This is a story about a guitar - actually a couple of guitars - both 00028 Martins. One was built in 1967, the other in 1952. The story has it all; epic struggles, tragedies and triumphs. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." all of that stuff, it's all in here.
I bought the '67 seventeen years ago thru a newspaper ad in the El Paso Times. The guitar was in almost perfect shape but the bridge was coming unglued so I was able to buy it for $300 instead of the advertised $350. It was a beautiful sounding instrument. I mean beautiful! B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. There is really something about the pristine balance of a 00028. It is truly one of the world's great production acoustic guitars. OM's, 000's, 18's, 28's, 45's, whatever the designations and variations, those instruments have definitely set a standard for others to try to attain. Remember, this isn't some idiot rock and roller waxing philosophical on the virtues of his piece of crap mid 70's J45 "cannon", although as a part time idiot rock and roller I do have a J45 that sounds pretty good, but it's not from the mid 70's and the tone quality isn't in the same league as the 00028. Our little drama is starting to sound like an ad for CF Martin. Let's move on.
So we've established that this was a fine sounding guitar, arguably as fine as it gets. What then? The guitar and owner develop a loving relationship with one another, their two lives becoming one - inseparable, nurturing, giving? No. As my playing style developed I ran into a problem that most players (if not all players) face at one time or another. I loved the sound of the instrument but had a hard time playing it. The neck just wasn't wide enough for the fingerstyle playing that was steadily becoming the foundation for my own approach to guitar. I needed a big, wide neck. Some of my old jumbo Kays had big necks - no sound but big necks. But even their necks weren't wide enough. I mean 1 3/4 to 1 7/8 inch almost classical guitar wide. I'll even sheepishly admit that the neck on my J45 was more what I was looking for, but I only liked the tone of that guitar. I loved the tone of the 00028.
Fast forward 15 years to the Arlington Vintage Fall Nationals (a huge guitar expo/swap meet/flea market/extravaganza in Arlington, TX) a few of years ago. I'm walking around in that excited state I'm in whenever I get to one of the big shows and am making my first pass thru the hall. You want to savor everything but you're also keyed up about what's around the next corner or down the next aisle. Sort of like life; appreciating where you're at (and where you've been) along with anticipating what lies ahead - but really trying to concentrate on staying in the present and soaking up every nuance and reacting to it and ENJOYING it. Zen philosophy and wall to wall Silvertones; truly heaven on earth!
Here I am, walking with my buddy and his girlfriend up and down the aisles when I turn around and notice that seventeen other guys are following us. Girlwatching at a guitar show can be a lonely, frustrating pursuit. I mean, it's simple numbers: 5000 guys, 23 girls. You start eyeing every female. Your standards drop dramatically. Ernest Borgnine in a dress could get some action going. A stunner like this girl brings business to a standstill.
So we come upon this booth with hundreds of guitars on racks and stands everywhere and one worn, closed case lying flat on a table wedged in amongst even more guitars. Years of experience snooping and digging around pawnshops, flea markets and estate sales have taught me well. I hesitated for not one moment. I went right for the case. In it was a 1952 Martin 00028 or more specifically, pieces of a 1952 Martin 00028. It appeared to have sat in a damp to wet environment in which it had completely unsprung, as if the glue joints had just gradually let go. The pretty rosewood rims of the instrument were intact and still attached to heel and end blocks. The spruce top had a design carved into it by an artistically-inclined owner but also had the most amazing weathered, patinaed finish and would be worth trying to salvage. The fingerboard and bridge had been messed with too badly and would have to be replaced. It looked like the neck could be saved. There were also parts missing, most noticeably a portion of the rosewood back. Different sections of the binding was also either damaged or missing. Price for this bag of bones was $300. I think it seemed peculiar to my buddy's girlfriend that with all of these beautiful (intact) instruments around I would spend 300 bucks on a caseful of splinters.
Any spare time over the next few months was dedicated to working on this guitar, the end result being an aged looking (some may even say "ratty ") but very good sounding 00028. Same old problem for me however - great sound, neck still not up to my specs. So the next spring I took it and my '67 to the Greater Southwest Guitar Show in Dallas to sell. I had been keeping an eye on prices and it looked like as good a time as any to make a move.
I sold the '67. I remember placing it in its case for the last time and saying something to it although I don't recall exactly what - something to the effect of "Hey, take care of yourself" I'm sure. Remember that I had owned this guitar for 15 years. The '52 generated some interest but nothing too serious. It was just too funky looking.
On the airplane ride home I made the decision. In another month of spare time I had fitted the '52 with one of my patented huge necks - 1 7/8 inches at the nut and just the right contour. I used rosewood on the fingerboard because that feels more comfortable to me than ebony. So now I have a 00028 with the sound and feel that I've been after for all these years.
I'm not quite sure what this whole story means, actually. It could be merely a simple story about two guitars - one in immaculate shape ending up with other just as immaculate instruments in the collection of an overseas buyer, the other propped up next to me against the computer table as I write this. One proud and perfect, the other one flawed but happy to be alive, happy to be a guitar again. One a museum piece, the other one a "working stiff" axe. Both serving a purpose, both fulfilling a destiny.
Maybe I'm reading more into all this than is actually there, but I don't think so. Next time you are handling an old guitar, think of the stories contained in its perfections and imperfections - in the cracks and dings and polished checked finish - the stories waiting patiently in every curve and every top. What about the tales in the braces of a fine old acoustic, especially the top braces way in the back by the heel block that haven't seen the light of day since the instrument was built. What's it like in the control cavity of on old Les Paul when its played really loud? Is it smooth and peaceful and serene, or is it vibrating and rattling and snarling like the assembly line in some old Eastern Block factory. (Oh Man, if I'm sitting around wondering about this stuff I really do have way too much free time!) The stories waiting patiently, ever so patiently, for the right person to tell them.
Dan Lambert is a guitarist, performer, recording artist and teacher out of El Paso, Texas with five CDs under his belt and another on the way.
His latest instrumental CD is entitled "The Double Drum Trio".
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