Martins you may wish to buy at the Martin Experience

The Martin Experience took place last night at Rudy’s Music in Soho, New York City.

A series of traveling presentations at various musical instrument retailers across the nation, this particular Martin Experience gave the  general public an opportunity to get up close and personal with showcase guitars built in Martin’s Custom Shop, along with a couple of the people who design them.

Martin Experience array
(click on photos to enlarge)

Adhering to Martin’s current policy of keeping things on a first name basis, they were introduced as Randy and Emily, and I shall leave it at that.

Emily is normally housed within the Custom Shop where she designs one-of-a-kind or sometimes three-of-a-kind Martins, and helps build others that were ordered by various Martin dealers or their private customers.

Randy is District Sales Manager for the New England area and each of them personally designed some of the guitars on display.

Every instrument was for sale with “aggressive pricing” just for that particular evening, and future evenings. Check out the link to the Martin Experience schedule below, if interested.

They did a quick overview of the difference between typical Martin models with names like D-18 or OM-42, and the guitars they were exhibiting like a private fashion show of Tiffany jewelry, which Randy kept referring to as “Custom Shops.”

Each instrument was shown front and back to the crowd of some two dozen oglers, and briefly strummed, while Randy and Emily revealed some of the specs and details that went into it. After some discussion of various tonewoods, bracing, and neck joints, torrefied wood, and fielding related questions, the wide-eyed onlookers were set free to play the many guitars set before them, like a pack of puppies who had obediently stayed in place far too long before permission was granted to pounce on a trough full of Alpo.

I certainly couldn’t blame them, as the bevy of Martins were extremely inviting to behold, and later to be heard. I did not get to play many of them, as I didn’t want to get in the way of potential sales. There ended up being more than one Martin that left that night in the hands of a new and very lucky owner.

Here is a quick overview of the line up.

As I said, some of these were made in batches of three, while others were one-of-a-kind. But when it came to the guitars designed by Randy, each was made in a batch of five.

If any of these instruments sound appealing enough to seek out, he said that you should contact your local dealer so that proper channels may ultimately supply the appropriate build sheet and list price.

Martin Experience Macassar ebony D-45The most expensive was arguably the most impressive. A 14-fret dreadnought made in Style 45, with back and sides of wood Emily referred to only as “Asian ebony.” I assumed it must be Macassar ebony, which grows only on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes.) But it turns out it is Mun ebony, which grows on the Asian mainland, in Viet Nam. She said they acquired but three sets, which have now been used, and in this case very well used indeed.

I have been a big fan of guitars made from Macassar ebony and Adirondack spruce since I played my first one, built by Bruce Petros some 12 years ago. But a Martin made with this ebony is one exotic bird.

The top has forward-shifted, Golden Era bracing, and insanely tight grain. As such, it seemed a bit subdued when flatpicking, kind of down inside itself. But when strummed, and especially when fingierpicked, it was glorious. Alive with splendid colors in the harmonics that reflected off the dense ebony undertone, I could have played it for hours. Just an infant with a tremendous future ahead of it, it is going to let loose soon enough and flatpick like a champ.

Martin Experience CEO-7 3 piece backAnother serious favorite was the slope shoulder 00L that Randy had designed. In his words, it was the CEO-7 with some upgrades that included a high-color abalone rosette, Indian rosewood back and sides, and a center wedge of koa. It also has the High Performance neck, while retaining the short scale.

What a versatile tone machine! Jimmy Rodgers, George Barnes, George Jones, George Harrison, George George George of the Jungle, it looked and sounded magnificent regardless of who was playing what. And when I heard it was for sale for just over $2,700 I was sorely tempted, as that is an outrageously great price for that kind of tone and playability.

For a lot more money, there was also a 00L in Madagascar rosewood with old fashion looks to its very straight grain, with an Adirondack spruce top that had the M1 torrefaction used on the Authentic Series. In Emily’s estimation, all the Madagascar rosewood remotely like it is “all gone.” And it had that way down deep openness that the new torrefaction wakes up in a brand new guitar.

Martin Experience all mahoganyOn the much more affordable side there were some guitars built along the lines of the 15 Series and new 17 Series, including a 12-fret 00, made with domestic Cherry and Adirondack spruce, and an all-mahogany OM with a slender rosette and back strip made in the multi-color herringbone first used on the Martin EMP models of the 1990s, which Emily said she “just found in a drawer.”

And then there was the slope shoulder 14-fret dreadnought with the same body shape used on the CEO-6 models, but with the build, looks, and thin finish of the new Black Smoke models from the 17 Series, only without a pickguard and and the addition of a wisp of abalone around the soundhole. I have speculated that we will see a slope shoulder dread added to the 17 Series sooner than later and this guitar only made me that much more eager to see that come true.

Others from Randy’s batches of five custom Martins included a flamed mahogany 000-18 and an OM-21 with high altitude Swiss spruce for the top, Foden-style fingerboard Markers (aka Style 25 markers) made in high color abalone, to go with an abalone rosette.

There was also a luscious Cocobolo OM-28V, and a modern OM-28 with Adirondack spruce for the top and one of seventy-five sets of Honduran rosewood they got in recently, which also has a beautifully figured headstock.

Martin Experience Indian rosewood backThere was a D-18 with rear-shifted bracing under its Adirondack spruce top, and a regular forward-shifted D-18 with Ambertone shading on the Sitka spruce, and a single ring abalone rosette.

I also loved the East Indian rosewood flatsawn back on a cutaway acoustic-electric dreadnought. It looks like some fluted passageway worn out of the sandstone at the Grand Canyon, or perhaps the Georgia O’Keefe painting of it. But as full-bodied as it sounded, it was bested by the Cocobolo dreadnought with the torrefied Sitka spruce top and forward-shifted bracing.

Unfortunately my photos of these guitars did not come out, since I was using a smartphone in low light. Emily was kind enough to text this one along this afternoon. But no photo can capture the 3D illusion it has in person.

How about an M size guitar, with Swiss spruce for the top and a maple back that was both flamed and had birds eye? A rare and very handsome set indeed. And it had a most beautiful little sister in a birds eye maple 00-41 with a top grade Sitka spruce soundboard that sang as glittering and magical as Cinderella’s ball gown must have looked. It also had Madagascar rosewood for the binding and the center strip running up the two-piece maple neck.

Martin Experience 00-41 maple


The Martin Experience offers a variety of events, some with live musical performances, historical presentations, and a chance to play some amazing one-of-a-kind Martin guitars. There are also free t-shirts, and in this case anyone who bought a set of strings at Rudy’s got a free set of Martin Lifespan strings to go with it.

Martin Experience events are currently scheduled throughout the USA from now until December. Find one in your area HERE

More photos from last night HERE






Taylor Road Show in New York City

The Taylor Road Show was off to its first week of 2015 dates, with a stop at Matt Umanov’s guitar shop in New York City’s famous Greenwich Village.

One Man’s Guitar dropped in to see what was new and interesting in the world of Taylor Guitars.

Taylor Roadshow Trio
Taylor Guitars’ Nate Shivers, L, with Wayne Johnson, R, and Matt Umanov, C


Quite a lot, as it turns out.

The MC for this road show was Nate Shivers, Taylor’s District Sales Manager for the northeast region. And joining him was Grammy winner Wayne Johnson, in his tenth year as a Taylor Product Specialist. Together they put together the kind of enjoyable and educational evening that I happily recommend to anyone remotely interested in the music made on acoustic guitars.

After some welcoming remarks by the affable Mr. Shivers, Wayne Johnson launched into a demonstration of his “go to guitar,” a 13-year-old Taylor 74NS, the precursor of today’s 714CE-N. He explained how this particular Taylor model was nylon string guitar ideal for steel string players who didn’t want to have to tackle the 2 inch neck on a classical guitar, and that it was designed with amplified performance in mind. He then proceeded to play some impressive upbeat Latin-tinged Jazz, through a Fender amp, aided by an array of effects pedals, including a looping box that allowed him to lay down bass and chord progressions before soloing over top of them.

As he switched seamlessly from fingerstyle to flatpicking, and from ingrained composition to off the cuff improvisation, it was immediately apparent why Wayne Johnson has spent decades as a studio and touring guitarist for acts like Manhattan Transfer and Rickie Lee Jones. But he displayed a different sort of professionalism in the role of product demonstrator, as the rest of his performance was less about displaying his mad skills and more about showing off the potential and personality of the various Taylor guitars put through their paces over the next 75 minutes. All other guitars had steel strings, and with one exception they were all heard acoustically, with the aid of a Rode M5 microphone.

Nate Shivers was likewise entertaining in his own respect, with a winning demeanor, wry sense of humor, and the easy going enthusiasm of someone who loves his job and has sincere appreciation for the guitars he markets, and a respect for the company who makes them, from their farsighted commitment to wood management and ecology, to their innovations in modern luthiery and a product line that has evolved through what Taylor has learned from practical experience and the feedback from their customer base among amateur and professional musicians.

Smooth Operators

Taylor Road Show Nate Shivers
Door Prizes Giveaway

They certainly have the road show concept down to a smooth and entertaining operation. Shivers first took the audience through the current array of instrument sizes, and Johnson played basically the same progression of chords and melody examples on each. From the Grand Concert, with its short-scale neck and relatively small top area and body depth, on up to the prodigious Grand Orchestra that has replaced the Taylor Jumbo design, each size was heard in an example of the 800 Series, made with Indian rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top.

The second part of the presentation focused on the tone woods employed across the various series, including mahogany, maple, rosewood, ovangkol and koa. Each was heard via Taylor’s Grand Auditorium body size, which has become one of the most popular guitar designs in modern times, inspiring other brands to produce similarly progressive shapes and sizes in much the same the way the Martin dreadnought and the Gibson jumbo designs did in the twentieth century. The GA was said to provide a Swiss army knife kind of versatility, and Wayne Johnson took advantage of this to stretch out and play various pieces he felt worked well with certain wood combinations.

When it came to top wood, most of the guitars had Sitka spruce from the Pacific Northwest, but the example made from Hawaiian koa wood had a koa top. There were some other guitars available for playing before and after the presentation made from other wood like Engelmann spruce.

A high end Presentation Series guitar made from Cocobolo was used to demonstrate the latest generation of on-board amplification systems, the Expression System 2. This patented pickup consists of three small piezo crystals that sit behind the saddle, rather than under it. They are held in place by three screws set into the bridge. Instead of some 60 pounds of pressure squashing the crystals, as on traditional undersaddle pickups, the ES-2 only brings a few pounds of pressure to bear, resulting in a less-strident piezo sound when plugged-in, and a pickup that is sensitive to nuanced changes in finger pressure, string tension, and any percussive or damping techniques a guitarist might use on the instrument’s body.

A major highlight for me was getting to know the newly reworked 600 Series, designed to make the most of American maple, a sustainable native hardwood. Like the new 800 Series that underwent a similar refresh last year, the 600 series also gets Taylor’s new thinner finish and animal protein glues. But it also gets a torrefied Stika spruce top, and unique bracing designed expressly to wring out as much warmth, resonance, and complexity as possible. And over all that maple is a hand-rubbed dark Brown Sugar stain, meant to evoke the look of classical violins.

I thought they did a great job with these new 600s. They definitely have more going on in terms of presence and color down inside the voice, while there is also a hint of old dry box sound to them that is likely due to the torrefied spruce, which provides some “vintage tone.”

At the end of the presentation, Wayne Johnson took us through a special maple version of the T5 hybrid, a true acoustic-electric guitar that offers five-way switching of three pickup sources. When combined with adjustments in tone controls, effects pedals, etc. offered an astonishing spectrum of guitar sounds. From Tele to ES-35 to Santa PRS, to a perfectly pleasant and more than acceptable acoustic guitar tone, and all of it weighing much closer to a typical acoustic guitar than most any electric guitar.  I was totally sold on the T5 and am seriously considering test driving one for possible purchase sometime soon – even if I cannot fit it into the budget for a few months yet.

In the words of Nate Shivers, there is nothing like bringing a bunch of really cool guitars and putting them into people’s hands and letting them decide for themselves. And for those of us in attendance on this particular evening, we had the opportunity to play the same guitars that Wayne Johnson had just used in such impressive ways, as well as some ultra-cool instruments from the Taylor Custom Shop.

And it was a very nice touch that Matt Umanov provided cheese plates, crackers and cold cuts, as well as beer, wine and soft drinks, which I heard does not normally happen at such Taylor Road Show presentations. So any dealers reading this may want to make note of it.

I cannot recommend taking the time to attend one of these evenings. And if you are fortunately enough to have one passing through your neck of the woods, don’t forget your wallet. The guitars brought for display, and at least in this case the other Taylors available at the dealership, were all offered for sale at abnormally low prices!

Learn more about the upcoming Taylor Road Show schedule HERE

And stay tuned for One Man Guitar’s first Taylor review, coming soon!

 Taylor Roadshow Presentation Series  Wayne Johnson Taylor Roadshow Presentation Series

(click to enlarge)

More photos HERE

See it? Now hear it!