Martin’s newest custom Signature Edition is an ode to the Man in Black, Johnny Cash. America’s oldest guitar company and the Americana icon have a rich history dating back to Cash’s initial request for an all-black lacquered D-35 dreadnought in the early ’70s that became his stage hallmark.
In 1997, Martin introduced the very limited-edition D-42JC Johnny Cash - autographed by the man himself, and 2006 brought the still-available D-35 Johnny Cash Commemorative. In 2019, Martin joined forces with John Carter Cash and the Cash Foundation management team to create the DX Johnny Cash, offering a nod to Johnny’s D-35 that is accessible to folks without stacks of cash to spare.
Constructed from high-pressure wood laminates and equipped with Fishman MX electronics, the DX Johnny Cash is made in Martin’s Mexican factory located near the Gulf of California in Navojoa, Sonora (cue “Ring of Fire” trumpets).
The obvious aesthetic here is black, black and more black on the top, back, sides and headstock overlay, as well as the neck and fingerboard. Even the nut and the saddle are black. Of course, nothing highlights black quite like white, and that’s the only other color in this scheme, although noticeably not in the form of any binding whatsoever.
Like the earlier commemorative edition, the DX JC fingerboard is inlaid with white stars, but instead of a signature at the 20th fret, the DX displays the CASH logo in big bold letters at the 18th fret. That sole appointment transforms this guitar from a cool black-and-white acoustic to a Cash signature model.
Subtler signature elements include a copy of Cash’s John Hancock in small black script within the white rosette and inside the guitar on the label.
A guitar’s look doesn’t necessarily represent its tone, but in an overall sense that is the case here. This black guitar has a rather dark, velvety voice, and its tonal demeanor is very straightforward, just like the man who inspired it.
Whether sounding single notes or chords, the DX Cash signature is all about the fundamentals, not fancy rich overtones. Plugged into a Fishman Loudbox, the onboard Fishman MX system delivered a gig-worthy representative tone with consistency.
The factory action was a tad on the high side, but that was easily adjustable via the truss rod, and I actually don’t mind applying some elbow grease to a workingman’s guitar. It certainly handles well enough to pony up a few expensive chords or play an elaborate lick or two, but Cash drove the rhythm section from the bottom up, and this DX is ideal for that application.
Strum some cowboy chords with a strong pick attack, and it delivers them right in stride. Wail away forcefully and the DX won’t back down. Built like a tank and weighing in on the heavy side, it feels ready for a fight.
At Martin headquarters, I had the opportunity to compare the upmarket 1997 Johnny Cash D-42 prototype directly to the DX. Such a posh collector’s item should and did sound more open and alive, and if you’ve got nearly five grand on hand, you can get closer to that with the D-35 Johnny Cash Commemorative.
But I’m willing to bet that, to most ears, the difference between that and this DX isn’t quite as drastic as the difference in dollars. For most players, the DX makes a ton of sense. It captures the Cash spirit admirably, without breaking the bank.
PRICE $599 street
NUT WIDTH 1.75", black Corian
NECK Black birch laminate
FRETBOARD FSC certified Richlite, 25.4" scale
TUNERS Chrome enclosed gear
BODY High-pressure laminate back, sides and top
BRIDGE FSC-certified Richlite with compensated black Tusq saddle
ELECTRONICS Fishman MX with Sonicore undersaddle piezo pickup and soundhole-mounted volume and tone controls
FACTORY STRINGS Martin Authentic Acoustic Lifespan 2.0 MA540T Light 92/8 Phosphor Bronze .012–.054
WEIGHT 5.2 lbs
KUDOS Strong fundamental tone. Badass black look. Good playability. Very nice price
CONCERNS Kind of heavy. Bold white “CASH” on black fingerboard is an acquired taste. No major concerns given affordability