Several billion years ago… a massive, powerful explosion in space occurred.
It scattered hot cosmic shrapnel in all directions…
Cold, primordial shards hurtling towards staggeringly distant star systems…
… and it tumbled its way… TO US!!
What does this celestial body’s immense trek have to do with a Martin Anniversary Guitar??
Read on, ye music-making Earthling… !
Stage 1: The Mission Plan
I had a big concert of my own material coming up this past summer, at a sweet venue, and I decided I needed…
… what else??! A new GUITAR!!!
(Big, important concerts seem to ALWAYS provoke a bout of serious Gear Acquisition Syndrome!!! LoL)
Because this concert would be filmed AND digitally recorded, I knew that I needed to play guitars that sounded better than any I’ve ever played.
The only question was: how could I accomplish this??
The first thing I did was to play the same couple tunes upon every acoustic guitar that I owned (around ten of ’em).
After that, it was pretty evident that my Mike Franks acoustic (examined HERE) and my Ibanez Exotic Wood guitar (see my article on it HERE) had the best overall sound and responsiveness. That was no surprise, really, since they are the ones I usually grab whenever I want to play!
The Franks guitar I had hand-crafted towards my own specifications though, and it was made to be a “recording guitar”, and not one that had the stronger, more bass-enriched tone I need for LIVE playing.
So, the choice was clear – Joe Walsh & I have the Ibanez for a reason… it’s a great-sounding, and killer-looking, acoustic!!
Stage 2: Comparison
Just a SpaceX has been testing, comparing and vetting rocket parts and technology for the last decade or more, so I needed to also compare my best “audio ship” with all the rest out there.
It was the only way I could truly step up my audio game. ‘Cuz, you know… it’s about that SOUND, baby!
So, with my Ibanez EW in hand, I headed out to Guitar Center. My main man Scott, in the Guitars Department, did me a solid by unlocking quite a few of the more expensive guitars that were cordoned off in a separate room.
“Only the brave of wallet may enter here! Penny-pinchers, BEWARE!!!” 😉
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it took me well over an hour to finally find a guitar that sounded better than the one I had.
I must’ve played at least 30 guitars. Probably upwards of 50. I’d play my Ibanez first, then play the same thing on another axe.
Time after time… I was disappointed.
Stage 3: the Discovery!
But then, it happened! It was a sudden, immediate, insanely-surprising departure from all the other “ho-hum” guitars I had put through their paces. I picked up a Martin “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary guitar and began to play.
And the difference? It was slap-my-face incredible!!
As soon as I coaxed the first notes and chords out of this Martin acoustic, it was immediately apparent that it was blowing away everything else I had played that day.
This is one impressive guitar. So much more the surprise too since… it was NOT among the most expensive. I played acoustics in there that were upwards of two GRAND and they didn’t sound as good.
But wait – I realized that I had only played it acoustically. What about the electronics?? I thought to myself, “Yea, that’s probably where it’ll suck.”
So I plugged the high-quality 1/4″ Monster cable I had brought with me into the little mixer there, plugged in my Ibanez, and played a couple riffs and chord sequences from my tunes.
Then, expecting a let-down, I plugged in the Martin instead, and strummed.
Stage 4: the SOUND!
The way this Martin spoke through the sound system was, headstock-to-strap-pin, superior in every sense. It was captivating. Nuance-enhancing. Even. Perfectly balanced EQ-wise. Rich and attractive-sounding.
I noticed that it sang technique subtleties like it was speaking and understanding my own personal musical language. It made all my other acoustic purchases before that sound like stuttering, stumbling newbs!!
In short, I was blown away.
All the acoustics I then A/B’d with it… sounded pathetic in comparison. Even my Ibanez EW suddenly was missing a presence, and large swaths of frequencies, by comparison.
Remember too, that this was on a tiny, little acoustic amp that Guitar Center had in that room. I could only imagine how amazing it was gonna sound zippin’ through the Bose system, worth thousands, the night of my concert!!
I’d done it. I’d improved my tone immensely. I’d found… my new best stage friend!
The GPCX1AE – an Acoustic ROCKET!
Here’s the specs rundown of this remarkable instrument:
- Name: Martin X-Series “Grand Performance” 20th Anniversary GPCX1AE Acoustic Guitar
- Body type: Grand Performance
- Cutaway: Yes, at 14th fret
- Top wood: Solid Sitka Spruce
- Back & sides: Macassar Ebony wood HPLs (high-pressure laminates)
- Bracing pattern: Sitka
5/16″ Scalloped, with 1/4″ Tone Bars, X-braced
- Body finish: Hand-Rubbed Top
- Pickguard: Black
- Rosette: Mother-of-pearl pattern w/ Multi-Stripe
- Neck shape: Performing Artist with High Performance Taper
- Nut width: 1-3/4″
- Fingerboard: Morado (Bolivian Rosewood)
- Neck wood: Select Hardwood
- Scale length: 25.4″
- Number of frets: 14 clear of the body, 20 total
- Neck finish: Hand-rubbed Satin
- Neck width @ 1st fret: 1 3/4”
- Neck width @ 12th fret: 2 1/8”
- Neck circumference @ 1st fret: 4.5”
- Neck circumference @ 3rd fret: 4 5/8”
- Neck circumference @ 12th fret: 5”
- Pickup/preamp: Yes
- Brand: Fishman Sonitone Electronics
- Configuration: Soundhole-mounted preamp
- Preamp EQ: 1-band
- Feedback filter: No
- Tuner: No
- Headstock overlay: Not specified
- Tuning machines: Chrome Enclosed Gold Gear
- Bridge: Morado
- Saddle & nut: Compensated White Tusq, White Corian
- Number of strings: 6
- Special features:
- Accessories: None
- Case: Sold separately
- Country of origin: Mexico
Stage 5: String Theory
As soon as I got my new Martin Guitar home, I took the strings off that Guitar Center had on her.
I then oiled the guitar neck with my favorite orange oil, polished her up well, and put on my choice of new strings: the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” phosphor bronze acoustic strings.
I had found in playing electric guitar that the Ernie Ball “Paradigm” strings had MONSTER tone, and a powerful low-end that always stayed present, but never got muddy.
They became, through my test (which you can read about AND hear by going HERE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE) my go-to strings for playing electric guitar LIVE.
So I figured I go the same route for acoustic. In the past, I’d always used Elixir “Nanoweb” strings for my acoustics, but I felt like they just weren’t giving me the “oomph” I needed, tho’ they did keep good time for a loooooong time, which is nothing to sneeze at. 😉
Once the Paradigm strings were put on this Martin, it sounded even better. And that’s saying something!
Stage 6: Mission Parameters
After letting it sit for a whole day to let the strings sink into their tuning, I returned and started testing it for the gig.
Would it stand up to the rigors of audio and technique I’d put it through??
The way I did this was to actually perform every song through my sound system, with each guitar I’d use, and singing through the exact mic I’d use that night (the Shure GLX-D Wireless Headset mic).
Every time I played the Martin for a song (as my ‘standard tuning’ guitar) I sounded the best I’d ever heard. I couldn’t believe the EQ and responsiveness of this guitar for the price I paid, which was less than $700!!
Tho’ non-musicians won’t “get” this, you and I both know how much having “the right tool for the job” can make the difference. If we, as the players, are inspired by how our instruments sound… how much more will the audience be??
Stage 7: We Have Lift-off!!
Finally the night of my concert came and my Martin acoustic did indeed give a “grand performance”.
Every song sounded great. The Bose sound system at 20 Front Street, the venue for the concert, really brought my guitar & I to life.
With just a skosh of reverb that the sound guy put on my voice and the Martin, the overall sound performance was my best yet; I don’t think my voice/instrument combination has ever sounded so balanced, so complementary… so good!!
(I know this, by the way, ‘cuz I have the recordings. Can’t wait to share those with you soon!)
There are a couple other things I really liked about this guitar playing live that I need to mention:
1) All the seams on the guitar are ROUNDED, instead of being 90° sharp. I really like this. The guitar didn’t dig into my front or side as acoustics can do. It just felt more comfortable.
2) This is the first guitar that I’ve ever bought that doesn’t have a gloss finish. I have to say, I think I’m I’ve come to prefer the more natural feel of real wood, without all the gloss on top of it.
It doesn’t feel slippery. Instead, it feels, well… like real wood. It’s been sanded… but not too much. You can still feel a “wood-y” texture on it that I really like.
3) Also, the electronics of the instrument were clean, easy to reach during performance, and interpreted all the frequencies the guitar was putting out quite transparently, even when I got to heavy strumming.
4) The “High Performance Taper” neck on this beauty is helpful for playing up and down the neck, as I do. The fingerboard width starts at 1-3/4” width at the nut, then expands to 2-1/8” width at the 12th fret. Great for upper soloing or high chord shapes.
But the BIG difference I had to get used to immediately is the back-of-the-neck shoulders – they’re MUCH beefier than any acoustic I own, or have played.
What that means is you notice a lot more wood in your palm down near the nut. Like how a Tele feels bulkier than a Strat, to use an electric simile.
As you go UP the neck, however, these ‘full flanks’ dissipate, and are much more scalloped down to, what I’d call, and electric guitar neck, like a Strat at the 12th. Martin calls this their “Performing Artist Neck Profile“.
I’ve come to really get used to this feel, and live in concert it just felt more SOLID through all my chord progressions. If you like really THIN necks though… this is not the Droid you’re looking for! LoL
5) The best is for last: the overall tone of this guitar is beautiful. Right after I first got it, I tested it against ALL my guitars back home, and found that I still preferred the Martin’s sound over all my others for playing live. My Franks guitar still is the best acoustic for recorded acoustic sound, but that’s to be expected, since that’s what I had it built for!
Oh, and lest you think I found PERFECTION, well… I did have to tape the inside electronics wires down to one of the braces because you could hear them occasionally bouncing around inside. I move a lot when I play, so those wires were causing all kinds of unwanted sonic artifacts.
But, hey, a quick slice of gaffer’s tape and… all was well. If that’s the only negative to be found, I think you’ll agree – that’s nuthin’!
My summer concert was a victory on many levels, but one of the best reasons I feel like I “conquered” that night is because this Martin X-Series acoustic brought out the best in my material…and in me!
From Space… to Brace!
So, again… what does all this have to do with space debris???
Well, on 19 October 19th, 2017, astronomers at a Hawaiian telescope discovered the first confirmed object from another star system to visit our solar system. It was named “Oumuamua“, which in Hawaiian means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past.”
Some thought it’s an alien ship. Some say it’s just an asteroid. Others think it’s a comet that’s lost its shimmery mojo!
Here’s a quick TED Talk on it, in case you missed the galactic hubbub:
Regardless of what it is, it’s the first discovery of its kind, and that’s’s pretty cool. Now that it’s off, heading away from our Sun, we can only wave it goodbye and continue the wide-eyed speculation.
Well, we can do a little more, actually. I named my guitar after it!!
I noticed right away when I picked up my particular Martin guitar that on its back, near the middle, was a very cigar-shaped circle of wood grain.
Since I had just seen Oumuamua in the news, it immediately sprung to mind: “Hey! It’s that alien ship thing!!”
So, yea, my Martin is affectionately named “Oumuamua”. Whenever I play it, I know that it ALSO is a ‘messenger that reaches out from the distant past’… from when I first wrote the song I’m playing!
That’s one of the magical things about songwriting – whenever you play something you’ve written, even decades later, you are taken right back to that place & time in which you composed it.
So take us, Martin… take us back! Across light years of sound, cosmic chord clusters, through the dark and light matter… to where songs find a home within us… and without us!
A New Benchmark!
This particular Martin Anniversary guitar has made such a difference in my sound, I’ll never get rid of it. It’s just that good. To investigate, follow this link:
As I go forward, I’m sure to be testing every acoustic that stirs my interest against this unique beauty.
I already have a trip planned to a little town in Coshocton, Ohio which, unbelievably, has a store that’s sold the most preeminent acoustics in the WORLD.
I’m specifically heading there to test this Martin against some of the world’s best.
And you KNOW I’ll be sharing THOSE results with you!! 😉
In the meantime, I hope YOU have an instrument that inspires you on to bigger and better creations. If not, hitch your wagon to the stars and blast off on a focused star TREK!
You may find your songs, and your sound, going where you’ve never gone before. 😉
Now, go… make… sounds!!