Source: Sounding Board Newsletter Vol 25 - Jun. 2008
M-21 Steve Earle
With Texas roots, Nashville credentials, New York sensibilities, and maverick spirit, singer/songwriter Steve Earle leaves any preconceived notions regarding his music in the dust. That includes the guitars he plays, and helps explain how the new Martin M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition came to be.
In 2005 Earle moved to New York City and soon found his way to Matt Umanov Guitars. Matt Umanov, who has been matching players with instruments since 1965, guided his new customer in the purchase of a few Martin guitars and along the way introduced him to the M body style, which combines jumbo (0000) size with 000 depth. Umanov knows the body style well; his conversion of an old Martin archtop for David Bromberg served as the pattern for the Martin M (for additional information, see the David Bromberg article in the July 2006 “Sounding Board”). The Martin M quickly became Earle’s favorite acoustic, so much so that he now tours with a pair of them.
His enthusiasm for the Martin “M” jump-started development of a Martin Steve Earle signature guitar. Earle turned to Umanov for help with the details and together they created the Martin M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition, a “poor man’s” M that showcases this body style’s big, balanced sound and playing comfort in an elegant, affordable package.
Like the route to his namesake Martin guitar, Steve Earle has never been predictable. Raised in Texas, he found the guitar at age 11 and found his first musical mentor in songwriter Townes Van Zandt while still a teenager.
At age 19 he moved to Nashville, where he took odd jobs, played in various bands, wrote songs and connected with some of Music City’s new generation, most notably singer/songwriter Guy Clark. Some of his early songs were recorded by Carl Perkins, Vince Gill and Steve Wariner.
His earliest recordings – in the early 1980s - were in the rockabilly vein and received scant attention. Everything changed with the release of Guitar Town in 1986; the album received glowing reviews, eventually went gold and netted him his first two Grammy nominations. Exit 0 in 1987 and Copperhead Road in 1988 continued the hot streak, with hit country singles and excellent sales. But drugs began to take their toll and after release of The Hard Way in 1990, he took a hiatus from music that included time in jail on drug and firearms charges.
Putting his problems behind him, Earle came back strong in 1994 with the acoustic Train a Comin’, which garnered another Grammy nomination. The decision to establish his own record label – E-Squared Records – freed him to move beyond contemporary country to tackle rock, folk and bluegrass. In the years since, he has released seven albums, often using his music to address social and political issues. His latest, Washington Square Serenade, which blends acoustic folk with techno sizzle, was released late in 2007 to outstanding reviews and received the 2008 Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album.”
In all he has won two Grammy Awards (and been nominated 13 times), had songs covered by artists ranging from the Pretenders and Joan Baez to Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris, had his music featured in several movies, including Dead Man Walking, Talladega Nights and Bridge to Terabithia, played a recurring role in the HBO series “The Wire,” and written Doghouse Roses, a book of short stories. He continues to tour frequently, often with his wife, Allison Moorer.
With two guitar perfectionists like Steve Earle and Matt Umanov in charge, the M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition naturally receives superb solid tonewoods. The top is Italian alpine spruce, revered for its clear, rich tone, and the addition of 5/16” forward-shifted scalloped top bracing enhances balance and responsiveness. The back and sides are East Indian rosewood for warmth and power. The 1 11/16” (at the nut) low profile neck is carved from genuine mahogany. The headplate, fingerboard and bridge are all East Indian rosewood.
Like Martin Style 21s of the past, the M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition blends Style 18 and Style 28 appointments, plus a few unique to Style 21. The Style 18 rosette and St yle 28 checkerboard backstrip blend beautifully with the subtle Style 21 top and back purfling and tortoise-color binding. The polished headplate frames the old style gold C. F. Martin logo decal and Waverly nickel tuners with butterbean buttons give the headstock a decidedly “old school” look. The fingerboard features Style 21 “Doppler dot” (progressively smaller) position markers from the 5th to the 17th frets, and the “black with white dots” bridge pins and end pin are also Style 21.
The polished and beveled nitrate tortoise color pickguard and aging toner on the top complete the instrument’s vintage-inspired style. The body showcases Martin’s flawless polished gloss lacquer finish; the neck receives a satin finish for player comfort.
Delivered in a blue molded hardshell case, each Mar tin M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition guitar features an interior label personally signed by Steve Earle and Matt Umanov, and numbered in sequence without a total. Left-handed instruments may be ordered at no additional charge. Factory-installed electronics and a sunburst finish are extra-cost options. Authorized C. F. Martin dealers will begin accepting orders for the M-21 Steve Earle Custom Edition immediately.