On July 8, 2013, guitar enthusiasts from around the world flocked to the Martin and Co. website, optimistically hoping to finally catch a glimpse of the company’s latest signature instrument. Kept under wraps for nearly a year, the most recent name to be added to the long and illustrious list of Martin’s signature artists – Clapton, Cash, Mayer, Knopfler – was not one of a veteran with decades of experience in the music business, but that of a 22-year old from Framlington, Suffolk. A name that’s now classed as “household” in the UK, and one that has started to make those same reverberations in the United States, too.
As his fans pitter-patter away at their keyboards, the Martin Guitars website slowly becoming more complete, the questions that a click would soon provide were simple: What will it look like? How much will it cost? Where can I get that guitar? For everyone following the rumors surrounding this signature model for the past months – Sheeran, in a moment of excitement, prematurely tweeted a snap of the guitar from Martin’s factory – opening up this webpage would put all those unanswered queries to rest. But that did not happen.
Instead, they were met not by an image of the latest guitar to be added to Martin’s signature collection, but that of a rotating white pinwheel to indicate the page was still loading… and loading… and loading. Such was the influx in traffic – a clear indicator of the fervor that surrounded Martin’s latest release: the LX1E Ed Sheeran Signature Edition – the company’s website had crashed. The curiosity would have to continue for a few more hours, at least.
‘That’s happened a few times with me, actually,’ says the culprit, shuffling down into a padded orange sofa at Atlantic Records HQ, New York, ready to talk to Acoustic about the birth of his first signature instrument. ‘My fans just have that effect on things, I guess.’
Ed Sheeran is certainly not short of admirers these days. As we meet, it is four days after the launch of his signature guitar, 26 floors high above the Manhattan skyline. The reception of Atlantic Records is plastered with posters of Sheeran – face shots, shots of packed-out arenas, the cover of his platinum album – and, over his shoulder, there is a clear view of the Rockefeller Plaza, where he has just played a free gig for 10,000 fans for NBC’s Today Show. Some fans started queueing for the early morning show two days ago; extreme commitment considering that doors don’t normally open until 6am on the day of the event.
‘Where did they all sleep?’ asks a bemused Sheeran, through a small yawn.
It has been a busy few days for Ed. With a combination of early starts and telling the world about his new pride and joy, it is no surprise that the occasional sign of tiredness slips out. ‘I have tonight off, actually, so I think I’m going to just eat some nice food and maybe have a nap after this,’ he says.
Before settling down for a brief slumber, though, Sheeran is ready to talk us through the creation of the LX1E Ed Sheeran Signature Edition, and how it came about. The process started a few years back with what Sheeran now describes as somewhat of a stab-in-the-dark request, he says.
‘I have played this model of guitar for about six years now, but the process really begun when a guy at Westside Distribution offered me a free guitar, saying: “Oh, we would like to offer a free little Martin,”’ explains Sheeran. ‘I cheekily asked: “Do you reckon I could get a signature Martin made?” This was, like, way before the album had come out, so he said: “Well, I don’t know about that.” Then, over the next two years, we just had a conversation about it now and then, and it became a reality.’
The possibility of a signature Ed Sheeran guitar becoming a reality also coincided with Sheeran’s huge boom in popularity. ‘After he made contact with our UK distributor, they said: “Hey, you really need to watch out for this guy – especially if he comes over to the U.S.,’ said Fred Greene, general manager of Martin and Co.
Greene kept a lookout for Sheeran’s progress, and as the ‘A Team’ singer’s reputation in the U.S. grew, helped by a huge amount of touring, and writing tracks for Taylor Swift in early 2012, so did the frequency of their conversations. ‘Last summer was when things started to really heat up – we were talking about it and we said: “I think we can actually get this thing done,”’ says Fred.
Following +’s peak at No. 5 on the US Billboard 200 towards the end of the year, the discussion process culminated in a meeting between Sheeran and Martin’s representatives at the start of 2013.
‘In January, Amani Duncan (Vice President of Brand Marketing at Martin), came down to Radio City Musical Hall when I played there and we had a chat about it. And, well, I guess that was that, really,’ said Sheeran with a relaxed shrug of the shoulders that hints at the simplicity of the deal and the willingness for both parties to work together.
Safe in the knowledge that he now had permission from Martin to work on his guitar, Sheeran said that the first thing he had to do was decide on the model he would like.
‘I think there was the temptation to go: “Oh, I can do this, this, this, this and this,” but, like, I want to gig with this guitar; I want this to be my main instrument. So I made it the same as the one I play now and decided just to customise it a little bit,’ Ed explains.
Having opted to go with his current model – the LX1E Little Martin (or that spruce one, as some of you reading this will know it as) –the next step was to decide on the design specifics that Sheeran was looking for. Greene said that some artists they deal with are very distanced from the process, but with Sheeran both touring in the U.S., and having a huge enthusiasm for “his baby” the communication between the two was extremely straightforward.
‘I will have an idea, and I will send them an email saying: “Can it be like this?” And then they will send me a prototype and I’ll play it and send it back saying: “Actually, can we do this?”’ said Sheeran, twisting his hands as he envisages making the most minor tweaks to the design. ‘The way that they described John Mayer wanting his guitar to be made, knowing all about bracing, and woods, and the different ways to lacquer it. I was just, like: “Yeah, that looks cool.” But I kind of knew what I wanted.’
Essentially, what he wanted was the same model as his current guitar, but with two prominent symbols that mean a lot to Sheeran featuring on the instrument. The first, a “+” sign – emblazoned twice, both on the head of the guitar and just below where the neck meets the body – was a homage to Sheeran’s debut album. The second was the word “each” in lower case, stamped just above where the neck meets the body.
This acronym stands for East Anglia Children’s Hospice, where Sheeran’s mother, Imogen, helps to raise money through selling specially designed, handmade jewelry and, in honor of that, a portion of the guitar’s proceeds will be sent to the charity. EACH is close to the area of Suffolk were Sheeran grew up, and having recently bought a house there, he muses about how he hopes to one day raise a family.
‘I do a lot of work with children’s hospitals anyway, but that’s my local one; that’s one that’s probably closest to my heart,’ says Sheeran, who in 2012 used one of his only days off from touring to play a private gig to a terminally ill schoolgirl in a Sheffield children’s hospice, after she said that seeing the singer perform live was one of the final things she would like to do. ‘I just think that it’s important to give back to worthy causes, but also important to give back to communities, and I think that if you can do that both at once then you’re doing some good.’
Martin informed the charity of Sheeran’s decision by email in late May, 2013. ‘I was stunned initially, followed by pure excitement and then utter appreciation of the enormity that attention the guitar would bring to EACH, not only by raising funds but also the awareness that would be raised internationally,’ says Vanessa Bell, EACH’s Suffolk fundraiser, who help to coordinate with donations of proceeds with Martin.
With both the model and design decided upon, the final decision was to make sure everything was in keeping with the one factor that Sheeran continued to stress throughout the process – the cost.
‘I did have other ideas in regards to, like, inlay, but the main thing both me and Martin wanted to maintain was that it was affordable, because a lot of these signature guitars – say, I know John Mayer has a signature guitar, that’s like $25,000 – my fans definitely can’t afford something that’s probably over the price that it’s at now,’ said Sheeran, whose guitar will be hit the UK streets for £499, and will be built based on demand, which Martin say has already exceeded all expectations. ‘So, yeah, there was no sort of fancy inlay being done, or anything like that.’
Sheeran decided that he wanted a brown mahogany body, having tried out Martin’s 00-15 model and enjoyed the purity of its tonal range. He also opted for a very simple, and cheap, plain black back, which he came across in a rather unconventional way. ‘I went to a studio in LA and they had a Felix the Cat guitar sitting there with an all-black back,’ he explains with the same level of child-like excitement as when he first came across that guitar. ‘I sent a picture and said: “Can we get this on the back?” You know, there were always little thinsg like that.’
‘He stuck materials and things together that I would have never have thought about putting together,’ says Fred Greene. ‘When he was first describing it, I was, sort of, like: “God, I don’t know how this is going to look?” A black back, with a brown top and orange… I was trying to envision it in my head, and, well, you’ve got to trust the artist as that’s what makes them artists, man – they see things that regular people don’t see!’
Once all of the components were finalised, it was just a matter of waiting for Sheeran – the day that he finally got his hands on the first batch of finished LX1E Ed Sheeran Signature Editions was one that the singer said was much more stressful than he originally hoped.
‘UPS decided not to deliver them and just send them to their warehouse,’ he says, ‘so I had to take a two-hour taxi drive to pick them up. But when I got them it was a really good moment – it was exactly how I imagined.’
Having tried his instrument firsthand, Sheeran seemed somewhat taken aback when asked if he would ever consider going back to his previous model, or if he will at least see out his current tour with his old spruce.
‘No, I mean, really, no! These guitars are too cool, man. The old model seems like, I don’t know, I guess it’s like comparing an Aston Martin to a Golf – it would be like going back to that. The sound of it plugged in is twice that of the regular one – I think it’s because it’s a mahogany top, which it makes it deeper and richer. But plugging it in today at the Today show, I was, like: “Woo, this has a bit of body!”’ he says.
As we chat about his performance on the Today show – which attracts over 4.5 million viewers each morning – this realisation acts as one of the greatest indicators demonstrating how far the 22-year old has come in such a short space of time. Though 22 is hardly old aged, the host of the show described how Sheeran was not thrust into the limelight at a very young age, instead working his way up in the industry to create a level of euphoria stateside that some have described as akin to that of boybands.
Born in 1991, Sheeran moved from Suffolk to London in 2008 in order to pursue his music career. A year later, he had played a grand total of 312 gigs, sometimes to crowds as small as five people, all in the hope of gaining more exposure for his work. (He also wanted to beat the bar of 200, set by James Morrison in 2008.) An abundance of gigs and a couple of independent EPs behind him, Sheeran visited LA in 2010 with no contacts and the small hope of being talent spotted. Whilst there he drew the attention of Jamie Foxx; but it was via the internet that his fan-base really grew, catching the eye of superstars such as Elton John.
At the start of 2011, Sheeran released his final independent EP, No. 5 Collaboration Project, which featured tracks with grime artist such as Wiley, JME, Devlin and Sway. The record reached number 2 in the iTunes chart – a great achievement considering Sheeran was only 19 at the time and still not tied to any form of promoter or label.
Four months later, though, that all changed, when Sheeran decided to sign with urban music-based label Asylum Records, which distributes it releases in conjunction with Warner and Atlantic Records. Off of the back of this deal, Sheeran released the single ‘The A Team’ which, with its indie-folk-meets-soul feel, peaked at number three in the UK charts, going on to become the best-selling debut single of 2011.
Many critics questioned whether this single would be a ‘Hey-There-Delilah’-esque flash in the pan for Sheeran, but when his debut album + was released in September that same year, all questions about his credibility as a songwriter were soon put to rest. The album gained mostly-favorable reviews from music critics, with the overall response, especially from the public, being extremely positive. The album has since gone on to sell over 1.5 million copies in the U.K. alone; it offers a blend of styles that highlight the verbal dexterity Sheeran would have gained from working with the likes of grime MCs, as well as some melodic vocals one would expect from a once “choirboy in a Fenchurch tee.” The themes of homelessness, drugs, youthful naivety and love being what many would expect of a young teen-turns-twenty-something making their way in London.
From the album, tracks such as ‘Drunk,’ ‘Small Bump,’ ‘Lego House,’ ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,’ and ‘Give Me Love,’ gave the masses their first taste of Ed Sheeran: singer, songwriter, guitarist and beatboxer. And soon, sell-out tours booked, other artists from around the world would be taking note, too. One, in particular, goes by the name of Miss Taylor Swift.
‘I just got an email one day – simple as that,’ says Sheeran, describing how his working relationship with the global powerhouse of country music came about, in 2012. ‘I was kind of aware of her as a songwriter and a singer for a while, but I didn’t realise she was as big as she was. So it was, like: “Ah, cool, Taylor Swift.” So I emailed her back. When I was in America, though, I saw the magnitude of it, and was like: “Fucking hell! She’s pretty huge.”’
Sheeran agreed to work with Swift on her fourth album Red, co-writing and providing vocals for the track ‘Everything Has Changed.’ He then went on to spend the latter part of 2012 headlining his own solo tour around America, as well releasing + in the U.S., and writing songs for other artists, such as One Direction (‘Little Things’) which topped the U.K. charts.
‘Songwriting for other people is all investment, I think. Because long after my career starts going downhill…’ says Sheeran, before pausing to think about what he is about to say, ‘… well, if it does. Long after that, these songs will still be generating income, which will make it easier for me to do what I want to do in later life.’
At the start of 2013, Sheeran received the news that ‘The A Team’ had been Grammy-nominated for Song of the Year. Backstage at the Belfast Odyssey, he received the news from Elton John, who runs Sheeran’s management company, explaining some rather unexpected news.
‘I got that call from Elton and I thought it was going to be a really disappointing call,’ he says, who had heard rumors that he could even be allowed to perform the track on the big night. ‘He was like: “Sorry, you can’t perform at the Grammys.” And I was like: “Oh, OK.” Until he said, “Unless you perform with me.” And I was like, “Well that’s better than, umm, not performing, I guess.”’
After that breathtakingly raw duet, which took place in February and was watched by over 28 million viewers in the U.S. alone, Sheeran agreed to join Swift on her 64-date tour of arenas and stadiums across North America. It is during this tour that his career in the U.S. has truly started to skyrocket.
Still slouched back in the sofa, Sheeran explains how Swift’s staggered schedule is perfectly suited to what he is looking for right now, as it gives him more time off than he is used to, allowing him to focus on other ventures.
‘That’s why I am here today and able to do things like this, which is cool,’ says Sheeran. ‘But I’ve had an album to make, too, so that’s been the main focus – it hasn’t been on touring; it’s been on making the album.’
Sheeran says that the album he is working on is ‘a weird blend of a lot of things.’ And despite rumors saying that the it is set to be more hip-hop-based than his previous work, the artist is still unsure. ‘I have done a lot of songs for it, so it could go in five different directions at the moment,’ he says, promising the release of “something” by the end 2013, with the full album coming out early in 2014.
Should this record be a success, it will further cement Ed Sheeran’s reputation in the music industry as a world-renowned singer-songwriter at just 22. Oh, and now with his own signature guitar to boot.
Before leaving, Acoustic can’t help but ask ‘The A Team’ singer what it is like to hear the following list of signature artists: “Clapton, Mayer, and Sheeran.” It’s met with an eyebrow raise and a smile of slight disbelief.
‘I’m still getting my head around that one,’ says Sheeran, before a brief pause. ‘I’ve been having an email conversation with John Mayer for about six months now – we just email back and forth and just seeing that name in my email inbox is a little bit insane like “Fucking hell! This guy’s on my iPod!”’
‘I think I would like to encourage people to walk around with a guitar like a backpack, I guess, and always have it because that’s what I did. They are very easy guitars to travel around with and really easy guitars to play,’ he finishes.
Ed Sheeran’s signature Martin LX1E is available in the UK at £499. Contact Westside Distribution for ordering details, or visit your nearest authorised Martin Guitar dealer.