By Harold Steinblatt
Martin’s new 00-42SC John Mayer Stagecoach Edition acoustic belies the notion that “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” Inspired by the 00-42, a high-end, lavishly adorned model offered by the company from 1898 until 1942, the 00-42SC is a perfect storm of physical and tonal beauty, superior design, and exquisite craftsmanship. It would undoubtedly pass muster even with extremists who believe that all post–World War II Martins are impostors not worthy of the proud name on their headstocks.
The fourth guitar Martin has produced in collaboration with John Mayer, the 00-42SC is actually a child of last year’s 00-45SC Mayer model. Only 25 of the latter were built, but when all were snapped up faster than you can say “Your Body and Sides are a Wonderland,” Martin and Mayer decided to come up with a more accessibly priced version. The difference between them is reflected in their numerical designations: Martin’s Style 45 guitars have from time immemorial been the “fanciest” versions in their catalog; the Style 42 guitars, when they were available, came in a close second.
This 00-42SC’s back and sides are made of Cocobolo, a lovely, deeply grained tropical hardwood from Central America and Mexico, as is the head plate. Some say that Cocobolo produces tone similar to Brazilian rosewood—great bass, solid mids, celestial treble. If the 00-42SC is any indicator, they may be right. The guitar has a premium-grade Sitka spruce top, an ebony fingerboard, and a solid-mahogany, modified V–shaped neck. Another reminder of the past is the very cool-looking diamond volute. While it has no functional purpose, the volute is an aesthetically pleasing reminder of a time when Martin’s headstocks and necks were individual pieces that were glued together, with a volute added to fortify the connection between the two.
Other “classic” features include the ebony straight-pyramid bridge and Waverly Sloane brass-engraved side-mount tuning machines, both pretty as a picture. Under the hood of the 00-42SC, you’ll find the key components of the contemporary Martin engine: Sitka spruce scalloped X-bracing and an adjustable truss rod.
This is a small guitar, but at first strum it produces a surprisingly loud, resonant sound, with impressive sustain. The tone is full bodied, rich, and brilliant with color. Ultimately, the 00-42SC is a fingerstylist’s dream, if that dream includes a 24.9-inch scale and a 12-fret neck that is 1 7/8 inches wide at the nut and 2 5/16 inches where the fretboard meets the body. That’s lots of space for your right and left hands to do their respective thing. I played Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again,” and Leo Kottke’s “Vaseline Machine Gun,” and the 00-42SC delivered the goods on three very different fingerstyle pieces. I was pleased not only by the ease of execution on the 00-42SC—the action is as low as the Dead Sea—but also its consistently balanced tone, spot-on intonation, and ability to remain in tune, even after I concluded the manically aggressive Kottke tune.
Although the materials used in its construction and ornamentation are different, the 00-42SC’s appearance mirrors that of an early 20th century version of its ancestor. It boasts a treasure chest of blue Paua pearl inlay, which illuminates the head plate’s C.F. Martin block-letter logo, the fingerboard’s edge and snowflake markers, every inch of the binding, the three-ring rosette, the end piece, the end pins, and even the side position dots, like a nighttime sky shimmering with diamonds.
One of the departures from the classic 42 appointments—and from all other Martins—was suggested by Mayer: where the top arcs of the three rosette rings would ordinarily be interrupted by the fingerboard, on the 00-42SC they cross its surface. It isn’t necessarily noticeable at first glance; at second, third and every glance thereafter, it fascinates. Which no doubt was Mayer’s intention.
Vintage sound and looks on a contemporary guitar! Sounds like some marketing spiel. Except, in this case, it isn’t.
LIST PRICE $9,999
New Deep: Dick Boak of C.F. Martin & Co. discusses the soul of the 00-42SC John Mayer Stagecoach Edition.
What was John’s idea for this guitar? And what is its connection to stagecoaches?
John wanted to recreate an exceptional parlor guitar reminiscent of Martins from the latter half of the 1800s. He loved the idea that these instruments were delivered to homesteaders of the burgeoning west by Wells Fargo and the Pony Express, hence his idea for naming it the Stagecoach Edition.
What accounts for the surprising volume and resonance of such a small guitar?
The typically dominant treble tones of the small body are counterbalanced and warmed up by the resinous density of the Cocobolo back and sides. Also significant is the extremely high-grade Sitka spruce top. Surprisingly, the wider neck, with its greater amount of wood, seems to be a factor, too. The slotted headstock nearly doubles the string angle across the nut, which has an impact on tonal dynamics.
How is the three-ring rosette extended onto the fingerboard?
To ensure that the contiguous inlay on the fingerboard is aligned concentrically and visually with the rosette on the top, the neck dovetail must first be perfectly hand fit, pitched, and centered to the body. Then a template is used to project the rosette radiuses up onto the fingerboard extension. Before the last uppermost frets are installed, the three rings are excavated by hand with a Dremel, and the inlays, including a Teflon filler strip, are carefully set into place and leveled. The Teflon strip is then peeled out of the inlay, leaving a perfectly sized channel for installing the Paua shell inlay.