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Frank Zappa’s Martin D-18S 12-Fret

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.

(Photo by Bill Rowntree/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

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.

On The Road To Nick Drake

On The Road To Nick Drake

It was a long time ago and therefore a bit murky. As best I remember, the first time I became aware of Nick Drake was seeing a copy of his album Bryter Layter in the import section of Rhymes Records in New Haven, Connecticut. I wondered why anyone would choose to pose with an inexpensive mahogany Guild M-20 and passed on buying the record. I had never heard Nick’s music, and import records were pretty expensive.

Not long after, the printing company I worked for printed a New Times Magazine feature on Nick, written by Arthur Lubow. To my knowledge, this was the first feature written on Nick in the USA, though a few reviews of his records had appeared in other publications. Arthur’s piece captured my attention and boosted my curiosity. I drove back to New Haven and bought the LP. I was an instant believer. To this day, the song “Fly” gives me the chills. Its haunting beauty was like no other song I had ever heard.

The next Nick Drake LP I found was Five Leaves Left. It appeared in a Greenwich Village record shop. Five Leaves Left affected me even more deeply than Bryter Layter. “Time Has Told Me” and “Riverman” held me in a trance. How could these two amazing records not be major hits? Nick’s third LP Pink Moon proved to be very hard to find. Luckily, after a few trips back to NYC, I scored a copy in another record shop in the Village. There was a bit of a cult demand and some original gatefolds of Pink Moon were actually fetching over $100, but I was determined to own it, so I didn’t flinch. Soon I was back home in Connecticut dropping the needle on the first track of the LP, Pink Moon. To say I was not ready for what I heard was an understatement of biblical proportions. It opened a door to another world. I played it start to finish more times than I can recall. It became the only LP I played for quite some time.

Many years later, I was playing a gig and someone in the audience bought one of my cassettes after my set. He said to me, “You should know that the only other cassette I own is Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Pink Moon had become and is, to this day, deeply rooted in my DNA. Anyway, once I owned all three of Nick’s LPs, two things became apparent to me: First, Nick was not using the same alternate tunings everyone else was using and in the case of the Pink Moon, a lot of songs were in their own unique tunings. Secondly, the Lubow article quoted a line from a song that was not on any of the three LPs.

I had to know more, so I called his publisher and asked to speak to him about the story. I was told that he did not speak to people he did not know. I left a message, stating that I had read the piece, tracked down and bought all three LPs and I had a few questions and would love to talk to him. He returned my call about a half-hour later, appreciative that his article had inspired me to search out all of Nick’s music. After speaking with Arthur for some time, he decided to give me Nick’s parents’ phone number in the UK and suggested they would very much enjoy talking to me.

I mustered the courage and made the first, of what was to be many trans-Atlantic phone calls. Nick’s mother, Molly, answered the phone. She projected a beautiful spirit and an amazing amount of generosity to me. After a while, she put Rodney, Nick’s father, on the phone and he shared the same qualities. They were amazed that I had found all three LPs (By that time, I had also acquired a copy of the very rare USA compilation LP of the first two LPs). I mentioned that I had learned to play all of the songs on the Pink Moon LP and various songs from Nick’s other LPs. I said I would send them a cassette.

A short time later, I received a very long letter from Molly thanking me for the cassette of me playing Nick’s music. She also sent me a cassette of Nick’s demos and “bedroom” recordings. From then on, we shared many letters, cards, and phone conversations. Molly also shared many of her observations regarding my own music. Years later, I learned that she was also a songwriter.

During the course of one of our conversations, Molly suggested I contact TJ McGrath, another fan of Nick’s music, who also lived in Connecticut. At that time, TJ was the editor of the music fanzine Fairport Fanatics which went on to become the magazine Dirty Linen. TJ and I met for a night of playing Nick’s music and sharing information we had discovered about Nick and the music associated with his, such as John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Fairport Convention and earlier influences, Davy Graham, Jackson C Frank and Bert Jansch. Each new door that opened led to another and after some time, there was a network of people connected by their love of Nick’s music. At a certain point, it felt like we were part a secret society and that was going to pretty much be the way it would be.

Then in 1999, one Thursday at 8pm, before an episode of Friends, the haunting chord that opens Pink Moon was heard across the USA. The song “Pink Moon” was the soundtrack to a VW commercial. Within a few days, everything was different. Pink Moon became one of the top selling CDs on Amazon. After that, Nick’s music also started showing up in movie soundtracks. I’ve been continually struck by the great care exercised by Nick’s estate in determining who is suitable to be licensed to use his songs.

By this time, I was working at AcousticMusic.Org, which is a Martin guitar dealer. It has become known that Nick only posed with the Guild M-20 on the album cover. The guitar actually belonged to the photographer. While we could talk about my theories regarding what guitars Nick owned and didn’t own, we know Nick’s last steel string guitar was a Martin 000-28. We know by its serial number that it was imported into the UK after Nick had recorded all three of his LPs, so the only recordings he could have used this Martin on were the last five songs: “Rider on the Wheel,” “Black Eyed Dog,” “Hanging on a Star,” “Voice from the Mountain” and “Tow the Line” (found many years after the other four songs).

Around 2004, I contacted both CF Martin Guitar Company and Nick’s estate to propose the idea of a limited-edition Martin Custom Shop guitar, based on Nick’s 000-28. It would take until 2019 with the support of Nick Drake’s estate, Leonard Wyeth (owner of AcousticMusic.Org), and the CF Martin Custom Shop to make a limited edition run of ten guitars possible. These ten guitars will be available exclusively through AcousticMusic.Org. We arrived at a guitar that is sonically perfect for the style of music that Nick composed. We chose understated design elements that will appeal to fans of Nick’s music, as well as to other musicians, for whom this guitar may be the door that leads them to the music of Nick Drake.

Martin 00-18 & 00-28

Martin 00-18 & 00-28

Martin 00-18, a stalwart of Martin’s acoustic guitars for 140 years.

Martin 00-18 and Martin-00-28. The 00-28 has rosewood back and sides and 14 frets.

Martin 00-18 & 00-28

Martin 00-18 & 00-28

Martin 00-18, a stalwart of Martin’s acoustic guitars for 140 years.

Martin 00-18 and Martin-00-28. The 00-28 has rosewood back and sides and 14 frets.