“Swan” Headstock Detail
Mother of Pearl, maple,
Swans and Stripes
“Swan” Electric Guitar
Cedar, mahogany, maple, ebony, rosewood, pearl, 1978.
Though my woodworking skills were reasonably well developed, I was really too young and inexperienced to tackle the development of a new line of electric guitars for Martin. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that and neither did Frank Martin. So I forged ahead in the investigation of many designs on paper. Frank was flanked with his board cronies and VPs. They would review my drawings and offer their feedback. Clearly, they wanted to come up with a product that would give Fender and Gibson a run for their money.
When a tentative design was agreed upon, there was discussion about having samples made at one of the Japanese factories from which the Sigmas were imported, but this would have been a tedious process. I had made it quite clear that I was eager and capable of creating prototypes at the plant.
The Swan was the first guitar to emerge. The somewhat graceful inlay in the headstock drove my desire to have the entire instrument be swan-like in color, but Carl Miksch had a convenient one-piece slab of Spanish cedar in the machine room that gave the body a more leathery look. The finished instrument was tiny, lightweight and too dissimilar from traditional Telecaster and Les Paul designs to satisfy the higher-ups, but it sounded great.
I was incredibly fortunate to be allowed to bring my drawings to life at work, but more often than not, I desired to experiment beyond the limits of what Martin tradition might allow. Fascinated by the premise of blending artistic form with practical function, I built bolder variations of my Martin prototypes at home in my basement. After the neck and body blanks were laminated and resurfaced, I would sketch out cerebral shapes directly onto the wood. After the excess was trimmed on the bandsaw, I sculpted the hard edges with a rasp, paying particular attention to how the contours nested into a player’s arms. These early efforts would have been quite ergonomic if I hadn’t felt the personal need to use such dense hardwood. The extra weight lends stability and sustain, but the reality is that softer wood allows for greater absorption of string vibration resulting in warmer, less harsh tone, and the lighter weight is certainly easier on the musicians who have to lug these beasts around on stage.
Parabola Ergonomic Electric Guitar
Maple, mahogany, rosewood.
Early Martin Electric Guitar Prototyping