by M A N @roquesdoodle
The 1921 Martin 00-28* is a 12 fret guitar produced by C.F. Martin and Company (so known because the body meets the neck at the 12th fret, whereas most acoustic guitars made today meet at the 14th). It is made of Brazilian Rosewood with a spruce top and a mahogany neck so thick it could stand in as a cricket bat (more on that later). The body, what is often referred to as parlor size, is smaller than most contemporary acoustic guitars.** In addition to the smaller body size, the lower bout (the hips, if you will) is only slightly larger than the upper bout (the chest), whereas most contemporary acoustics follow the Dreadnought design of larger and deeper bodies with a lower bout that is noticeably larger than the upper bout (the "Dreadnought" style, designed by Martin & Co. in the late 20s, early 30s, was named after the HMS Dreadnought , one of the largest battleships of its day).
There are a slough of vintage guitars out there that deserve attention, but I picked this specific model because I've played one before. It isn't very often I get a chance to play vintage instruments, let alone ones that sound and feel as good as this little beauty. So I was very pleasantly surprised to discover several years ago (2001, 2002?) that a family friend had found one in perfect condition.
When I was back in Indiana visiting family for Christmas, he told me he had just picked up the "21." It was that old cliche that's every guitar player's dream. The guitar had been hiding in some old lady's house for decades until it was discovered during a centennial attic cleaning (what was so fascinating about the find was that the guitar had been set up for slide so there was absolutely no fret wear). Since my friend was more of a collector and less of a player, he asked me and my brother (who also plays guitar and can run circles around me) to go over and put the instrument through its paces.
The smaller body size threw me for a bit of a loop. I don't know what I was expecting, but it was definitely something larger. But when I stared playing it, I noticed a couple things. The first was its density. It had a sense of substance that was surprising for such a small guitar. Not that it was heavy, just that it didn't have that feeling of fragility I was expecting from a smaller guitar. The other thing I noticed was how impossibly thick the neck was. The neck to body size ratio was such that it felt like the body should have been the size of a Volkswagen. Yet, somehow, the neck was terribly easy to navigate. Even the twisty Joe Chord*** was easy to throw down.
But the most amazing thing about this guitar was the way it sounded. It had a rich, full-bodied tone that sounded meaty without any obtrusive low end. It sounded so good that playing it was a nearly religious experience. My brother and I spent several hours passing it back and forth until my friend eventually had to kick us out of his house.
Fortunately, my brother had along his little Boss BR-8 so I have a recording of it.† Obviously, the quality isn't top-notch, but you can still get an idea of the sounds this guitar produces. So if you can ever get your hands on one, even for just a few hours, do it. You won't be sorry. (The guitar in the youtube image isn't the Martin but a Gibson L-5--it was the only image of me playing a guitar that didn't involve embarrassing O faces.)
* I must confess that I'm not 100% sure about the model number. All I know for certain is that it was made in 1921 and, going from memory, I'd have to say it was a 00-21, 00-28, or 00-42. If I can ever get a hold of my friend, I'll find out for sure.
**If any musician monkeys out there can clarify if "parlor" is a specific style or just a general term used to describe small-bodied guitars, please let us know in comments.
*** It took me six years to get my fingers to play that first Badd11 chord that opens Joe Satriani's Always With Me, Always With You . Hence, it will always be known to me as the "Joe Chord."
† For my fellow audio engineering geeks out there, my brother held an Audio Technica Dual Reference cardioid mic directly at the sound hole on an X axis. I dumped the mono track into Audacity where I fabricated a stereo effect by duplicating the track then offsetting the two by 3 millisconds and panning them hard left and right. Afterward I gave it some slight compression, a few minor EQ tweaks, and then finished it off with a splash of reverb.