Merle Sounding Board Article January 2001
Merle Haggard Signature Edition
Honors Country Music Legend
In a career spanning five decades, Merle Haggard has built a legacy virtually unmatched in music. Throughout his career, Martin guitars have taken center stage with Merle and now Martin is proud to return the compliment with the introduction of a Merle Haggard Signature Edition. The 000C-28SMH offers the same graceful 12- fret body style as Jimmie Rodgers' famed "Blue Yodel" Martin 000, only with a cutaway to provide easy access to the upper frets.
Merle Haggard is synonymous with great country music. In a career spanning five decades, he has chronicled a world of hard knocks, pain, love and triumph in songs that show a storyteller's soul. His music reflects a personal integrity unswayed by trends: honest, heartfelt and deeply personal. After 39 chart-topping country hits and more than 70 albums, he continues to build on a legacy virtually unmatched in music, country or otherwise.
Haggard's appreciation of tradition includes the guitars he plays. Over the years, Martins have taken center stage in his evocative songs, both in the studio and in concert. He particularly likes the unique sound and character of Martin's 12-fret guitars, so much so that he has had several custom-built. Now Martin returns the compliment by introducing the 000C-28SMH Merle Haggard Signature Edition model, an instrument that speaks volumes about the man it honors.
Born in Bakersfield, California, Merle Haggard fell in love with country music early. He received his first guitar from an older brother when he was 12 years old and taught himself to play by listening to old records. In and out of trouble during much of his youth, an attempted burglary landed Haggard in San Quentin Prison for nearly three years (he would later receive a full pardon from Governor Ronald Reagan). After parole, he returned to Bakersfield, where he eventually was able to quit his day jobs to concentrate on his music.
During three years of singing in clubs in Bakersfield and Las Vegas, Haggard honed his version of the "Bakersfield Sound," a spare, driving, guitar-based country with elements of western swing and blues far different from the lush, heavily produced Nashville style. In 1964, his first recording for tiny Tally Records, "Sing a Sad Song," became a hit, reaching #19 on the country charts. Soon he was writing his own songs, and songs he wrote helped propel him to stardom. In 1966, he had three top ten hits, including his first #1, "The Fugitive," and was voted "Top Male Vocalist" by the Academy of County Music.
With his band, the Strangers, Haggard rewrote country music history, scoring 27 top ten hits in succession. Songs like "Sing Me Back Home," "Mama Tried," "Hungry Eyes," "Okie From Muskogee," "The Fightin' Side of Me" and "If We Make it Through December" became instant classics. He won a total of six Country Music Association awards and topped those successes with a Grammy in 1984. Duets with Clint Eastwood, George Jones and Willie Nelson became hits in the 1980s. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
While the hits have slowed in recent years, Haggard hasn't. He and his band continue to perform more than 100 shows a year. He has inspired a new generation of country singers, many of whom contributed to two recent tribute albums. Best of all, he continues to write and record great country songs: his "1996" album contains some of his finest work and his latest album, "If I Could Only Fly," has received glowing reviews.
Among Haggard's musical heroes is Jimmie Rodgers, often called the father of country music. Haggard has paid his respects with an album of Rodgers' songs, "Same Train, Different Time" and his own song "Blue Yodel No. 13." The Martin 000-28SMH Merle Haggard Signature Edition model reflects their special bond. The 000C-28SMH showcases the same graceful body style as Jimmie Rodgers' famed "Blue Yodel" Martin 000-45, only with a cutaway to provide easy access to the upper frets. Premium solid tonewoods contribute to this model's spectacular good looks. Choice bookmatched Sitka spruce, prized for its full, powerful tone, has been selected for the top. Handscalloped braces add to its signature sound. East Indian rosewood back and sides contribute deep, rich timbre and outstanding volume. The rosette features Martin's Style 45 pearl inlay of colorful abalone. Fine pattern herringbone top trim and grained ivoroid binding complement the light amber, aging toner-tinted top.
Fashioned from genuine mahogany, the modified V-shape, satinfinished neck highlights Martin tradition with its diamond volute and squareslotted, tapered headstock. The polished East Indian rosewood headstock overlay is inlaid with "Blue Yodel No. 13" in mother of pearl, in a style reminiscent of the headstock inlay on Rodgers' guitar: "C. F. Martin & Co." is stamped into the back of the headstock, as on early 20th century Martins. Waverly W-16 side-mount nickel tuners are similarly vintageinspired.
The wide (1 3/4" at the nut),
unbound fingerboard of black African ebony is inlaid with Martin's long pattern diamonds and squares abalone position markers. Merle Haggard's signature is inlaid between the 19th and 20th frets. The black African belly bridge, and pearl inlaid ebony bridge and end pins, match the handsome fingerboard.
The body of the 000C-28SMH is finished in polished gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. The instrument comes without a pickguard, in the tradition of Martin's original 12-fret guitars. Each guitar comes with an interior label personally signed by Merle Haggard and Martin Chairman and CEO C.F. Martin IV, and numbered in sequence. A vintage Geib™ style case protects each instrument. Factory installed electronics and/or a 1935 sunburst finish top may be ordered for at additional cost.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of each of the Merle Haggard Signature Model guitars will be distributed to charities personally designated by Merle Haggard.
Merle Haggard is synonymous with great country music. In a career spanning five decades, he has chronicled a world of hard knocks, pain, love and triumph in songs that show a storyteller's soul. After 39 chart-topping country hits and more than 70 albums, he continues to build on a legacy virtually unmatched in music, country or otherwise. He is closely tied in with the legendary Bakersfield sound, an association shared with the late great Buck Owens.
Merle Haggard has had quite a history with Martin guitars. His initial connection with Martin instruments can most likely be attributed to his extreme reverence fort\"The Father Of Country Music," Jimmie Rodgers.
The music of Jimmie Rodgers had an immense impact on a young Merle Haggard and so did the 12-fret 000-45 that Jimmie played for much of his career. Merle was so enthralled with the instrument that in the 60s, he made arrangements with Shot Jackson in Nashville to have Martin make seven special 12-fret 000s. Shot received one of the guitars for doing the deal and gradually Merle sold the others off, but he kept the most special one for himself. He's pictured on the cover of his Jimmie Rodgers tribute album, "Same Train, Different Time" with that same guitar.
During the late seventies, Merle was playing a show in Reno, Nevada with the late great Roger Miller. It wasn't a good time for Merle. He had had a bad show and in a moment of angst, he smashed the guitar. Merle relayed to me how sick he has felt about that incident ever since. He had the guitar fixed up but it was never quite the same.
Out in the middle of Martin production, there is a filing cabinet where all of the brace tracing patterns are kept. In my early days as draftsman, I was referencing these patterns to create top assembly drawings when I came upon a 12-fret 000 template stamped "Merle Haggard Model." Not knowing the whole story, I was very curious about that pattern, especially since for my personal taste, the 000 12-fret models exemplify the very best of what Martin guitars have to offer.
I wasn't surprised but I was thrilled when Joe McNamara, our then District Sales Manager in Northern California, called to say that Merle was interested in acquiring one of the Jimmie Rodgers 000-45 Commemorative Edition guitars. He eventually placed an order for #4 of the edition at Bernie's Guitar Shop, a Martin dealership not too far from Merle's home. While waiting for the guitar to be built, however, Merle experienced some serious health problems that caused him to cancel the order.
Dan Shepherd, a mutual friend of Merle's and Martins, had had the opportunity to show Merle his personal 000-45JR model and there is no question that Merle really wanted one of the Rodgers guitars, but at $25,000 retail, it was a lot of money even for a country music legend. We did everything we could at Martin to try to help Merle facilitate a deal, but it just wasn't meant to be.
The silver ling was of course that in the process we did get to know Merle pretty well and we also became acquainted with his staff, especially Frank Mull in Nashville who was managing a good bit of Merle's business.
During a tour of the east coast in the spring of 2000, Merle's tour bus pulled in to the Martin parking lot at 7:30 in the morning. We all went out to breakfast at the Nazareth Diner and over scrambled eggs, crisp bacon and a few helpings of scrapple, we hashed out the basics of the Merle Haggard Signature Edition. Of course, Merle's special bond with Jimmie Rodgers was acknowledged in the 000 12-fret size and by the slotted headstock that referenced Merle's Jimmie Rodgers tribute "Blue Yodel No. 13." The guitar does take a radical departure from tradition with the addition of a unique Venetian cutaway, in fact it was the first time a Martin 12-fret model was ever offered with a cutaway.
As finishing touches, Merle's signature was inlaid in Mother of Pearl at the final fret and the interior edition label was co-signed by Merle Haggard and Chris Martin. Merle stipulated that the charitable proceeds from the sale of each guitar be donated in support of the Mandan, Arikara and Hidatsa Native American Tribes Of North Dakota. An edition of 122 special guitars was offered. All of the guitars sold out quickly, aided by the fact that Merle made a special effort to attend the model unveiling at the 2000 Anaheim NAMM Show in January of 2001. There he quickly assembled a great little band that performed a half-dozen songs to a delighted crowd at the Martin booth. We also took the opportunity to present Merle with an appropriate and emotional memento – a rosewood guitar back, complete with the famous "THANKS" decal and a special brass engraved plaque, from one of the Jimmie Rodgers 000-45JR Commemorative Edition guitars.