C.F. Martin & Co. 00-42SC John Mayer £6,999
There’s a bit of a back story as far as the origins of this guitar is concerned, so settle back and I’ll try to be brief. Basically, back in 2012, C.F. Martin & Co. brought out a John Mayer signature model based on their 00-42 guitar as an extremely limited edition. In fact, only 25 of the original model were made available worldwide – and collectors and enthusiasts immediately snapped them up almost as soon as the announcement was made. This left a bit of a vacuum, because while a lot of people expressed an interest in owning one, there were none left. So, in order to redress the balance somewhat, C.F. Martin & Co. has now issued this more readily available version with a slightly less ornate specification, but a proper little beauty in its own right…
The “SC” at the end of this guitar’s model number stands for “Stagecoach”. It’s true – when John Mayer and Martin began working together on this guitar’s design, Mayer said that he wanted the sort of guitar that a cowboy would play when riding on a stagecoach: small enough to take along with the luggage, but still man enough for providing a bit of community singing en route. ‘There’s something about a smaller-bodied acoustic guitar that has always appealed to me,’ he says. ‘In one glance it inspires me to write…’ and so it did, because he allegedly used to finish work on his album Born And Raised. It could even be this particular model that you can hear on the intro to the single ‘Queen Of California’; his more lavishly adorned 00-45SC can be spotted on the single artwork for ‘Who You Love’ (a duet with then girlfriend, Katy Perry) from Paradise Valley.
Winner of no fewer than seven Grammy awards, John Mayer’s reputation as a blues influenced pop artist – and a fine electric player – is already indelibly embroidered into today’s music scene. But what’s he like when he turns his hand to designing guitars? The limited edition 00-45SC costs one dollar short of $14,000 in the US, and this 00-42SC is still a costly $10,000, so expectations are very high indeed.
As we all know, the higher the number that follows the “00” on a Martin, the more ornate the package, and I must say that they’ve really done a fantastic job with this instrument. The minute I opened up the very posh Custom Shop case, I was blown away by the artistry involved in the design and overall layout of the guitar. The Style 45 Paua pearl top inlay work is nothing short of miraculous, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First of all, let’s take our accustomed trip through the 00-42SC’s inventory.
Let’s consider some vital statistics: with an upper bout of approximately 249mm, a lower bout of 355mm and an average depth of 99mm, it’s a trim little item – some would even be tempted to say “cute”, but let’s not get carried away.
The top here is Sitka spruce, whereas the more ornate version has Adirondack as its top wood. However, Martin is quick to point out that the Sitka here is from the “best of the best” in their stockpile and I can’t disagree, because it looks fabulous. Then there’s the rosette; one of Mayer’s own design ideas was that the circle of the rosette should be continued across the end of the guitar’s fretboard and it’s a perfect match, adding a considerable amount of class to the ornamentation already on display here. Needless to say, all the inlay work is exquisite and on a par with everything I’ve seen coming out of the C.F. Martin & Co. Custom Shop in the past.
The back and sides of the 00-42 is Cocobolo, with a grain so perfectly straight and unfussy that it would be easy to confuse it with Indian rosewood, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale reddish tinge visible on the back. Cocobolo is, of course, a natural rosewood and we’re seeing it more and more on quality guitars these days as an able substitute for the more controversial Brazilian or Madagascan varieties. It will be interesting to see how its sonic characteristics interact with the Sitka top a bit later.
On to the neck and, as you’d expect, it’s a single piece of modified V-profiled mahogany with a diamond volute at the base of the slotted headstock in the vintage fashion. The Waverly tuners that sit either side of the headstock are gold-hued brass and the headplate veneer is a piece of finely grained Cocobolo.
One thing that took me by surprise is the width of the nut – I regularly state in these reviews how nice it is to find a 45mm or 46mm nut for fingerstyle purposes, but the nut here is a staggeringly generous 47.6mm. So whereas my fingers usually feel a bit cramped with a 43mm nut, here they were positively agoraphobic! But in a good way, you understand…
The ivoroid-bound 12-frets-to-the-body fingerboard is ebony, with some very subtle but nonetheless beautiful Blue Paua snowflakes at the fifth, seventh, ninth, twelfth and fifteenth frets. The pyramid-style bridge is ebony with a bone saddle and a string spacing measuring in at a generous 58.7mm – this could possibly be a fingerpicker’s dream come true!
Apart from that, the 00-42 benefits from the usual Custom Shop exotica like hide glue, a nitrocellulose finish and a label with a laser signature from the man himself.
I’m going to say straight away that the initial sound I got from this instrument was miles away from what I was expecting. Don’t let the slight body size fool you; there are hidden depths here, that’s for sure. I might have been thinking that this was going to be a Delta blues-friendly instrument with plenty of high-end punch and snap – and so you can imagine my surprise when I heard sweet, rounded, full and sumptuous notes and chords coming back to me. I even enlisted the hands of a good friend to play the guitar so that I could hear it from across the room and found the same result. An amazing amount of presence and projection – and the sustain is really quite remarkable, too. Chords ring on well past anything you might be anticipating and even dropping the tuning to low D or even DADGAD doesn’t faze the instrument one bit. Basses remain clear and rich while the trebles are simply luxurious.
If playing with a pick is your thing then the 00-42SC rises to the challenge with amazingly well balanced chords, and single notes are crystal clear, sweet and dynamic at the same time. What’s more, the shorter scale means that bluesy string bending is easy on the fingers, too.
This is the fourth signature model that John Mayer has produced with C.F. Martin & Co. and, as I said at the start of this review, this particular guitar is a slightly less highly rendered version of the original limited edition. However, it certainly steps up to the mark as a very fine instrument in its own right. I haven’t played the 00-45SC and so it’s impossible for me to make a comparison, but I can’t think that, tonally speaking, there is much farther to go as virtually everything you could possibly want from a small body Martin is right here.
Having said all that, though, it would be remiss of me not to mention the price and clearly £7k is a credit-card-meltingly big reach for anyone and comparable with some high end bespoke instruments on the market. Also, it has to be noted that despite the guitar’s versatility, it’s still a signature instrument and that makes it someone else’s ideal and not your own. But as signature instruments go, it ranks along with the very best I’ve ever played. This model isn’t likely to last long before it’s snapped up – I’d suggest putting that call in to Westside Distribution now!
Model: 00-42SC John Mayer Stagecoach Edition
Retail Price: £6,999
Body Size: Grand Concert 00
Made In: USA
Top: Premium grade Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Cocobolo
Tuners: Waverly brass
Nut Width: 47.6mm
Scale Length: 632.4mm
Onboard Electronics: Optional extra
Strings Fitted: Martin MSP-7100
Left Handers: Yes, no additional charge
Gig Bag/Case Included: Custom Shop hardshell