Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 24 - Jan. 2008
HJ-38 Stefan Grossman
One of the world’s foremost authorities on acoustic blues, Stefan Grossman has performed, recorded, taught, produced, transcribed and archived this classic American music for more than 40 years. However, Grossman’s musical palette extends well beyond the genre for which he is best known, as he noted in choosing Martin’s J (for Jumbo) body as the starting point for his namesake HJ-38 Stefan Grossman Custom Edition guitar.
“I played a number of guitars at Martin and the one that impressed me for all-around feel and sound was the J model,” he said. “My music ranges from Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt to classic rags and jazz arrangements. The “J” model allows me to play a diverse variety of musical styles.”
Carefully selected premium tonewoods enhance the HJ-38 Stefan Grossman Custom Edition’s big, versatile sound. Back and sides of beautiful Madagascar rosewood provide definition and depth akin to the rarer but prized Brazilian rosewood. The Sitka spruce top, matched to 1/4” width forward-shifted scalloped braces, contributes rich, smooth tone. Carved from genuine mahogany, the 1 3/4” (at the nut) modified “V” neck offers comfortable chording and plenty of room for picking pyrotechnics.
The handsome appointments on the HJ-38 Stefan Grossman Custom combine tradition with a bit of pizzazz. The Style 45 rosette showcases a center ring of intensely colored paua abalone. The solid square tapered headstock features a polished headplate of Madagascar rosewood inlaid with “C. F. Martin” in Style 45 abalone block letters and fitted with gold Waverly® tuners. The black ebony fingerboard highlights the rare “Wurlitzer” pattern of position markers in abalone pearl: Maltese cross at the 3rd fret, two slotted diamonds at the 5th fret, slotted square at the 7th fret, two slotted diamonds at the 9th fret, slotted square with cat’s eye inlays at the 12th and 15th frets. White Style 45 bridge pins on the black ebony bridge are topped with abalone pearl.
Fine herringbone purfling around the top, and fine black/white purfling around the sides and back are protected by grained ivoroid binding. Both the neck and headstock also are bound in grained ivoroid and inset with fine black/white inlays. The back is bisected with a Style 45 multicolored mosaic marquetry strip. The nut and compensated saddle are crafted from genuine bone. The polished and beveled tortoise-color pickguard and subtle aging toner on the top suggest vintage patina. Martin’s flawless gloss lacquer finish on the body adds to the guitar’s beauty, and the neck’s satin finish enhances player comfort.
Like the Martin guitar that bears his name, Stefan Grossman has blended timeless tradition and fresh ideas throughout his musical career. His blues journey began as a teenager in Brooklyn, sparked by a Big Bill Broonzy record. Soon after acquiring a guitar, he began traveling to Harlem on weekends to study with blues singer/guitarist Reverend Gary Davis, a ritual that lasted for three years. During the years he studied with Reverend Davis, he met and learned from other acoustic blues masters, including Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell. He found additional musical influences in the old 78 recordings of Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton and other legendary country bluesmen.
Grossman was one of many musicians in the early 1960s to play in Greenwich Village’s Washington Park on Sunday afternoons and he joined forces with several of them – including John Sebastian, Maria D’Amato (Muldaur), Joshua Rifkin, Steve Katz and David Grisman – in the Even Dozen Jug Band. The group broke up after one album, but his career path in music was set.
Beginning with “How to Play Blues Guitar” in 1966, a record made with an assist from friend and fellow blues traveler Rory Block, Grossman has released more than 30 albums. Notable among his solo records are “Yazoo Basin Boogie,” “Bottleneck Serenade,” “Shining Shadows” (a fine album of original material) and – most recently – the two-CD set “These Pleasant Days – The Transatlantic Anthology.” He also has recorded several well received collaborations with famed British guitarist John Renbourn. Although he toured extensively for more than 35 years, a back problem curtailed live performances in the 1980s and 1990s. In recent years he has returned to the concert stage, touring Japan, England, Italy, France and the United States.
In 1968, he co-founded (in partnership with Ed Denson) Kicking Mule Records, a label that showcased a range of acoustic players, including Bob Brozman, Duck Baker, Peter Finger and Eric Thompson. Though the partnership dissolved in the mid 1980s, he remained in the record business working for Shanachie Records well into the 1990s.
Ironically, Grossman may be as famous for teaching music as playing it. Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop began in 1963 with guitar lessons on reel-to-reel audio tape and – after offering record-and-tablature sets for those who wanted to learn to play – became one of the first companies to embrace video as a teaching tool. Today the company offers an impressive array of instructional DVDs featuring top musicians, (i.e. Chet Atkins, John Renbourn, Larry Coryell, Buster B. Jones, David Laibman, Fred Sokolow, Ernie Hawkins and others) as well as CD/book audio lessons. On DVD, his Vestapol Videos preserves and releases archival film material of famous musicians, and showcases contemporary guitarists in concert and in the studio.
Each Martin HJ-38 Stefan Grossman Custom Edition guitar bears an interior label personally signed by Stefan Grossman and numbered in sequence, and each comes with a Geib® style hardshell case. Left-handed guitars may be ordered at no additional charge. Factory installed electronics are an extra-cost option. Authorized C. F. Martin dealers now are taking orders for this open-ended Custom Edition and participating dealers will be posted on this website.