An Eric Clapton signature Martin with a charitable side to its character… David Mead goes down to the crossroads
This very special limited edition instrument is part of the Crossroads Guitar Collection, a project that has seen manufacturers like Martin, Fender, and Gibson work together to produce replicas of some of Eric Clapton’s most famous instruments that he has used over the span of his career. Timed to coincide with this year’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, a portion of the proceeds from these guitars will go to aid Clapton’s Crossroads charity. The model we have here is limited to only 150, with just 25 of them finding their way out of the US for sale worldwide. So the eventual owner of this guitar is not only getting something very special indeed, they will be aiding a very good cause at the same time.
Eric Clapton’s association with Martin began back in the early 60s when he saw pictures of Big Bill Broonzy playing a 000 and decided that this was a guitar with a worthy blues heritage and definitely something to aspire to. The signature models began decades later after the multi-platinum Unplugged recording which saw Clapton playing a short scale vintage 000-28. Since then, there have been several EC Martins, this current batch comprising three: the 000-28EC we have here, a 000-45EC and a credit card scorching Brazilian rosewood 000-45EC that will retail at one dollar under $50,000.
Opening the Martin Custom Shop case reveals a black shroud which bears imprints of the Crossroads Festival logo, Clapton’s signature and the Martin Custom Shop emblem – a very special introduction but, of course, it’s what’s hidden underneath that we’re all eager to examine, so here we go…
The basic look of a 000-28 is marvellously understated, representing a timeless design from a bygone age. At first glance, the only thing here that indicates that this is a special edition is the Crossroads logo on the headstock and Clapton’s signature in mother of pearl at the 20th fret. Look a little closer and you can see the label inside the soundhole which has been hand signed by C. F. Martin IV and EC himself – and, naturally, there is a certificate of authenticity to go with the instrument. After all, this guitar is clearly aimed at the heart of the collector market.
The top is a flawless piece of high grade Sitka spruce which has been specially toned with an amber finish to add to the overall vintage look of the guitar. Back and sides are Madagascar rosewood, a wood that experts agree has many of the properties of the much sought after but controversial Brazilian rosewood in terms of both look and sound. Of course, Madagascar rosewood has recently attracted a great deal of attention in the media because of all the illegal logging since the change in political climate over there in 2009. Naturally, the wood here is from Martin’s special reserve and represents old growth, but I think we can expect to see this particular tonewood used less and less in the future – a shame, because, tonally, it enjoys some considerable virtues of its own.
The grain of the rosewood, like its Brazilian cousin, is highly figured with some very elaborate grain patterns. Each of the 150 guitars being produced by the Martin Custom Shop will be unique in this respect, but if the sample I have here in front of me is anything to go by, the patterning is sublime.
The 000-28EC’s neck is a soft V profiled piece of mahogany with open-backed tuners adorning the headstock which bears the familiar Martin logo plus the Crossroads emblem I mentioned earlier.
The fingerpicker in me gave a little jump for joy to find a 45mm nut atop the EC’s ebony fingerboard. As I’ve said many times in the past, that additional 2mm above standard width really can make a lot of difference.
As for the rest of the fittings and fixtures, everything is in fine form, from the attractive greenish Paua shell fingerboard inlays to the soundhole rosette, body binding and teardrop pickguard.
There’s only the ebony bridge with its bone saddle to mention and it’s time to hear how this very exclusive guitar sounds…
The soft V profile of the neck feels great in the hand – a lot of vintage authenticity going on here – and a very flat 16 inch radius to the fretboard means that bending strings poses no problem, even with a set of .012 gauge strings installed.
I opted for a little fingerstyle blues to audition the EC to begin with. It seemed appropriate, after all! This produced some rich trebles and noble basses in extremely good balance with one another – and there’s a good amount of volume on offer here, too. The presence of the Madagascar back and sides working together with the Sitka top brings out a lot of the airiness associated with a good rosewood/spruce combo – possibly a little darker in tone than you’d expect from an Indian rosewood, but certainly not far off some of the Brazilian rosewood instruments I’ve played in the past.
Switching styles between straight fingerpicking and plectrum powered single notes brought about a variation in density of the trebles – the pick certainly highlighting the dynamics nicely. This guitar would certainly cut through in a mix, that’s for sure. So to sum up, then, it’s a sweet-sounding 000 with all the right attributes: good sustain, a very useable dynamic range, a lot of player comfort and that wider fretboard will delight all the blues fingerpickers out there!
It’s been said before that collector-targeted limited edition instruments often end up being the least played, which is a shame because this particular instrument really has a great deal to offer. I think Martin has priced the guitar realistically – if you compare the £5.3k price tag with some of the hand builds we’ve looked at in the past and factor in the Martin Custom Shop as point of manufacture, plus the woods involved, it’s not really so hefty at all, is it? A rank and file 000-28 would cost you upwards of £2k anyway, and so the somewhat rarified aspects of this guitar have added £3k to the cost. That surplus brings with it a lot of tone and the prestige given to it by the association with one of the finest guitarists this country has ever produced, and let’s not forget the good cause involved here, too – the EC Crossroads Foundation.
With only 25 being offered outside of the US, it’s going to be hard to track one down, but if you do I believe you’ll agree that this is one heck of an instrument!
Model: 000-28EC Madagascar
Retail Price: £5,299
Body Size: 000
Made In: USA
Top: Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Madagascar rosewood
Tuners: Gotoh open geared
Nut Width: 1.750” (45mm)
Scale Length: 24.9” (632.4mm)
Strings Fitted: Martin PB MEC12 (0.012 – 0.054)
Left Handers: Yes (limited to five)
Gig Bag/Case Included: Martin Custom Shop hard case
Pros: A specced-up classic Martin with bags of tone
Cons: It’s likely that most of them are already sold!
Overall: Martin’s association with Clapton has produced some stunning instruments – and this one is no exception