist,” read the reverse print when viewed with a luthier’s mirror. The instrument served as the basis for the beautifully appointed 0-45JB, which, by the way, bears the same inscription, in reverse.

Boak, who has always played a major role in the Artist Editions, also writes of the difficulties involved in duplicating Jimmie Rogers’ 000-45 and Hank Williams’ pre-War D-28. These tales, along with the behind-the-scenes accounts of how guitars honoring Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Elizabeth Cotten, David Crosby, Lonnie Donegan, Bob Dylan, Lester Flatt, Woody Guthrie, Steve Howe, Mark Knopfler, Paul Simon, Marty Stuart, Kitty Wells, Clarence White, and many others came to be, makes Martin Guitar Masterpieces the most thoroughly entertaining guitar book that has crossed my desk in a long time. If you’re a Martin fan, make some shelf space immediately for this 144-page gem. Bulfinch Press.

—Art Thompson

Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music 1972-1981
By Henry Horenstein

Harkening back to a time when country was, well—country, photographer Henry Horenstein’s Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music 1972-1981, is as much a celebration of country music’s fans as its artists. Horenstein lovingly captures regular folk hangin’ at their local beer-soaked honky tonks, waiting in line at the Grand Ole Opry, and hob-nobbing with legends like Ernest Tubb. But beware, Horenstein’s photos— whether they’re of Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, or “bluegrass music fan” Frank Brown relaxing with a can of Schlitz amongst a sea of campers and RVs—will make it impossible for you not to feel pangs of sentiment for a time (and it really wasn’t that long ago) when country music was a way of life, not a commodity to sell beer, trucks, and war. Chronicle Books.

—Darrin Fox    

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