Anyway, I'm pretty sure Barry bought it because the first group he ever liked, the Kingston Trio played Martins. At the time I had a Harmony classical (nylon string) that my parents bought through my uncle, who taught music privately and had some sort of dealership that allowed him to buy inexpensive guitars. My parents, who reluctantly admitted that I was absolutely obsessed with folk music thought that at least there was some hope of me learning "real" i.e., classical music if I had a classical guitar. It was OK - until I heard and played that Martin. It was sweet and clear and it even smelled great. Martin owners even today get almost intoxicated by the smell of the wood of a new Martin. I have no idea what it is but no other guitars smell like that.
Flash forward about six years. I was then playing a Yamaha 12 string, my high school graduation present. This was about 1970 and Yamahas were just starting to catch on in this country as a decent quality steel string for a very reasonable price. I clearly remember the first time Barry and I saw their booth at the Newport Folk Festival. What is THAT, I remember us asking each other? I thought Yamaha was a motorcycle! But I did like that 12-string well enough, even though I usually only strung it with six strings. I sold it to a friend who I believe still has it. That guitar was a beast. It survived many a hitchhiking trip and camping - one time I left the case open on the hood of my friend's car and it rained that night, and the next morning I literally dumped the rain water out of the guitar. After it dried out it was fine! True story.
But in spite of at least having a steel string, I had by that time played many quality guitars - Gibsons, Guilds, Goyas, - and Martins. Many Martins. And there was no doubt what I wanted.
My grandfather passed away while I was in college as a music major, and because he as many of the members of my family was a professional musician, I thought it was totally appropriate to use the $500 that he left to me in his will to buy my first Martin. This was in 1971, and the model I bought was a D-35. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen or heard. It was the guitar I played with singer/songwriter Elizabeth Kent when we played a week at Passim in Cambridge, my first taste of the higher level of acoustic music. I loved that guitar.
But it ended up breaking my heart a few years later when it starting getting more and more difficult to play. I thought the neck was warping; more likely, it just needed a neck reset but I had no idea what that was at the time and in those days there were no local independent luthiers like there are today to tell me what was wrong. All I could do was send it back to Martin for repair and due to some serious problems they were having at that time, the best they would tell me time-wise about when I would see my guitar again was something like a YEAR!! This was not acceptable as I was just beginning to teach and playing out all the time and I needed a guitar. I couldn't afford a second one, so I brought my D-35 into a shop in New Bedford and traded it for...... gulp...... a Yamaha! And to make matters worse, because the Yamaha I chose was the most expensive one they made at the time (kind of an imitation Gibson J-200.... sounded like dog doo compared to my D-35 but the action was good) I had to give them my Martin PLUS $100! Not my smartest move in guitar ownership and unfortunately not my last stupid deal. More on that in a future post!
In a very short amount of time I knew the Yamaha was not the answer. A friend of mine from high school had a 1970 D-28 which he wanted to sell as he was getting into classical music and wanted a high end Spanish guitar. So I bought his D-28 and it served me very well for about five years, during which time I recorded and toured with fiddler Marie Rhines. Eventually that guitar went away too though, traded for a 1979 Stratocaster (!).
The years passed and many, many guitars came and went but I kept returning to Martins. As far as I can remember, at this point I've owned more than thirty of them. Some were better than others but ALL of them were excellent instruments. I still firmly believe that the C. F. Martin company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania continues to make the best quality production guitar in the world - and I use the term production guitar only to differentiate between their large production and that of the small, boutique makers who are all the rage these days. That is another subject I'll write on in the future. I have pretty strong feelings about these small run guitars.
Which brings me to the "other" guitar company. Taylor guitars are hugely popular, especially with younger musicians and also with many of the country/pop musicians. Taylors are undeniably beautiful in design, shape and especially their fit and finish. The wood is often exotic and stunning to see. The construction techniques they pioneered may well be the model for most guitar production in the future, things like the way they secure the necks of their guitars, which makes the dreaded neck reset a quick, easy and less expensive process compared to the dovetail joint method that is still used on ALL medium to high end Martins. There is no question that most Martins look pretty drab and plain next to the average Taylor. But here's the rub, as they say.
I've owned four Taylors in recent years. All of them were high end models. Two had slightly smaller bodies and two where large bodied instruments. All of them - as is the case with many, many Taylors - played like butter (and this is why I think lots of younger players who started on electric guitar like Taylors). But the sound was.... how can I say? Unremarkable? Recording engineers love Taylors because they produce a very "flat" sound, that is, a sound with very few overtones and nuances that are difficult to record at best and bothersome at worst. Clear treble, yes. But the mids and especially the bass on EVERY Taylor I have heard or played is thin, lacking depth and the sustain just isn't there. Absolutely no resonance or complexity of sound. In a nutshell, to my ear Taylors have no "soul." There, I said it. Sorry Taylor fans. Just the way I feel and what I hear, or more accurately, what I don't hear.
Now, maybe I'm not alone in this opinion - perhaps Taylor themselves know this to be the case because a couple years ago they began producing a much higher end line called the R. Taylor series. I have not played any of the these so I can't comment on anything but their looks, which is spectacular. But is the sound worth $3k - $6k and more? How would they compare to, say, a Martin OM-45 or the venerable D-45? How about that new Jorma Kaukonen model that I am totally lusting for? Guess I'll just have to try a couple of R. Taylors.
In the meantime I'll keep playing my 1997 0000-28H, a model that Martin only made for a few years in the 90s. You can find them now in slightly different forms (with 1 3/4" nut width vs. the long-time standard 1 11/16ths width on my guitar) in the form of special order guitars from Gruhn in Nashville and Elderly Music in Michigan, both of the which are excellent dealers by the way. The guitar in Martin's line that is the closest to mine is the "M" series. I love mine because is has a slightly different shape that the Martin Dreadnaughts but the same upper and lower bout width, but a thinner body like the 00, 000, and OM models, making it easier to hold. With the width of a Dread it has tons of volume when I need it but is more even and balanced sounding with GREAT treble - something that can be a bit lacking on the D-size Martins.
So for now at least, I will stick with the Martin I have. As recently as two months ago I had three Martins but two of them were just impulse buys so away they went. You can be pretty darn sure however that the next guitar to appear in my life will be - another Martin!
Anyone who's gotten this far and wants to comment, ask questions about Martins or even call me out about Taylors (!) I welcome the input!