One More Martin
I've been playing guitars for more than 50 years but hadn't been playing very long before I bought my first genuine Martin, a most exceptional D-28. I'd read about the brand but hadn't played one. I went to the Bucks County (PA) Folk Music Shop near my family's home in Doylestown PA and asked owner Karl Dietrichs what he had in stock. He handed me a D-28 and said "Try this one." I fell in love at the first note. I had been playing for a little over 4 years at that point and owned a Yamaha 12-string I enjoyed playing. However, that guitar had given me only brief moments of 'musical elation' for want of a better term. When I played my first successful bass run using a thumb pick, following the instructions that came with Pete Seeger's Leeadbelly recording, that 12-string briefly 'spoke' to me but the rest of the time it was just a guitar. Down the road, I did own a Guild F-212 12-string that was a really sweet instrument, but that's a different tale for a another telling.
That first Martin felt like it was wrapping me warmly and holding me close, all the time! I was still in the Navy and getting set to change duty stations from Quonset Point, Rhode Island to Lakehurst, New Jersey with a six week stay in Connecticut for some schooling. It took me three different weekends of traveling back home from Rhode Island to Doylestown to play the guitar several more times before I laid my money down. I I took the housing allowance the Navy gave me to stay in a motel for my six weeks of schooling and bought the Martin with it. I picked the guitar up while I was home after departing Quonset Point but before beginning school in Connecticut. I knew the Martin was a very special guitar and I planned to spend my six weeks of schooling in Connecticut living in my Chevy camper van, getting used to my new instrument, playing it all night long!
I was on leave in Pennsylvania after finishing my tech school and shortly before reporting to my new duty station at Lakehurst when the new guitar was stolen. A girlfriend and I were visiting a popular tourist spot near my home when someone broke into my van, took my collection of 8-track tapes and also got the Martin from the back of the camper.
I was sick!
I went to the Bucks County folk Music Shop the next day, explained to the owner what happened and asked if he had another D-28 in stock. I should have listened to him when he said yes but then inquired if I might like to consider a D-35 instead. I said no, I was really more interested in a D-28. I didn't know of any folk or bluegrass picker who played a D-35. The white binding on a D-35's neck seemed a little ostentatious to me at the time and somewhat off-putting . Since then, I've learned a great deal about Martin guitars. Each instrument is as individual as a woman and can require as much care and feeding. I have also learned that a D-35 is probably the ideal Martin for the fingerpicking style I now usually use when I play. A D-28 is basically a 'pure' bluegrass guitar. Their volume is usually bottom-heavy and they're built with 2-piece backs which can add a bit of vibrato to their tone when played enthusiastically with a flatpick. Maybe great for bluegrass but something a D-35's 3-piece back eliminates.
Live and learn.
The second D-28 proved to be a very lackluster instrument. Although I owned it for about 7 years, it never met my expectations of a Martin. I left the Navy and also acquired a used Guild 12-string during that period but ultimately lost both guitars in a marital breakup. After the divorce I was without a guitar for several months until I bought a used Augustino, a somewhat-smaller but very sweet-toned acoustic 6-string, shortly before moving to Texas where I lived and worked for 5 years. While in Galveston, I made some money and bought 2 new D-35's, a very nice 6-string from a music store and then had the Martin Custom Shop make me a matching customized, 14-fret-clear 12-string D-35 with a Tree of Life abalone-shell inlay on the neck. After I got the first D-35, I sold the Augustino to a friend who was sailing his antique wooden vessel to the Caribbean for the winter. I had done a lot of work on that boat for him at the Galveston Yacht Service where I was then working.
My Martin D-35 6- string was a wonderful guitar with great tone but unfortunately it did not successfully make the transition from Galveston's extremely high humidity to a low-humidity Pennsylvania winter when I moved back home. The guitar developed a terminal crack beneath the bridge which completely destroyed its tone and I sadly unloaded it for considerably less than it cost. The Martin D-35 12-string was plagued with a malady afflicting many 12-string guitars. It would not stay in tune. Luckily, the Tree of Life inlay was magnificent and allowed me to recoup almost half of what I originally paid for the instrument. A friend who owned a music shop in Harrisburg PA gifted me an inexpensive acoustic 6-string which I played for several years. I wound up moving to California in the late 80s and shortly after bought a new Guild 6-string mahogany-bodied guitar from a music store in Monterey. I donated my old free 6-string to a deserving charity.
I had actually gone to California planning to take a short winter vacation but, after nearly 15 years of living alone, happily met and later married my wife Pat in Monterey where we lived for 12 years. We've now been together almost 30 years. I bought my fifth Martin, an HD-28, shortly after our wedding. The H stands for the herringbone design of the trim on the face and back of the guitar. This particular instrument had wonderful sustain, scalloped bracing and almost perfect volume-balance across all the strings. I owned and joyfully played that Martin regularly for almost 20 years although, while the guitar was ideal for a fingerpicker, it was not particularly loud for a Martin. After I later suffered a severe hearing loss while working in a cabinet shop, I could no longer hear the more delicate nuances of my guitar or many other sounds. The HD-28 sat alone in its case, unplayed, in a corner of my home office for a long time before I finally and sadly sold my last Martin.
After the 150 dB screech from a nearby table saw improperly cutting heavy plastic with the wrong blade wiped out most of the hearing in my right ear and seriously damaged the hearing my left, I was in deep depression for a long time. I couldn't play an instrument, I couldn't hear sermons in church, I couldn't clearly hear my wife speak to me and we didn't have the $10,000+ hearing aids would cost. Since I was covered by my wife's health insurance through her work, I finally went to see a hearing specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As soon as I told her I didn't have enough money for hearing aids, I was summarily dismissed. On the way out of her office, her assistant whispered to me, "Go see the VA". I did some online research and found out that then-Pres. Obama had recently signed a bill into law authorizing hearing services for all honorably discharged veterans regardless of financial or VA disability status.
I got in touch with the VA, received the paperwork I needed to fill out and made an appointment at the Audiology Clinic of the large VA hospital nearby in Pittsburgh. Long story short, in about a month I walked out of the clinic with a pair of hearing aids that worked pretty well. I didn't really care for having to shove something in my ears but quickly rediscovered the miracle of hearing at dawn the next day when I stepped out on my porch and could once more hear the birds exchanging their glorious morning-song.
I could hear my wife again! I could understand conversation well if I was in a fairly quiet place and I could hear the sound track of a television show once more but I still could not properly hear a standard acoustic guitar well enough to resume playing. I did try an inexpensive new Yamaha 6-string acoustic guitar with a built-in amplifier pickup but that really didn't work very well for me. About a year later, I went to 'N' Stuff, a large music store nearby, and found a new acoustic 12-string, also a Yamaha, which I thought might be loud enough to play without an amplifier, although I really wasn't looking forward to having to wear the thumb and finger picks needed to properly play a 12-string. When we went down to the basement of the store trying to find a hardshell case for the 12-string, I spotted a used Gretsch 6-string resonator guitar hanging on the wall. Something had been telling me this was the right kind of guitar for me to play so I bought it. It wasn't fancy and certainly didn't have much subtle nuance to its tone but it was loud enough for me to hear and play, without wearing my hearing aids!
I should explain.
Almost from their invention, standard hearing aids have primarily been used to amplify speech from about 100 to 3,000 cycles-per-second, the central range of an average human voice at conversational levels. Also, in order for hearing instruments to work well for people with extremely-diminished natural hearing, the earpieces must fit tightly in the ear canals to prevent the loss of any amplification or the entry of any competing sounds into the ears. While they were in my ears, my hearing aid's close-sitting earpieces were limiting me to hearing only the sounds that were being amplified in the hearing aids' limited conversational range. The higher-frequencies of the music, from either the guitar or my vocals, simply weren't getting through to my eardrums, amplified or otherwise. With the hearing aid's earpieces themselves no longer physically blocking the higher frequencies, the increased volume of the Gretsch resonator guitar allowed me to hear a much fuller spectrum of sound. With the louder guitar, I could now hear and play an instrument again for the first time in years!
This was a huge step but I still could not hear both my guitar and vocals at the same time. The additional clarity of full-spectrum amplification was needed to properly hear both simultaneously, allowing me to dovetail my vocals and the finger-picked chords and notes of my guitar, both essential ingredients in the music of a singer-songwriter.
At this point, I'd been wearing hearing aids for about eight years and was on my second pair. The VA normally replaces hearing aids with newer, updated units about every five years unless the veteran's hearing can be improved dramatically with a newer model's features, in which case they'll replace them sooner. I discussed what I had learned with Cara, the extremely knowledgeable and very helpful audiologist I've been working with at the VA Audiology clinic. She did some further research and found that there was a set of Oticon brand hearing aids available through the VA which would amplify 20 to 8,000 cycles. These new hearing aids additionally offered much 'cleaner' amplification and less audio compression than other models. Their improved Bluetooth circuitry would also allow me to more clearly listen to my smartphone through the hearing aids, something which enables me to deal with phone calls far more easily, especially while driving. Cara arranged for me to get my third pair of hearing aids and I had them shortly.
I was most anxious to try my 'new ears' and was not disappointed in the least. My hearing has taken quantum leaps in both quality and frequency range. I can now hear both my guitar and voice very clearly and meld them perfectly, thanks to the new hearing aids. This was the next step. I can now perform again.
Time for one more Martin !
©2019 Will Eberle