5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Artist Edition Little Martin Re-emerges with Classic Style 18 "El Paso" Features
Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 27 - Jul. 2009
5-18 Marty Robbins
Rockabilly, pop, Hawaiian, standards and especially country: Marty Robbins could sing them all. Most people remember “A White Sports Coat” and “El Paso,” his biggest hits on the popular charts, but for nearly 30 years he was a huge country star, with 16 chart-topping and 42 “Top 10” country hits, and a slew of top-selling albums. He also was a superb songwriter, solid guitarist, fine actor and incredibly charismatic performer. In every sense of the word, he was unique; the passage of years since his death in 1982 have only deepened respect for this truly one-of-a-kind entertainer.
As with nearly every aspect of his music career, Robbins’ acoustic guitar of choice was anything but ordinary. Instead of something big and flashy, he often played a Martin 5-18, a tiny mahogany “terz” guitar, so named because it was designed to be tuned a minor 3rd (three steps) higher than standard. His appearances with the diminutive Martin guitar beginning in the 1950s, at the Grand Ole Opry and in concert, caused a spike in the production of that model that lasted for nearly a decade. The Martin Guitar Company stopped making the 5-18 in 1989, and though it has produced other Size 5 guitars in recent years, namely the Claire’s Guitar (Brazilian rosewood) and Claire 2 (flamed maple) Limited Editions, and the Mini Martin (East Indian rosewood) Special Edition, it has not offered one in mahogany for 20 years. Martin is pleased to bring it back with the introduction of the 5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Edition.
While the 5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Edition conforms to the model’s 12-fret (to the body) design, small dimensions (11 1/4” across the lower bout) and short (21.4”) scale length, distinctive tonewoods and appointments abound. A rare Adirondack spruce top with 1/4” unscalloped braces is matched to the traditional genuine mahogany back and sides for bright, clear tone and impressive dynamics. The “low oval” genuine mahogany neck sports a polished Madagascar rosewood headplate which highlights the large Old Style gold Martin decal and Gotoh™ nickel open geared tuners with butterbean knobs.
To honor “El Paso” and his other Texas-themed records, the black ebony fingerboard features a position marker in the shape of Texas at the 5th fret and a lone star at the 7th fret, plus the standard Old Style 18 dot position marker at the 9th, 12th and 15th frets, all inlaid in abalone pearl. The matching black ebony straight bridge is fitted with a “through” saddle of genuine bone, the nut also is crafted from genuine bone.
Top, back and sides of the 5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Edition are tortoise bound; the top is accented by five-ply black/white edge purfling and an Old Style 18 rosette. The beveled and polished pickguard is Delmar™ tortoise-color nitrate, as is the endpiece, while the heelcap is tortoise-brown to match the binding. Traditional dark stain on the back, sides and neck combine with straw aging toner on the top to give the guitar vintage beaut y, a beaut y accentuated by its polished gloss lacquer finish.
A native of Arizona, Marty Robbins became interested in music while serving in the United States Navy during World War II. Stationed in the Solomon Islands, he learned to play guitar, started writing songs and began a lifelong love of Hawaiian music. Back home in Arizona after the war, he began playing guitar in a local band and was eventually hired to perform on the radio, a job that led to his hosting a 15-minute live television show, “Country Caravan.” His big break came when “Little” Jimmy Dickens made a guest appearance on the show and was so impressed by the host, he lobbied his label into signing Marty.
Eschewing the songs his label offered him, Robbins began writing and recording his own. The third single, “I’ll Go on Alone,” proved to be his breakout country hit. It resulted in his f irst appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1953 and Opry membership the following year. He would consider the Opry his “home” stage for the rest of his career.
A string of country hits followed. In 1957 he released “A White Sports Coat,” which topped the country charts and was No. 2 on the pop charts. That same year he recorded ”Song of the Islands,” an album of Hawaiian love songs. In 1958, he turned his attention to western and cowboy songs, releasing Gunf ighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which included a ballad he wrote called “El Paso.” Considered too long for radio airplay, “El Paso” hit No. 1 on the pop and country charts and won the first Grammy Award for a country song. In 1960, he also became the first country artist to perform in Las Vegas.
While continuing to produce country hits through the 1960s and 1970s, including “Devil Woman,” ”River of Darkness,” “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife” and “Among My Souvenirs,” and earning a second Grammy Award along the way, Robbins expanded his range by getting into the movies, both as an actor and soundtrack contributor. His acting career began in 1957 with Badge of Marshall Brennan, while his soundtrack work began in 1959 with Hanging Tree. He appeared in eight movies and had music in countless more, culminating both with a small role and two songs in the Clint Eastwood movie Honky Tonk Man. He played as hard as he worked and began driving stock cars on the NASCAR circuit in 1966, an avocation he would continue for the rest of his life.
A heart attack and heart bypass surgery (then experimental) in the late 1960s barely slowed him, but a second heart attack in 1981 did. In October of 1982, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and accepted the award in person, but he suffered a third heart attack less than two months later and died on December 8th, 1982.
Each Martin 5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Edition guitar bears an interior label personally signed by Marty Robbins’ son Ronny Robbins and is numbered in sequence. A fitted hardshell case is included. Left-handed versions of this Martin Custom Edition may be ordered at no extra cost. Authorized C. F. Martin dealers will begin accepting orders for the 5-18 Marty Robbins Custom Edition immediately.