Whack Job: 1969 Martin D-18 Butterfly

In 1969, Bud Eastman was struggling with his new business venture—Guitar Player magazine—which began over the kitchen table of Eastman Studio’s Guitar Showcase just two years earlier.
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In 1969, Bud Eastman was struggling with his new business venture—Guitar Player magazine—which began over the kitchen table of Eastman Studio’s Guitar Showcase just two years earlier. As a result, Barry Wineroth was able to become the proud owner of Guitar Showcase, while also playing bass in the Jaguars and promoting national acts (including Jimi Hendrix) and local talent at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

One day during that year, a happy hippie musician bought himself this new Martin D-18 from Guitar Showcase for under $400. He went on to play it for decades at various drop-in gigs, including at Santa Cruz beach parties, back in the days when there were always friendly gatherings around bonfires on the sand. Well, one dark night, his trusty D-18 fell in the fire, and it suffered severe finish damage before its timely rescue. The guitar was patched, sanded, and painted black with a rattle can, and its happy owner—likely inspired by a chemically engineered sugar cube—applied butterfly decals to the top, saying, “The guitar was too heavy, man, so I put the butterflies on it so they could fly and make it lighter” That’s the story the original owner’s nephew shared with Wineroth when he sold the D-18 back to Guitar Showcase in 2014. Guitar Showcase employees fell in love with her, and they were even inspired to shoot a video of themselves playing the songs of 1969 on “Butterfly.”

WEIRDO FACTOR

There were a few sterling examples of hippie handmade art invading guitar design in the ’60s—Clapton’s “The Fool” 1964 Gibson SG and George Harrison’s 1962 “Rocky” Stratocaster come to mind—but this battered D-18 is not one of them. How the D-18 came to be is a good story, and it almost eases the horror of spray-painting a 1969 Martin black and defiling it with thick vinyl stick-ons. So, weirdo factor here is the crime itself.

PLAYABILITY & SOUND

Okay, get this: It turns out that if you toss your D-18 into a fire, spray it black, and put hideous butterfly stickers on it, it will sound amazing! In spite of being treated like the rental car in the movie Jackass, this guitar still sounds and plays wonderfully. I’m not an expert at “great-sounding acoustic guitars from the 1960s,” but this guitar—not unlike Stradivarius’ “Red Violin”—seems to have a supernatural spirit going. I honestly can’t imagine a D-18 sounding or playing any better. (And, no, I have not been eating sugar cubes…recently.)

VALUE

Currently, a late’-60s D-18 could fetch anywhere between $1,500 and $4,000. Of course, by any rational person’s standards, this guitar has been trashed, and, as such, is almost totaled. But the value here is one of extreme magic and stellar vibe, so I’m calling it “priceless.”

WHY IT RULES

This beaten-up beauty with a hippie history seems to bring all the spacey, far-out joy of the psychedelic era to your hands and heart every time you pick it up. In fact, just having it in my possession for a couple weeks made me happy. I only wish I could have met the man who owned it originally.

You can view this guitar—as well as see one of the best vintage collections assembled in one place—by visiting Guitar Showcase in San Jose, California. Many thanks to Gary Wineroth for this story.

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