Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Andy Griffith's Martin D-18 Guitar

Before Andy Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, he got his start by playing the part of a simple country boy doing comic monologues such as What It Was, Was Football and his version of Romeo and Juliet. This gave his career a jump-start to a career in acting.

He starred in a 1955 teleplay called No Time For Sargents. This play was made into a movie in 1958, which featured Andy playing the lead. It was quickly followed up with Griffith playing a similar bumbling country boy in the military in the movie Onionhead.

In 1957, producer-director Elia Kazan recruited Griffith to play the lead in his movie A Face In The Crowd as Larry (Lonesome) Rhodes, a hard drinking drifter plucked out of jail to sing on a local radio station. He is given his own television show and immediatly draws an audience based on his whit and simple country charm.

The film ends tragically. None-the-less it is a wonderful movie.

Andy began his beloved show by doing a guest appearance on The Danny Thomas show, in which he played Sheriff Andy Taylor, who cited Thomas for speeding through the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard and Leonard recognized Griffith would be right for a spin off show.

The Andy Griffith Show lasted from 1960-1968.

Many of the shows featured Andy sitting on the porch relaxing by playing his 1956 Martin D-18. At times he would play music with The Darling family, who were played by the well-known Bluegrass group, The Dillards.

In 2004 Martin Guitars came out with an Andy Griffith tribute model. What a beautiful guitar. The thing that puzzled me was the fact it looked nothing like the standard D-18 that Andy was known to play on the show. Aside from Mr. Griffith's signature on the neck, this guitar appeared not to have a pickguard.

Dick Boak

The mystery was solved by Dick Boak, the historian for Martin Guitars, as well as an author. Boak states that he contacted Andy's management to see if he had an interest in endorsing a Martin signature guitar.

Griffith's management team said they would get back. Boak got a call from Griffith the very next day. It was then Andy gave Mr. Boak some history on the Martin guitars he owned.

Andy stated when he was making the film 'A Face in the Crowd,' the movie people needed two guitars. One was a cheap-looking one used by his character before he became famous, and a fancier one when he became the successful 'Lonesome Roads,'" Boak says. "The prop master solved the problem by taking  a beautiful 1958 Martin D-18, and without consulting anyone, painted it black and gluing sequins on the guitars sound board. On the front of the guitar, the sequins spelled out Momma and Lonesome. Momma was a reference to the name Lonesome Rhodes gave to his guitar.

Andy Griffith with
1958 Martin D-18
After the film was completed Griffith was walking by the prop shop , he noticed the painted Martin in its case and "borrowed" it. After taking it home, he proceeded to remove the sequins and sand off the black paint down to the bare wood . This took him nine days to accomplish. In the process he sanded off the logo decal and pickguard. Andy seemed to like the look of the guitar without the pickguard and never replaced it.

He took the guitar to a guitar builder in New York City's lower east side to have the instrument given a new coat of lacquer and touch up to the wood.

Ironically the guitar builder was non-other than John D'Angelico.

Brownie McGhee
One of the actors that had a minor role in A Face In The Crowd was Blues singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee. Andy befriended him and apparently liked Brownies choice in instruments, as Brownie played a Martin D-18. After the movie wrapped up, Griffith purchased a 1956 D-18. This is the guitar you ususally see in the Andy Griffith Show.

During Martin's 2004 run, they only produced 311 Andy Griffith Signature D-18's and then discontinued the guitar. They are gorgeous instruments.

Manufacturers suggest price was $3700  However used models can be purchased for between $2300 to $2500 and sometimes pop up on eBay.

Although the newer Martin guitar appears not to have a pickguard, there is a clear thin plastic guard plate below the sound hole. It is shaped in the old D-18 style. This is similar to the golpeadors used on Flamingo guitars.

The guitars top is made of solid bearclaw Sitka spruce. The back and sides are both fashioned from solid, quilted mahogany. The 14 fret low profile neck is made of select hardwood.

The solid headstock is carved in the1960's style and is capped with a piece of solid Brazillian rosewood with a decal of Martin's old style logo. The nut is made of solid bone. The guitar is bound with tortoise coloured binding around the body and on the endpiece.

The neck is dovetailed into a mahongany block. On the interior of the block the name Lonesome Rhodes is burnt into the wood.

The top inlay is multiple black/white. The braces are of course scalloped.

The guitars fretboard is made of solid black ebony wood and has a 24.4" scale. It is topped with 20 frets, 14 of which are clear of the guitars body. There is no fingerboard binding on this instrument.

The fretboard is 1-11/18th inches at the nut, tapering to 2-1/8 inches at the 12th fret. The fretboard comes with old style 18 mother of pearl position markers. The belly bridge material varies.

Some used solid Brazillian rosewood, while others came with ebony bridges. All had 16" radius bone saddles. The top is finished with aging toner and polished to a gloss. The back and sides are similarlly polished and have dark mahogany stain.

Tuning machines are Grover Deluxe Nickel done in the Kluson style. Martin recommends using medium guage strings.

Unique to this guitar is the paper label whiched is signed by Chris F Martin IV and Andy Griffith. Each label tells the sequence number. Andy's signature is inlaid on the 20th fret.  This is not your average Martin D-18.

In retrospect, Griffith did use the non-pickguard D-18 in several episodes.

Griffith recorded several country and gospel albums as well as storytelling albums, and was inducted into the Country Gospel Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2007 was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame.

His greatest honor came on November 9, 2005, when President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honoring his work and his timeless image, the way he came to personify a certain spirit of small town America.


revfish said...

Great post, Marc
Amazing the good quality folk, bluegrass and mountain music on that show without any fanfare.
Was that Duane Eddy?

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Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading about Andy's guitar. I had always heard that he found his D-18 in a garbage dumpster? O liked that version as well. Is that James Best playing guitar on the "Midnight Special"? It looks like him.

Darfur Miller said...

A couple of interesting facts. Griffith was born 6/1/1926, the same day as Marilyn Monroe. He outlived her by _almost_ exactly fifty years. Griffith was a trained actor and had worked with Elia Kazan, who was having an affair with Monroe around that time. Arthur Miller married Monroe largely to "go over on" his enemy-friend Kazan. Kazan, nonplussed, simply told Miller, "You don't marry a girl like that." However, I have no idea if Griffith and Monroe ever met.

Griffith did a now forgotten TV show that ran for three seasons, "Salvage One". In it, he played a similar Martin guitar at least two or three times.

Matt said...

I own #131, and I love it. Great look, and sound, plus the sentimental value for me. said...

The guitar player in the show is named Jim Lindsey. This is not Duane Eddie. The actor playing him is James Best, best known as Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. He played in quite a few TV shows back in the day. Especially in westerns.

~Marc O'Hara~

Anonymous said...

Did andy griffith sign each of the signature guitars in person? said...

I believe Andy Griffith signed the Martin labels before they were affixed to the guitars.


JLM said...

It's James Best but obviously he's not really playing. I recall in the episode he gets a job playing in a band and gets the Fender Jazzmaster.

JLM said...

I also recall in the episode when Best plays his archtop acoustic the sound it produces is unquestionably that of an electric guitar.

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Unknown said...

I cannot seem to find a single image on line of a black painted Msrtin covered in rhinestones. The only photos of Andy from the Face in the Crowd film picture him with cheap department store guitars.

Martin guitar enthusiast said...

In 2003 when Martin guitars announced they would be making the Andy Griffith model they gave dealers 60 days to place orders. They received requests for 311 Andy Griffith model guitars. Hence the labels inside the guitars indicated a run of 311.
According to a representative from Martin guitars only 306 were actually completed. Evidently dealers orders for 5 Andy Griffith guitars were cancelled before Martin completed the run.
Of the 306 Andy Griffith guitars completed by Martin, 304 are right-handed and 2 were left-handed.

Martin guitar enthusiast said...

The Martin guitars were not used in the movie A Face In The Crowd until the final scenes. In Lonesome Rhodes (Andy) final TV performance he was playing the Martin d-18 painted black with Momma on the front and sequins around the edges.

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Unknown said...

The writer of this article seems to confuse a 1956 D-18 and a 1958 D-18. It is never made clear which is which.

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