Posted by Kevin Boyd, 27 September 2013
Updated: 26 October 2013
In a previous post I wrote about Martin Carthy’s signature model 000-18MC Martin guitar which replaced the 000-18 model he’d been playing almost exclusively since he bought it in the mid-sixties. The new version has continued to be his everyday guitar since he debuted it during the first 4 Martins UK tour in 2002 and if you’ve seen him play live at any point in the last 50 years you’ll almost certainly have seen him play one of these two guitars. Only occasionally is he seen playing anything other than a Martin – the blue Fender Telecaster from his time with Steeleye Span springs to mind and he still travels to virtually every solo gig with his trusty Roger Bucknall Fylde, even if he rarely uses it for more than two or three specific songs.
However, audiences on the current Carthy & Swarbrick tour will have seen Martin playing a quite different guitar. The immediately obvious difference is that this new model features a slightly larger, rounder body with a cutaway section at the top of the neck. This is in fact a Martin Simpson signature model Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitar that has been specially adjusted to suit Carthy’s playing style. The guitar is based on the PRS Angelus model but what sets it apart is that it’s one of the ‘private stock’ builds, which means it’s made from Paul’s best woods and is only available at a premium or to his friends.
The guitar was a gift from Simpson himself to Carthy and before he handed it over he asked an old friend of mine, respected luthier Stuart Palmer, to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate Martin’s unique turning. There is no zero fret on the PRS, unlike the unusual adjustment that was built into the Carthy signature model 000-18MC (unique for a Martin Guitars model) but Stuart did recut the nut to allow for the heavier strings. He also replaced the machine heads and gave the guitar a ‘general tweak’.
The photograph below is of mine and Stuart’s friend Mick Swinson giving the guitar a trial run in the back room of Stu’s workshop at Electro Music in Doncaster, South Yorkshire in October 2012. Mick explained to me the significance of Stuart’s changes at the time, “To put things in perspective, the most common gauge of top string is probably a 12, though thats a bit heavy for some. Carthy uses an 18 – the man’s a beast! Curiously he also uses an 18 on his second string as well, which is just plain weird.”
A month after this post was first published I saw Martin in Manchester and he was kind enough to sit for a moment while I took a few shots of him with the guitar and a few close-ups which I’ve now added to this post.
Thanks to Mick and Stuart for the photograph of Mick and for providing additional information on the guitar and thanks to Martin for his time and patience.