Martin D-35 Johnny Cash Acoustic Guitar
Martin's D-35 Johnny Cash model radiates its namesake's vibe before you even take the guitar out of its case. That's because the dreadnought honoring the "Man in Black" comes in a specially designed Geib-style case that's black at every turn, from the Durahyde covering to the latches and hardware to the plush interior lining. The folks at Martin clearly took nothing about this project's design for granted.
The guitar is also a nearly all-black affair-the top, back, sides and even the back of the neck are all finished in raven gloss. Pure licorice eye-candy, if you will. The grained ivoroid binding and heelcap, style-45 rosette (with a fiery ring of abalone) and zigzag marquetry on the back all provide elegant relief. Other aesthetic niceties include abalone dots on the bridge pins, star-shaped fretboard inlays (abalone, with mother-of-pearl borders), and Johnny Cash's signature in mother-of-pearl at the 20th fret. These details all work together to make this a visually arresting instrument.
The real fun begins once you stop gawking and start making some noise. While some dreadnoughts can sound boomy or tubby, this black beauty has a musically appealing and sonically practical voice, with a broad dynamic range and an ample sustain quotient. Robust country rhythms are its forte-no surprise. Strumming a couple choruses of "Big River" or "Ring of Fire" feels like walking a mile in Cash's own boots. The guitar needn't be typecast, though, as it works well for folky fingerpicking and other styles. It's easy to imagine using the guitar on a variety of live gigs and recording sessions.
Beneath its inky exterior, the D-35 Johnny Cash is not unlike Martin's D-35 and HD-35 models-it has a dreadnought body with a solid spruce top, solid rosewood sides and three-piece back and an ebony fingerboard (25.4-inch scale length) with 14 frets clear of the body. A few significant differences are worth noting, such as the upgrade from Sitka spruce to Engelmann spruce for the top. Many players and luthiers agree that Engelmann tops respond more quickly and generally make for louder guitars, and this instrument certainly is responsive and loud. The Cash D-35 sports vintage-style forward-shifted bracing, which lets the top vibrate more freely, further bolstering sustain and volume.
Another thing that sets the Cash D-35 apart from its kin is a "modified low oval" neck profile. The neck is substantial, yet surprisingly easy to get around on. The factory set-up (with medium-gauge Martin SP Phosphor-Bronze strings) is spot on. From note one, the guitar's action feels-well, ready for action. Chords and single notes alike ring true in every position. A set of chromed Grover machines (standard on just a handful of Martins) ensures tuning will be smooth and accurate.
The D-35 Johnny Cash isn't Martin's first Cash signature model. The company offered a limited edition Cash D-35 Custom in 1989, and a D-42JC in '97. Cash himself played these and other Martins- usually D-35 models-throughout his career. One particularly kicky six-string was his late-Sixties D-35S, which he had bedecked with ornate abalone inlay on the headstock and custom acorn-and-leaf inlay patterns on the fingerboard. The black dreadnought built for Cash in 1972 was another iconic Martin. Factory employees had to be stealthy while crafting this guitar, keeping it hidden from C.F. Martin III-then head of the company-because he thought the notion of a black Martin was just too radical. The secret six-string was revealed when Cash made a cameo appearance with it on an episode of Columbo. Apparently, Mr. Martin was pleased.
The Bottom Line
This is the ultimate acoustic for dyed-in-the-wool Johnny Cash fans. But even without the Cash connection, the commemorative D- 35's striking look, righteous sound and sturdy-yet-comfy feel make for a particularly appealing guitar. The price point may be out of reach for some, but it's justified. In this case, going a little into the red will get you deep into the black.
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