Making the First Martin Acoustic Bass
B-18 Acoustic Bass Prototype #1 by dick boak, ca. 1982
Mahogany, East Indian rosewood, Sitka spruce, electronics.
Chris Martin’s best friend Matt McFadden was a proficient bass player and his opinions were certainly influential within the company. We had tried our hand with electric basses, but Matt had always encouraged Chris to have Martin make an acoustic bass.
Being a latent bass player at heart, I had built an odd bass-like instrument with a short guitar-sized neck and a mariachi-sized mahogany body. It was abominable, but it whet my whistle to do it again correctly. When Chris mentioned that he wanted to initiate an acoustic bass with a jumbo body and a 34” scale, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, our production manager at the time was not. He viewed such a project as a diversion and fumed that it would cost $60,000 and take six months to execute. Infuriated that the project was being stonewalled, I marched in to Chris and offered to prototype an instrument in two weeks at a cost of less than $200.
In the Woodworker’s Dream shop at North Street, I trimmed one of the EB-28 through-the-body electric neck billets and glued a heel extension into place. Borrowing a standard mahogany jumbo rim, I braced a partially scalloped top with slightly modified tone bars and quickly completed a body. With the cooperation of the lacquering department, the components were ready for neck fit and glueup within a week. I fashioned a proportionately-sized belly bridge and turned four end pins down to a suitable diameter with sandpaper in the drill press chuck. The bass was strung up and complete with four days to spare. The instrument sounded terrific, unlike many of the so-called acoustic basses on the market that had nominal acoustic sound.
This small success was a large embarrassment to the production manager who was soon to vacate his position. For this, I felt some responsibility, though tensions had been mounting for some time. Perhaps some justice was served. In any case, we were into the acoustic bass market much quicker as a result and the instruments received positive reaction from bass players, especially in the bluegrass community. Oddly, one of the first acoustic bass endorsees was punk rocker Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes who created quite a craze for the Martin instrument with his raucous playing.