For nearly 200 years, Martin Guitar has been making music history (literally), right here in Lehigh Valley! Since Christian Frederick Martin started the company in 1833, the greatest artists of every generation have recorded their most iconic songs and played their most memorable shows with Martin guitars.
It’s an obviously tough (and controversial) task to pick the “best” Martin artists of all time, so we broke it up into legends past and present. Before you scream at us on Twitter for leaving out artists like John Lennon, we weighted our picks toward not only artists who play Martin Guitars, but those artists with the coolest guitars and the strongest ties to the company.
Ready to get strumming? Let’s rock…
1. Johnny Cash
“The Man in Black” loved his custom D-35 – the first Martin to feature a pearl black finish – for many decades. One of the best-selling artists ever, he was known to weave a dollar bill through the strings to produce a percussive sound. John Carter Cash said in an interview, “Dad was always committed to Martin. To him it stood for quality. No matter the performance, he could always trust his guitar.”
2. Kurt Cobain
The iconic Nirvana frontman strummed lefty while playing the band’s acoustic tunes. The 1959 Martin D-18E he played during Nirvana’s historic “MTV Unplugged” performance sold at auction for $6 million, a record for any guitar. A different D-18 that Cobain lovingly nicknamed “Grandpa,” is on display in the Martin Guitar Museum in Nazareth.
3. Chris Cornell
The late Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame, grew into a prolific acoustic guitar player later in his career. Most frequently performing with a Martin D-28 Marquis on stage, some of the rocker’s most memorable solo performances were with that model, including his angelic cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
A guitar fit for The King. Elvis Presley royally rocked a 1942 Martin D-18 in 1954-55 until switching to a Martin D-28 later in 1955. Often referred to as Presley’s “Sun Sessions” guitar, the D-18 had “ELVIS” spelled out on the front in metal stickers (the “S” is now missing) and sold at auction for a whopping $1.32 million in 2020.
5. Hank Williams
Despite a life cut too short, Hank Williams lives on as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Listed No. 2 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time”, he scored 11 No. 1 country hits. Williams’ go-to during his short career was his trusty Martin D-28, which is now proudly on display at the entrance to the Martin Factory Tour.
1. Willie Nelson
Name a more iconic artist/guitar duo than Willie Nelson and Trigger. You can’t. The amplified Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar has been the legendary country star’s iconic companion since 1969. The pair has performed thousands of shows together, resulting in its trademark hole above the bridge and dozens of Nelson’s friends’ autographs. After more than a half century together, the duo is still “On the Road Again,” including a 2022 headlining spot at Musikfest® in Bethlehem!
2. The Avett Brothers
Martin Guitars are very versatile, and The Avett Brothers use the instruments to bring their unique mix of folk, bluegrass, country, rock, and pop to life. The band has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards and put out ten critically-acclaimed albums. Seth Avett rocks out on his own signature series Martin D-35 and told Guitar World, “They made everything I wanted to see in a guitar, and it’s an honor to be connected with them.”
3. Ed Sheeran
One of the biggest pop stars in music actually uses a smaller guitar. The British musician uses a ¾ guitar, specifically, the Martin LX1 series. The small and light frame allows the “Shape of You” artist to jam out on stage easier in front of football stadiums full of fans. With billions of streams and radio plays, you’ve definitely heard a Martin Guitar through your headphones recently.
4. Marc Mumford (of Mumford & Sons)
One of the most popular bands of the 2010s created its biggest hits using instruments made in Nazareth, PA. Leader Marc Mumford’s primary Martin of choice is the D-28, but uses other models in his arsenal, too. The folk rock group took home two Grammy Awards in 2012 and have sold more than 10 million albums (and counting).
5. Joan Baez
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has performed for more than 60 years, using an 1880 style 0-40 Martin along the way. The folk singer and outspoken activist recorded some of the greatest protest songs of all time on the instrument in the 1960s, and Baez continues to reinvent herself to this day.
Also awesome, but we didn’t have enough space:
Dierks Bentley, Colbie Callait, Chris Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional), Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Bob Dylan, Old Dominion, Tommy Emmanuel, Sam Hunt, Jason Isbell, Valerie June, Elle King, John Mayer, Father John Misty, John Oates, Thomas Rhett, Sting, Eddie Vedder, Weezer, Neil Young, and many more!
Keep an eye out for touring dates and concert announcements to catch one of these great artists who play Martin Guitars, live and in person. And in the meantime, check out live music at venues across at the Valley or at these upcoming events.