Mellencamp Martin Guitar Model Now Available

The Martin 00-18S John Mellencamp Custom Artist Edition guitar is now available at retail.

Announced in September, the Mellencamp guitar model was introduced last month at the NAMM music instrument trade show in Anaheim. According to C.F. Martin & Co., Martin dealers are now placing orders, and expectations are high for a successful rollout despite the severe economic downturn.

“Under normal circumstances we’d have a great sales projection,” said Chris Thomas, Martin’s manager of artist relations manager. “But we’ve noticed like everything else, things are slow now. But our dealers love [the Mellencamp Martin] and want one in the stores to show customers, so we’re hopeful that three months from now, when we have a better idea of where we stand in terms of sales, things will look better.”

As for marketing the John Mellencamp Custom Artist Edition, the company is going all-out: For the first time “The Sounding Board,” Martin’s magazine that goes out to all official Martin dealers (free for all customers, it’s also available as a free online download), fronts a full-page cover shot of John on its current issue—rather than the usual segmented cover featuring several artists (Custom Artist and Signature Edition guitars for Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt and Chris Hillman are also noted—but not pictured--on the Mellencamp cover). The cover feature describes the guitar, which as previously detailed is inspired by John’s beloved small, plain acoustic 12-fret parlor guitar he simply calls Maybell, believed to be one of the May Bell (or May-Bell) guitars built in the 1920s and 1930s. Click HERE to download the magazine in PDF format.

John's original May-Bell
A parlor guitar is a small-bodied guitar from around the turn of the century (Civil War through 1920) that was typically played by women for entertainment in the parlor, i.e., afternoon tea parties. At that time most guitarists were women.

“Because many of the old parlor guitars like John’s May-Bell preceded gloss lacquer finishes, they typically have a flat or satin-like appearance,” noted Martin’s director of artist relations Dick Boak. “John loved that about his old guitar, and we wanted to accommodate him by offering his model that way--but in the modern world, most players like a polished lacquer finish. We discussed this with John and decided that offering the guitar in either a satin or gloss finish would be the smart decision. When John received his prototype, he was surprised at how bright and clear the spruce top looked. He was used to seeing the old dark finish on his May-Bell,¬ so we are making the No. 1 guitar of the edition with a dark ‘Ditson’ finish that approximates the French polish coloration of pre-1930s guitars.”

So the Mellencamp Custom Artist Edition comes in two versions, then, identical except for the finish. John’s flatter satin-like finish choice is another first for Martin in its artist models series, explained Thomas, since the shinier, more modern polished lacquer finish is preferable from a marketing perspective.

The new Mellencamp guitar is constructed of solid tonewoods, its back and sides a rare quilted mahogany for bright, clear tone, and a top of Carpathian spruce--a tonewood from the mountains surrounding the Black Sea that combines the rich timbre of European spruce and the dynamic range of Adirondack spruce. The guitar’s neck is genuine mahogany, with scalloped quarter-inch top braces providing superb responsiveness and balance.

Other features include an Old Style 18 rosette matched by five layers of alternating black and white purfling around the top. Tortoise-color binding protects the top and back edges, and is matched by a tortoise-color end piece. In keeping with its vintage inspiration, the instrument does not have a pickguard.

Additionally, the 1¾-inch (at the nut) low-profile neck sports a tapered slotted headstock with square slots. Waverly™ brass three-on-a-plate tuners with small ivoroid buttons provide smooth, accurate tuning. The Madagascar rosewood headplate bears the traditional (for a slotted headstock) small Old Style Martin decal. The black ebony fingerboard has Doppler (decreasing in size) abalone pearl dots at the 5th, 7th and 9th frets, leading to John Mellencamp’s signature inlaid in mother of pearl between the 19th and 20th frets.

A black ebony pyramid bridge, black ebony bridge pins and endpin, a black ebony heel cap, bone nut and saddle, and aging toner on the top complete the 00-18S John Mellencamp Custom Artist Edition’s vintage-inspired elements. Each guitar bears an interior label personally signed by John Mellencamp and numbered in sequence, and is delivered in a fitted Geib™-style hardshell case.

Boak recalled first proposing a Mellencamp guitar model to Scooter Davis, John’s guitar tech and a friend of the company.

“John liked the idea and it came full circle back to me with the idea for a parlor guitar,” said Boak. “But John is really on the go! Much of the planning for the edition happened during the mayhem of the presidential campaign and as many know he was in the thick of that, doing his utmost to support Barack Obama. After I was able to lay the groundwork for the model with Scooter and [John’s manager] Randy Hoffman, I had a flurry of emails from John with photos of his May-Bell. I also had an unreleased 00-28VS 12-fret prototype here that I felt he should see, so I sent that off to him. He responded with a phone call and we discussed some basic modifications to the tonewoods and appointments. After a few more emails and clarifications, we began our prototyping process and John headed back out on the campaign trail!”

Boak summed up the experience of working with John, and the character of his Martin guitar.

“John Mellencamp’s music is embedded in American culture,” he said. “I was so thrilled to see him performing regularly with his beat up old Martin 000-18 guitar. When we started talking about designing a special signature model, I was equally excited to see him gravitate toward a smaller-bodied 12-fret guitar. That’s a guitar for writin’ songs and strummin’ on the front porch--all for the sheer joy of it. Ain’t that America!”

At John’s request, Martin will donate a portion of the proceeds from sales of the guitar to Farm Aid.

Click HERE to visit Martin's John Mellencamp Custom Artist Edition website for complete specs and more information.