Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 24 - Jan. 2008
HM Ben Harper
Folk, blues, jazz, soul, jam, reggae, rhythm & blues and gospel: Ben Harper embraces them all in music both richly evocative and utterly original. In little more than a decade, he – both on his own and with his band, The Innocent Criminals – has gone from underground sensation to international star. Whether fingerpicking sweet melodies, strumming smooth acoustic grooves or belting surreal slide solos, he is a guitarist of undeniable power and panache.
Such a versatile guitarist needs an equally versatile guitar. Ben Harper has designed that guitar, one that satisfies his personal preferences for acoustic tone and onboard electronics, and showcases both traditional appointments and his own eclectic style: the Martin HM Ben Harper Special Edition.
Ben Harper literally grew up in a guitar shop, The Folk Music Center & Museum; his grandparents opened the store and museum in 1958, which remains in the family today. He was performing in his late teens with acoustic guitar and lap steel as his arsenal. After a couple of years in an acoustic duo, he went out on his own in 1992. His first solo album, 1994's Welcome to the Cruel World, received strong reviews and Fight for Your Mind, released a year later, became a college radio staple and earned him his first gold record.
During the next two years, Harper recorded The Will To Live, the album that solidified the Innocent Criminals, a foreshadowing of who they have evolved into today. But it was his next album, Burn to Shine, with its catchy single “Steal My Kisses,” that took him mainstream. More touring yielded Live from Mars in 2001 and time in the studio produced Diamonds on the Inside in 2003, Harper's first album to crack the Billboard “Top 20.”
A European tour with the Blind Boys of Alabama proved so musically inspiring, Harper and the famed gospel group made an album together; released in 2004, There Will Be Light topped the Gospel album chart and won him Grammy Awards for “Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album” and (for the song “11th Commandment”) “Best Pop Instrumental Performance.”
While continuing to tour extensively in 2006 and 2007, he released two more albums: 2006's Both Sides of the Gun, a double CD that hit “No. 7” on the Billboard album chart, and, with the Innocent Criminals, Lifeline, which upon release in August of 2007, reached “No. 9” on the Billboard album chart and hit “No. 1” on the Billboard internet album chart.
The HM Ben Harper Special Edition draws inspiration from Martin's M size, which combines a wide (16”) body with 000 (4 1/8” at the endpin) depth for powerful, yet balanced tone. Superb solid tonewoods throughout contribute to its outstanding voice. The top of rare Adirondack spruce is matched to 5/16” Adirondack spruce scalloped braces for extraordinary headroom and clarity; back and sides of East Indian rosewood add warmth and projection. The 1 11/16” (at the nut) low profile neck with diamond volute is carved from genuine mahogany.
The body displays classic Martin appointments. The top is encircled by bold herringbone purfling and matching herringbone is featured in the three-ring soundhole rosette. The sides and back are adorned with maple and black fiber fine line purfling, with the back divided by a colorful Style 45 mosaic backstrip. Grained ivoroid body binding is matched by grained ivoroid endpiece and heelcap, both of which are accented with maple and black fiber fine line inlays. A polished and beveled acetate/nitrate vintage-style tortoise pickguard protects the top.
A rich, colorful target has become a symbol synonymous with Ben Harper; so under the familiar gold old style “C. F. Martin” logo on the polished black ebony headplate, a version of the target is inlaid in orange and green composite stone. The black ebony fingerboard continues the target theme; select abalone pearl and ebony ringed target position markers run from the 5th to the 17th fret. It is matched by a black ebony belly bridge and fossilized ivory bridge pins inlaid with colorful abalone dots.
For superb, versatile amplified sound, the HM Ben Harper Special Edition comes equipped with a Fishman Ellipse™ Matrix Blend System, which combines Martin’s GoldPlus™ under-the-saddle transducer, an Ellipse internal condenser mini-microphone on a flexible gooseneck mount, and an integrated preamp. The unit's controls are accessed through the soundhole, so no guitar side is injured in its installation. To optimize tone – whether acoustic or amplified – the guitar is fitted with a bone nut and compensated TUSQ™ saddle. Gotoh® chrome enclosed tuners with large knobs and a chrome strap button complete the appointments.
The body of the guitar is finished in polished gloss lacquer, with vintage toner on the top to enhance its traditional style. The neck receives a satin finish for player comfort.
Delivered in a vintage-inspired Geib™ style hardshell case, each HM Ben Harper Special Edition guitar bears an interior label personally signed by Ben Harper and numbered in sequence. Authorized C. F. Martin dealers will begin taking orders for the HM Ben Harper Special Edition immediately and Martin will post the names of participating Martin dealers on this website.