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Friday, June 18, 2010

Music and its tools - Joan Baez and her '27 Martin 0-45

20th Century Guitar
Rara Avis -- 1927 Martin O-45

May 2000
by Bianca Soros

In the Roaring Twenties an energetic postwar mentality emerged where old traditions were challenged and women took bold steps toward equality. The 1927 Warner Brothers production, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, dazzled the nation as the silver screen came alive with sound, and audiences heard the actors' voices for the first time thanks to the use of a new system called a Vitaphone. In Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the first annual awards for the film industry, which were dubbed the Oscars. The musical Showboat opened on Broadway, featuring the hit song "Ol' Man River." American artist Edward Hopper expressed loneliness, stagnation, and emptiness in his urban-inspired paintings.

In 1927 Babe Ruth set a new world record by hitting his 60th home run in Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Charles Lindbergh became the hero of the decade by successfully completing a 33-hour nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Henry Ford introduced the new multicolored Model A automobile to the public, while discontinuing the reliable but outdated Model T. Domestic architecture styles ranged from ornate classicism to the clean lines of modernism, resulting in an eclectic clash of styles.

The year was the beginning of significant changes. Calvin Coolidge served office as America's 30th president (1923-1929), but his lax economic policies led to the Stock Market crash of 1929 and to the Great Depression of the Thirties. Women of the day, called flappers, flouted conventional behavior and were seen wearing drop-waisted dresses accessorized with turban-style cloche hats and long strings of beads. Their spirit of liberation helped the women's rights movement gain momentum.

The late Twenties was the period when the guitar finally gained dominant status as the most popular musical instrument. As an important period of social upheaval reached its peak in 1927, the Martin guitar company made the transition from gut- to steel-string design. While Gibson and the Larson brothers were already building steel-string guitars to accommodate emerging musical styles, Martin was opposed to the change. Forced by economics as well as pressure from professional musicians seeking an alternative to the banjo and mandolin, Martin finally conceded.

This was also the same year that Martin was busy making a limited amount of their presentation grade 0-45 guitars (42 to be exact, available for the purchase price of $155). This 12-fret guitar's back and sides are constructed of Brazilian rosewood, and the top is made of German Spruce, featuring a shellac finish. This 0-45's top, back, and sides are outlined in pearl. The 24-inch scale fingerboard has bar frets and is inlaid with snowflake position markers. The headstock sports the famous torch inlay and engraved Waverly tuners with ivoroid buttons. The size 0 model has a smaller yet proportionate body shape, which gives the instrument a beautiful balanced sound that projects a loud, commanding tone.

Also worth (and handsome in both wooden and flesh forms...) showing Joan Baez's sister, Mimi Farina, with another old, little Martin's

I still remember the Joan Baez Songbook, the first music book I had as a young acoustic guitar player, so full of beautiful, timeless songs... it showed some pixes of young Joan playing her 0-45 en plein air... when I purchased Joan's first records, I cannot understand "why" her guitar was sooooo good... I was young... then, getting older, I learned and understood: she was playing one of the VERY best guitars ever built: full, rich sound, so mind-boggling in its tonal colours palette.

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