One afternoon over with my dear friend Danny Thompson, he showed me the John Martyn signature guitar that he had recently bought. Although Danny does not play guitar, he bought it to celebrate his long and rather wonderful collaboration with John. It was a lovely instrument and beautifully decorated and the build and sound from it were amazing. It was all the more poignant because John did not live long enough to play it himself. The thought was now planted in my head that perhaps after fifty years playing my beloved Gibson I might get a signature model myself.
I was relaying this tale to a friend, John Montague, who immediately said that he thought Martin Guitars might be interested. Without doubt in the world of acoustic guitars Martin are the most famous and deservedly so. I have had three exquisite Martin guitars through my hands and there is no doubt that their craftsmanship, sound and tradition is second to none.
I expressed doubt about their interest, but John got in touch with his contact in the States, Diane Ponzio, and sure enough they said they would be delighted to make me a guitar.
I next got in touch with my friend and guitar maker, Tom Mates, who has made several guitars for me and who takes care of all my stringed instruments. With Tom’s help I came up with a design based on an original Martin slope shoulder shape and using our combined experience decided on the materials, struts shape, height and width, machine heads and vintage style simple bridge. We specified a thinner top than most Martins in current production and emphasised the weight to be as light as possible. Jonny Van Der Schoot at Martin UK supervised the order and kept the craftsmen at Martin Guitars custom shop informed and liaised with them on each step of the manufacturing process. My quest was further helped by Dan Brown, who is one of the head luthiers, at the custom shop and was familiar with my guitar style.
Martin decided to make a limited number of models of the guitar and I was told to expect one during my 50th celebration year, 2015.
Actually the guitar took a little longer as the perfectionists at Martin were not happy with the colour of the wood staining on the mahogany back and sides of the guitar but eventually I was informed that
“…the eagle has landed…” in London’s historic Denmark Street, home of some of the most prestigious guitars available anywhere. I contacted Tom Mates who took a day off from Fender Guitars and we met and walked into Westside guitars together, for my part with some trepidation.
Martin guitars are not cheap, the gestation time had been at least nine months and now we were about to see the infant guitar for the first time. More importantly, to hold it and hear the noise it made! After a few minutes chat with Jonny and Paul, we were conducted upstairs to an Aladdin’s cave of priceless Martin acoustic guitars. For a moment I thought of my 2 years it took to save up for my first tunable American guitar which was a Harmony Sovereign and cost £29.00 from Ivor Mairants in Rathbone Place, just across Soho Square and over Oxford St. I was in his shop for 4 hours, lost in time and the confined space of a tiny glass fronted store room in his shop, before he tapped on the door to tell me they were closing and was I going to buy it? Of course I bought it and like my first Bob Dylan concert I remember going, but not the coming home! I am still like a kid in a sweet shop when I enter a guitar showroom. As I looked around at the walls full of instruments, I failed to notice 3 guitars on stands waiting for my approval.
Jonny pointed a finger at the trio and I sat down as he handed me one to try.
I have to say my first feeling was one of relief. Tom and I had gone for a very simple design, using as far as possible existing Martin body moulds, neck, frets etc. We had specified a shorter scale length and fret wire to make the transition as near to the guitar I was used to playing. After a quick look at the colour, wood stain, machine heads etc I picked a few notes. The response from the instrument astonished me. In spite of its familiar shape and feel, which the boys at Martin had achieved, it was its own unique self. It sounded simply wonderful.
The guitars are numbered and the company had sent three down for me to try. I asked which number I had in my hands and Jonny suggested I try all three and choose one without knowing which number it was. All three sounded fabulous and all felt the same. The joy of a new guitar sounding mature is not something I am used to, but eventually one guitar suited me slightly and I mean slightly more than the others. I chose number 4.
Martin had sent us numbers 1, 3 and 4. I had to have number one, so I decided to get it and number four. This was all very well, but I wondered what 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10……were like!
Jonny insisted that I took one of them home and play it for a while.
Co-incidentally my visit had taken 4 hours in the shop. Just like choosing my Harmony! Since getting it back I have not stopped noodling on my new guitar. It is on the sofa and I can barely walk past it without picking it up and playing it for a few minutes. Before I take it on stage Tom will tweak the set up a bit and install my chosen pick up system You will hear it on stage with me this year.
Martin have taken John Montague’s suggestion and called this model an RM 50.
I could not be happier with my new guitar.
For more information on the Martin RM50 please contact Westside Distribution on +44 207 836 8374.