Posted by Kevin Boyd, 22 Jan 2012
When I first heard Martin Carthy in the late 1980s and started collecting his solo albums I picked up an original 1960s copy of this “Second Album” at a record fair. I’d owned the Topic Records re-issue of that album for a while and had started to collect multiple versions of his releases – a trait that continues to this day. I already owned what was then his most recent album “Out Of The Cut” with its striking Keith Morris cover photograph and what I noticed from the 60s Fontana release of “Second Album” that wasn’t immediately evident on the Topic version was that he was playing (or at least holding) the same guitar on the cover of both albums. When I eventually got to see Martin play live in 1988 he was playing that same guitar and though I wasn’t a player myself and knew relatively little about guitars and their technical properties I had by this point leant that the instrument he was playing was manufactured by C.F. Martin & Co. It’s quite possible that some of my musician friends – one of whom was and still is a luthier and Martin guitar collector – had mentioned that the model was a 000-18 but it’s unlikely that I would have retained this snippet of information and if I had it wouldn’t have meant much to me.
I saw Martin something like 15 more times between 1988 and 2003, usually either on his own or with Dave Swarbrick, and every time he was playing that same guitar. I got to know its particular characteristics quite well and fancy that I could have easily picked it out of a lineup, though how and why such an event would have possibly transpired I’m at a loss to imagine. In any event, as most of those gigs took place in small venues where I would rarely be more than a few feet from the stage I became quite familiar with the guitar’s unique markings: the strip of what looked like half-peeled Sellotape at the point where the neck met the body; the distinctive wood grain markings on various parts of the soundboard; the difference in shading that indicated the position of the original pickguard; the new pickguard itself which was much smaller than those I’d seen on any other guitars. Over the years a number of these indicators of uniqueness evolved and it became a little game for me to spot these changes: at some point a zero fret appeared where none had been before; a new two-piece bridge was fitted some time in the late-90s; the bridge pins changed at about the same time as the new bridge and changed back again at some point.
In October 2002 I had tickets to see 4 Martins at a largish concert hall in Manchester. Martin was the first to take the stage and even from the twelfth row I immediately noticed that he wasn’t playing his usual guitar. From that distance it certainly looked like he was holding a Martin and the shape told me it was likely to be the same model as his usual guitar but I couldn’t be sure of anything more specific than that. The mystery was solved half way through the show when Martin announced that he was in fact playing a brand new Martin Carthy signature edition model based on his trusty old 000-18 and manufactured to his own specifications by C.F. Martin & Co. Since then I’ve seen Martin about 30 more times and he’s always played his new 000-18MC signature model and for a couple of years afterwards Martin Guitars manufactured and sold this model through their various worldwide distribution outlets.
Signature model guitars have a specific set of characteristics that can either be based on unique customisations that appear on the artist’s personal guitar(s), designed to accommodate the specific requirements of their playing technique or made to incorporate a distinctive visual style. In the case of Martin Carthy’s 000-18MC signature model, there are a number of customisations that appeared on Martin’s original 000-18 that have been replicated on the 000-18MC signature model. Some of these, such as the zero fret and the two-piece bridge, were probably introduced on the original 000-18 to deal with issues arising from Martin’s famous use of alternative tunings whilst others appear to be less technical and may be due largely to aesthetic choice. In this post I’ll look at some of the characteristics of the 000-18MC and discuss how they mimic those of Martin’s original 000-18 and, in some case, how the changes made to the signature model differ from those on Martin’s original guitar.
The pickguard (sometimes called the scratchplate) is a laminated and polished piece of material (usually plastic) that is fitted next to the sound hole and is designed to protect the guitar’s finish from scratches. When he first started playing it Carthy’s original 000-18 featured what has become the standard black Martin pickguard design. This is a relatively large piece of black material that, when fitted, covers an area that starts at the point the guitar neck meets the sound hole and ends somewhere very close to the guitar’s bridge. Album covers and live photos all show Carthy’s 000-18 fitted with this standard design throughout the 1960s and 70s but the cover of his 1982 album “Out Of The Cut” clearly shows that the pickguard has been removed. The same cover, incidentally, also shows that the guitar’s body appears to have had its protective varnish completely stripped so it’s quite possible that it was in the middle of a major overhaul or customisation at this time. By the late 1980s a new, much smaller, probably custom made pickguard was in place and this can clearly be seen in the 1992 “British Fingerstyle Guitar” video. The 000-18MC signature model features a pickguard that is different to both the original standard Martin version and Carthy’s customised smaller version. It is, in fact, the pickguard from a Martin OM-18 model with a tortoise shell finish that is smaller than the standard Martin version and larger that Carthy’s customised version.
Two-Piece Bridge / Saddle
The bridge is the area where the strings are affixed to the guitar body and where the vibrations from the strings are transferred to the soundboard. The saddle is the small raised object usually bone or acrylic that sits on the bridge and onto which the strings sit. The standard bridge on a Martin guitar features and single-piece saddle and this was evident on Martin Carthy’s original 000-18 right up until the “British Fingerstyle Guitar” video in 1992. Some time later a two-piece saddle was fitted to the bridge – a large piece used to accommodate the four thicker bass strings and a smaller piece for the two thinner treble strings. Opinion is divided as to the merits of the two-piece saddle but it’s generally accepted that when used they are intended to improve the overall tone of the guitar and in particular the two treble strings. In Carthy’s case it’s quite likely that the two pieces were introduced to accommodate his unusual tuning which requires the use of the heaviest strings available and, as it is tuned down so low, the top string is actually the same gauge as the second string. Carthy’s two-piece bridge/saddle arrangement on his original 000-18 can just about be seen in photos taken for the cover of his 1998 “Signs Of Life” album and very briefly in an interview he did for the 2008 Channel 5 documentary “Eliza Carthy: My Music”. The 000-18MC signature model features a standard single piece saddle.
These sit immediately behind the saddle and help to locate the strings in their relative holes on the bridge. On Carthy’s original 000-18 he appears to have used various combinations of brass and black acrylic – some photos show four brass pins on the bass strings and two black pins on the treble strings, some show two black pins on the bass strings and four brass strings on the treble strings and most earlier photos show six black pins and no brass pins. The 000-18MC signature model features three black pins with abalone pearl dots for the bass strings and three brass pins for the treble strings.
A zero fret is a metal fret fitted immediately behind the normal bone or acrylic nut at the end of the guitar neck. Again, opinion is divided amongst guitarists as to the merits or otherwise of the zero fret and it is not a standard feature of Martin guitars. Early photos show that Carthy’s original 000-18 did not include this feature but at some point before 1992 it was added as a customised feature and is again likely to have been included to accommodate Carthy’s unusual tunings. Standard new 000-18 guitars include a bone nut with no zero fret whilst the 000-18MC signature model has a Micarta composite nut and a zero fret.
Martin discusses his original 000-18 and the 000-18MC signature edition in 2008 in this clip from “Eliza Carthy: My Music” (starts at 3:40)
Model: 000-18MC (Martin Carthy)
Construction: Mahogany Blocks/Dovetail Neck Joint
Body Size: 000-14 Fret
Top: Solid Sitka Spruce
Rosette: Old Style 18
Top Bracing Pattern: 000-14 Free
Top Braces: Non-Scalloped 1/4”
Back Material: Solid Genuine Mahogany
Back Purfling: Style 18
Side Material: Solid Genuine Mahogany
Endpiece: Tortoise Color
Endpiece Inlay: B/W Boltaron
Binding: Tortoise Color
Top Inlay Style: B/W/B/W/B Boltaron
Side Inlay: B/W Boltaron
Back Inlay: B/W Boltaron
Neck Material: Genuine Mahogany
Neck Shape: Modified V
Nut Material: White Micarta
Headplate: Solid Indian Rosewood
Heelcap: Solid Black Ebony
Fingerboard Material: Solid Black Ebony
Scale Length: 24.9
Number of Frets Clear: 14
Number of Frets Total: 20
Fingerboard Width at Nut: 1 3/4”
Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret: 2 1/4”
Fingerboard Position Inlays: Old Style 18 – Abalone Pearl
Fingerboard Binding: none
Finish Back & Sides: Polished Gloss/Dark Mahogany Stain
Finish Top: Polished Gloss w/ Aging Toner
Finish Neck: Semi Gloss/ Dark Mahogany Stain/ Dark Filler
Bridge Material: Solid Black Ebony
Bridge Style: Belly
Bridge String Spacing: 2 1/4”
Saddle: 16” Radius/Compensated/Bone
Tuning Machines: Waverly Nickel w/ Butterbean Knobs
Recommended Strings: Martin SP 4200 Medium Phosphor Bronze
Bridge & End Pins: Brass Pins for Treble Strings, Black w/Abalone Dots for Bass Strings
Pickguard: I-03 Tortoise Color (OM18 Style)
Case: 533 Geib Style™
Interior Label: Personally Signed by Martin Carthy and C. F. Martin IV- Numbered In Sequence
Other Options: Available left-handed at no additional charge
Other Comments: All prices & specifications are subject to change without notice.