Frank Zappa’s Martin D-18S 12-Fret

When we think of Frank Zappa’s guitars, we think about the Gibson SG (most likely the Roxy SG with the white headstock and crazy electronics). Or we think about the refurbished burnt Jimi Stratocaster, which Hendrix gave Zappa. We rarely think about Zappa with an acoustic guitar, because less than 1% of his discography features Zappa’s Martin D-18S 12-Fret. In fact, we can only be sure that Zappa played this guitar on one recording.

In the early 70s, Zappa became interested in Mark Volman’s (The Turtles, Flo and Eddie) Martin D-18S 12-Fret (with a slotted headstock). Mark wanted Zappa’s Telecaster in return. This must have been an easy trade for Zappa, since this was the Tele he was playing when he was pushed off the stage at the Rainbow Theater in London, 1971. For those who don’t know the story, a loony boyfriend thought Zappa was making eyes at his girlfriend, even though, when on stage, it’s impossible to see the audience behind all the lights in your face. Zappa was severely injured and couldn’t tour. But that didn’t stop him from making records.

The earliest recording we know about with the Martin is “Blessed Relief,” the last track on The Grand Wazoo (1972). The trackl ists Zappa as lead guitarist and Tony Duran as rhythm guitarist. So, we are to believe, the first recording with the Martin was played by Duran (who was mostly known for slide guitar).

In 1975, Zappa used an acoustic guitar during a radio show with Captain Beefheart. They played Beefheart’s song “Orange Claw Hammer.” The version was later released on a Beefheart compilation album called Grow Fins. It’s likely that the Martin was used on this recording, but it was never mentioned. The poor recording quality makes the acoustic guitar sound like an unplugged electric, so we don’t get any help in determining if it’s the Martin.

In 1979, we finally hear Zappa wailing on this guitar. The song is “Sleep Dirt” off the Sleep Dirt album. James Youman accompanies Zappa for an interesting acoustic duo. Unlike anything Zappa has produced. The only aspect that we are used to is the manically fast guitar solo that you would normally hear from a Gibson SG. The Martin doesn’t slow Zappa down at all and it is a surprisingly clean solo, which makes me think there were several takes involved.

Having only played this guitar on one recording, it’s a fair assumption that this was Frank’s home guitar. Possibly a guitar that laid around for him to pick up whenever he had an idea or just wanted to noodle around. It’s uncertain where this guitar ended up. Gail could have sold it. Dweezil or one of the kids could have inherited it. All that is certain is that Zappa plays the crap out of this thing and it sounds amazing.