My First Dream Guitar

Dream Guitar: A guitar you dream about owning or playing.

Most guitarists dream about many different guitars during their life. The guitars we wish for often change as we grow and our interests change. But there are some guitars that occupy a special place in our memories because we wanted them so badly for such a long time.

My first dream guitar was a Martin D-18. It was the early 1960s and I was a beginning guitarist.

I dreamed about owning a Martin D-18 from when I began playing until I got to college. I was at first too young to drive and had no easy access to music stores and therefore I couldn’t stare through shop windows to admire my dream guitar. I didn’t know anyone who owned a Martin guitar of any type. I had never played a D-18 or even seen one up close and personal. And the only reason I picked the D-18 over, say the D-28, D-35 or D-45 was because, ever practical, I knew the D-18 was less expensive that those other models. If I wanted to see the guitar I had to pay attention to television.

The 1960s were a great time to be a beginning guitarist. We were in the middle of a folk music revival. Today it’s called roots music. Back then Joan BaezBob Dylan and Judy Collins were just starting their careers. Boy groups were the Chad Mitchel Trio and the Kingston Trio. The Beatles and the British invasion were still a year or two away. The great thing for a young guitarist is that most folk tunes have only three or four chords and few guitarists played complicated solos. The guitar was (mostly – at least for beginners) a strumming instrument.

Hootenanny was used as a generic term for a songfest during the 1960s but in particular was the name of a television show which featured many of the folk artists of the era. I paid attention to the brand and type of guitar each artist played as I watched the show. Martin dreadnought guitars, then as now, were very popular. I decided that my ultimate goal would be to someday own a Martin D-18. I assumed this would not happen before I was thirty or maybe even forty, but someday… I was sure.

Martin Guitars seemed to be a step up from Gibsons. Sure, Gibson had some fancy dreadnought guitars like the Dove and the Hummingbird. Gibson also made the SJ-200. This was the guitar Elvis played. It was also popular among Country artists. It is still a popular guitar. But it seemed like the majority of the folk singers of the day played Martins. It goes without saying (if you were a teenager) that bigger is better and the D series dreadnoughts from Martin were bigger.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0elIkxqmITw

Judy Collins playing a Martin Dreadnought with Pete Seeger

The dream faded as I matured. My first name brand acoustic guitar was a Gibson LG-1 which I played for about half of my guitar playing life. The 1963 LG-1 was the second least expensive guitar Gibson made at the time. It was a compromise. I was torn between wanting an electric guitar and an acoustic but the LG-1 was what I could afford. Not at all something I dreamed about.

I finally got a Martin acoustic guitar. Not a D-18. What happened? Why didn’t I get my dream guitar?

  1. I mostly use my fingers to pick when playing acoustic guitar. Rarely do I use picks and if I do use picks they’re probably finger picks. Dreadnought guitars, in general, are not as good for finger picking. The notes sound muddy.
  2. The 18 series of Martin guitars have mahogany backs and sides. Guitars with mahogany backs and sides are often beautiful sounding guitars with balanced dynamics. Great for recording. But rosewood backs and sides project more and work well for finger style playing. I found I really preferred the sound of rosewood guitars for my playing.
  3. My informal comparison among guitars of different shapes as well as some opinions of other guitarists and luthiers suggest that the waist of the guitar compared to the lower and upper bouts also influences the tonal balance. A dreadnought doesn’t have much of a waist. A Martin OM-28 has an obvious waist. I thought that the Jumbos sounded better than the dreadnoughts although not as good as the smaller guitars.
  4. I’m 5′ 10″ tall. No shrimp but no giant either. After years of playing I discovered that dreadnought guitars were just plain uncomfortable for me to hold and play. The body dimensions on the dreadnoughts are a bit larger than the Martin OM-28 but the shape is difference is important too. It causes my right arm to be held in an uncomfortable position when playing. Smaller guitars, even guitars larger guitars but with more pronounced waists (like the Gibson SJ-200) are more comfortable because the right arm position is better.

Purchasing a quality acoustic guitar was a lot of fun because I deliberately compared the effects of wood and shape on sound. This was fairly easy to do with Taylor and Martin guitars because they both have a range of grades with different woods and ornamentations within any size/shape of guitar.

My comparison came down to the Taylor 712 and 714 guitars and Martin 00 guitars and the Martin 000-28 and OM-28 guitars. Except for the 00-18, all of have rosewood backs and sides.  The Martin 00 series were eliminated because I couldn’t find 00’s at dealers and because I had decided I preferred the sound of rosewood backs and sides.

Eventually it came down to choosing between the Taylor 714 and the Martin OM-28. These were both “Auditorium” sized instruments. By this point in the comparison it was between specific guitars. It was a very close call and I’m sure that I would have been equally happy if the decision my decision had been the opposite. I chose the Martin OM-28.

The OM-28 may have had an edge because it has a wider fingerboard than the Taylors or the 000-28 1. That made if feel more comfortable fingering notes. But the real reason was the tone. It’s hard to express in words. The OM-28 had a richness to the tone. Deep and mellow, a little like a dreadnought but with more clarity. Holding it and playing it back then just made me want to exclaim “Oh, yeah” as I slowly exhaled and felt the universe realign. But the OM-28 didn’t just move me when I listened to it but, I’m pretty sure it made my wife swoon. If you can find a guitar that makes your spouse swoon when you play it, you’ve got to buy it. I did and have been very happy ever since.

What was your first dream guitar?


Guitars mentioned in post

Specifications

Item Martin Taylor Martin
Model D-18 714ce OM-28
Type / Shape Dreadnought Grand Auditorium Orchestra Model
top wood Sitka Spruce Western Red Cedar Sitka Spruce
wood back & sides Solid Mahogany Indian Rosewood Indian Rosewood
fingerboard East Indian Rosewood Ebony Ebony
radius (inches) 16 15 16
nut width (inches) 1 11/16 1 3/4 1 3/4
fret where neck joins body 14 14 14
scale length (inches) 25.4 25 1/2 25.4
scale length (mm) 645 648 645
lower bout width (inches) 15 5/8 16 15
depth (inches) 4 7/8 4 5/8 4 1/8
body length (inches) 20 20 19 3/8
length overall (inches) 40 1/2 41 39 3/16

Explore music by artists mentioned in post

Artist eMusic iTunes
Judy Collins The Very Best Of Judy Collins
Joan Baez Joan Baez
Bob Dylan The Essential Bob Dylan
The Kingston Trio The Very Best Of The Kingston Trio
The Chad Mitchell Trio
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Footnotes

  1. As I remember it, the Taylor 714 guitars at the time had a narrower nut width and a spruce top. The current specifications shown in the table show the same nut width for the Taylor 714ce and the Martin OM-28, and show a cedar top for the Taylor. Guitar markers sometimes change specifications. Whether I may have mis-remembered (for which I apologize if true) or not, I thought the OM28 sounded better.

2 comments

    1. Thanks for your comment. You are correct. The LG-0, an all mahogany guitar, was the least expensive Gibson at the time. Otherwise, the LG-0 was similar to the LG-1 in shape and quality. The slightly more expensive alternatives to the LG-1 are the Gibson B-25 and the Epiphone B-25. This was only a few years after Gibson bought Epiphone. Epiphone guitars were not yet the lower cost brand made overseas as they later became. Epiphones were made in the same factory as Gibson. The B-25 was the same size and shape as the LG-0 and LG-1 but had an adjustable height saddle. The consensus of this design feature is that it was a terrible idea and did a poor job of transferring sound to the top of the guitar. Overall, there were far fewer choices in guitars available than now – as I know you remember.

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