american made guitar
A history of Martin Guitars could occupy a book. It already has, actually. Several. A great Wikipedia article as well. Colonial Lehigh Valley, religion, 19th century European trade unions, and freedom all combine into a tasty story. Truly exceptional guitars was the result.
Our bluegrass circle in Hockessin can sometimes boast 90% Martins. Fantastic flat picking guitars; everyone wants one. Plenty of bass, always a clear tone. One of the most consistently good instruments on the market. Anything you play sounds better on a Martin. The mind is a stage, and all the world an audience – Cicero
Whenever within 200 miles of Acoustic Vibes Music, I make a point to revisit the best crop coming out of a mostly agrarian area in Pennsylvania, three walls of Martin Guitars. My wallet has thus far stayed in the pocket, but I’m only three or four thousand dollars from a guitar of my dreams.
Here is one of my favorites: OM28. Sitka Top, Solid East Indian Rosewood Back & Sides. 25.4″ Scale, 14-Fret. Grover Vintage Nickel Button Tuners. Thanks, Kathryn, for great pictures!
After all the work I put into Hugh’s MT2, I thought his problems were over. An Instrument Rescue, an intervention of sorts, had brought new hope into the floundering life of his beloved but demoralized mandolin.
Then a call comes in. “Jim, I have another project for you”. Lights and sirens, we drive over miles of dusty road, deep into county forest, to Hugh’s Shangri-La under the pines. His “new” 2001 SCGC D-Model has arrived, and is in rotation. His 1991 could now get a rest, and a little refurbishment. What was wrong?
Its top is getting a little wonky. There is a crack that stops under the bridge. Dry fingerboard, grooved frets, missing headstock binding, dirt, oils, burns, high action . . . Hugh has led yet another instrument astray. The 1991 has come to me for redemption; I shall guide it to the light.
Strings off, tuners off, deep cleaning. Level, crown, & polish the frets (Hugh’s fourth set in a dozen years, and this time, they were stainless). Pick out some glue on a top crack, reglue, sand, buff, and seal. Oil its fingerboard, install some naturally aged binding, and the tuners went back on.
With a possibly weakened top, we went with a lighter string. D’Addario EJ19 Bluegrass with the light tops and medium bottoms were perfect! The high action was no longer; we did not have to shave the bridge saddle; two strings with one pick, is the saying?
Over two decades old, D619 has amazing depth of tone, clarity, and volume. With fixed frets and settled action, Hugh again has a second Santa Cruz dreadnought on which to practice his interminable bluegrass flat picking. The ’91 definitely has a different sound than his 2001. Deeper, richer, louder. Age has its privileges; the ’91 is always senior spokesman within the bluegrass circle.
Vacation comes both to the worthy and contemptible. While ability to produce this week’s article exists, deeply rooted summer lethargy blooms upon my imagination. But all is not lost. An opportunity for a roundup of recent posts presents itself. A perfect time to spotlight American-made acoustic instruments!
A FEW WORDS ABOUT my favorite luthiers (more later this year!)
Reviews of instruments from Jeff Looker’s Acoustic Vibes Music:
Just thought I’d mention these . . .
AFTER HEARING ABOUT BEDELL guitars for a few years, occasionally hearing the guitar itself, always played proudly by it’s lucky owner, I finally got myself into one of the rare handful of dealers scattered across several continents. A little stonework brought me within a mile of “Arizona’s Premier Acoustic Music Shop”. Of course we speak of Acoustic Vibes Music.
Favoring a smaller guitar, perhaps a 000 with attractive wood, my eye and hand choose the Bedell Coffee House Parlor- Natural top. PLENTY of volume from this artistic meld of wood and metal. PERFECT fretboard under my fingers. Better balance than I would have guessed, perhaps the result of a 12-fret neck? The sound was deep and full. As melodies flowed from the lower strings, clear frequency response and rich sustain greeted me with every note. Higher tones punched through with life and vigor. With a Bedell like this, I’d be ready for quiet couch time, outdoor picking with the bluegrass circle, or the stage!
Adirondack Spruce with East Indian Rosewood. Ebony fretboard. Koa binding. Everything I want in an artisan-built guitar. Recently added to my short list.
TWO DECADES AGO, a man in his mid-30s went into a music store with a friend. They each bought a new Guild D4 dreadnought guitar. The dreadnought, so named by guitar manufacturer C. F. Martin & Co. in 1916, is a full-bodied guitar with a standard length neck. Perhaps the most commonly purchased model, these days.
Guild made their guitars in Westerly, Rhode Island at that time. The ’96 Guilds had magic in them. Something about the wood and craftsmanship produced instruments of unusual resonance and tone. Crisp and full of body with excellent projection. A clarity which rivals many $2,000 guitars of today.
The young man and his friend each practiced songs with which they grew up. The friend persevered while the young man set his guitar in a closet after a year. And it sat. And sat. Eventually the young man found himself in a large house with his pets but no furniture, no children, no wife. A middle 50’s man in divorce. Scraping for money, an ad was placed, the guitar listed for his buying price, and I showed up on his doorstep.
Even coated with grime, strings with little life, a neck out of adjustment, I heard promise in the guitar. There was something. Considering the cost of repairs and the risk I might be wrong, half his asking price was offered, and the guitar found a new home.
Several deep cleanings later with warm water, mild soap, and a damp, well-wrung cloth, with new strings and a straightened truss rod (to correct the neck), true tone burst forth. As it once did in 1996, in a music store in Northern Delaware, for an optimistic young man, this American Gem will inspire a new generation of musicians. And with care and luck, another beyond my years.