I didn't get my first acoustic until I was 30. It was a 1990 Gibson Dove. I chose it over everything else I'd played at the time because of the price ($1000) and that it was the loudest of the all the guitars I tried. I was going to be leading worship for a Sunday school class of about 100 without a PA so that was my criterion. At the time I couldn't tell much of a difference between acoustics. I was an electric player.
Five years later, I purchased my next acoustic. A Lowden F-22. As soon as I played it I loved it’s tone. But mainly because it was different than the Gibby. Way different. Brassy, not as woody. Still my ears were relatively inexperienced. I bought it to take on the road for some clinics I was hired to teach starting that Spring.
I didn’t have the guitar two weeks when I got a call from Taylor guitars asking which model I would like as they were one of the sponsors of the clinics and wanted me to have one. I didn’t know anything about Taylor models and they told me everyone else was getting an 814-ce. Sure. Two days later one arrived at my door step. And it was very different sounding from my Lowden and Dove. The 814 was definitely brighter than my Dove but not as brassy as the Lowden.
It was about this time in my mid-30’s I started to notice the difference between Martin’s and Gibson’s on recordings. Getting to the point, where I’m sure so many of you are at, where I could listen to a record and say “that sounds like a Martin.” Or Gibson. Taylor’s were rarer on recordings and harder to pick out.
Then when I was working on a session for a major Latin artist, the producer, whom I’d never worked for before, grinded me on my guitars. One after another he told me my acoustics were too bright. Isn’t that what EQ’s are for? I thought. Self-conscious I powered my way through the session thinking I need to get a dark guitar.
It was beginning to make sense what my teacher in the 80’s, Carl Verheyen, told me… “You can’t have too many acoustics.” I didn’t have any at the time, and remember thinking… really?!?!
I determined that I needed a Martin. So the hunt began. At the local Guitar Center, of all places, I spotted a tattered, abused, orphaned 70’s Martin D-35 for $1100. It played great and had a familiar tone. But not flashy. Subtle. Serious. And dark.
Now I had 4 very different guitars. Plus a Taylor 655 12-string that I had gotten from Taylor from their B stock.
The Martin has been my go to guitar for sessions. One thing I noticed, over years of playing on records, is that when I use the Martin, my guitar is hotter in the mix when I get the final product. The Taylor sounds like a Taylor. The Dove definitely sounds like a Gibson. The Lowden is very unique sounding. But the Martin just sounds like a guitar. Like a guitar we’ve all heard on recordings from the beginning of time. My Martin at least, doesn’t demand too much attention and shares the sonic landscape with singers quite generously.
I’ve since acquired two more Martins, a new Baritone, the prototype actually, that is serious times ten, and a 1924 O-28k, a small bodied, koa instrument that is so tender and sweet. Great for fingerpicking and soft strumming.
I also acquired a 60’s Gibson Folksinger in trade for playing on a friends record. It has a decidedly “boxey” quality that I’ve found is useful for that “hipster” sound. Whatever that is. You know like a Target commercial.