A Closer Look: Martin Custom Shop Sinker Mahogany
Published on 04 March 2019
In the world of acoustic guitar making, some of the most revered instruments are those made by Martin & Co in the pre-World War II years of the 1930s. Talking about guitar tone is a contentious and highly subjective topic but most people who experience a pre-War Martin acoustic don’t tend to forget it in a hurry! The elements important to an objectively great guitar sound all seem to conspire within these hallowed instruments: projection, note separation, chordal unity, sustain, sympathetic harmonic overtones and above all else, balance. All of these elements need to work together to weave the spell properly or the guitar is merely great instead of exceptional. So how do these old guitars achieve this?
Well, it seems to be a mix of design, craftsmanship and age but the biggest factor overwhelmingly appears to be the raw materials. It seems strange to say, but timber these days is growing faster than a century ago and is therefore less mature when it gets logged. This in turn means that less of the natural minerals and nutrients make it into the tree since they take decades to really work their way into the wood’s molecular structure. This in itself is neither better nor worse: quality timber is quality timber. However, for those seeking the specific tones and behaviour of pre-War Martin guitars, newer timber will simply not facilitate this. At its atomic level, the wood is different, due the environment and circumstances of its growth and indeed how longer after being logged the wood is left to season. In addition, wood that is seasoned naturally for decades undergoes a different process to timber that is dried out in a kiln. Then of course you factor in the age of the guitar itself and how long it has been played on...so it goes, into the types of debate that fuel countless online forums. What Martin have striven to achieve is the sound and feel of these older-than-vintage acoustics with newly built insturments. Picking out thier most revered designs and using some fortuitously recovered wood, Martin have done just that which this limited Sinker Mahogany series.
So, the wood. Martin have sourced a small amount of very special logs to use in the production of some very exclusive and limited edition guitars. These logs are ancient mahogany and were recovered from a riverbed in Belize, Central America. Sonar, small boats and scuba gear were all used in the operation, making this an extremely eco-friendly salvage job! This wood is said by Martin to have been logged somewhere between 1880 and 1920 (it would already have been 100+ years old when it was logged, which adds some REAL age to this timber!) and sank to the bottom of the river (a normal by-product when moving logs via rivers) where it lay for many, many decades. This Belize Mahogany is the same species of wood that Martin used in their 1930s guitars. The river has acted as something of a time machine!
After retrieval, this wood has been left to dry naturally: there is no torrefaction happening here, as effective as that process is. The whole idea of these Sinker Mahogany Martins is to make a new guitar with a sound and feel equivalent to those from the Golden Age but not to ‘artificially’ treat the wood. Why bother, when the wood is already so rare and seasoned?
Martin guitars bought this mahogany at auction and have used it to make this special limited range of acoustic guitars. These are all hand made by Master craftsmen at Martin’s Custom Shop to ensure that this prized mahogany is utilised to maximum effect. In the end, Martin have opted for 5 models – an 0, an OM, a 000, a size 5 (or ‘Terz’ as it is otherwise known) and of course a dreadnought – made with the sinker mahogany for the back, sides, neck and end block with a top of the finest Sitka Spruce. A further two models – an 0 and a 000 – are made with an additional sinker Mahogany top, too!
These guitars are masterpieces. Each has a fingerboard and bridge made from black ebony and has a headstock faceplate of solid East Indian rosewood. With the exception of the smaller-sized Size 5 Terz, all of these Sinker Mahogany Martins has a Mod Low Oval neck that joins the body at the 14th fret. Style appointments include open-gear tuners (with ‘butterbean’ tuning keys), old style Martin headstock logos and a gloss finish with satin for the back of the neck.
All of this makes for quite a mouth-watering proposal indeed. Investment potential is of course massive and that is entirely legitimate but what these guitars really need is to be played and enjoyed by tone connoisseurs who can really pick up on the rich details inherent in each guitar’s tone. These are, after all, the best guitars that Martin make! The five designs all of course sound a little different from each other, as you’d hope. When they have in common is BALANCE. Strum a chord and every note rings out equally, at the same volume, with the same clarity and for the same length of sustain. It’s how we always imagine beautiful acoustic guitars sound in our heads.
Martin have let master players like Vince Gill try these out and he has reported about them sounding ‘stellar’ and having ‘more depth in the bottom’, which for us is right on the money. The harmonic balance is incredible, too: the fundamental note is very strong but plenty of upper and lower harmonics accompany it too, making each Martin Sinker Mahogany guitar sound magical.
We have these guitars available in very limited numbers. This precious wood was only available in very small quantities to begin with and, as the timber is salvaged, it is never in constant availability. Its scarcity is matched by its superlative qualities as a tone wood in instrument making. If ever you were interested in investing some money in the finest and rarest that a historical company like Martin has to offer, you’d be well advised to move on this limited series as quickly as you can. Visit our stores to view these beautiful master-crafted instruments in person or get your orders in online and have us courier your Martin Sinker Mahogany guitar to you.