1988 Martin D-35 P, as made famous by David Byrne
A man in a suit walks onto a bare stage, he starts up his boombox, and, almost possessed, launches into Psycho Killer. One of the most iconic openings to any concert video, Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense. With David Byrne playing his heart and soul out on a Martin D-35. This one isn't his, but it's as close as it gets!
Stop Making Sense was released in 1984. This was no ordinary concert movie. This one set a new, and a high, bar. A performance way beyond a concert. I remember seeing it and being absolutely blown away by the staging, the lighting, the choreography of everything (including the roadies wheeling kit onto the stage), the songs, and, yes, the big suit. Check out Girlfriend Is Better in the movie to remind yourself of its impact, and its absurdity. David Byrne, I know you didn't mean to, but you launched a new level of Dad Dancing.
At the time, I didn't know, and didn't care, what guitars he was playing. It was only later that I found out he opens the show with three songs playing a Martin D-35 - Psycho Killer, Heaven, and Thank You For Sending Me An Angel. Later, he also plays a Roland G-303 synthesiser guitar, which if you want to see more of, click here. But if you're going to open a big show, you need a big guitar, and the D-35 fits the bill perfectly. And it isn't just David Byrne that knew that. The D-35 is a go-to acoustic for artists as close and diverse as David Gilmour, Dave Grohl, Thom Yorke, Johnny Marr and Johnny Cash. Just to name a few guitar gods that have fallen under the spell of the D-35!
It's a guitar whose beauty stems directly from necessity. The availability and price of Brazilian rosewood boards wide enough for a two-piece back were working in opposition around the mid-60s, so Martin came up with the brilliant idea of using three smaller pieces, with the central piece forming a distinctive marquetry-framed triangle on the body back. Which also gave them the opportunity to build the guitar's body top with lighter bracing than on the comparable D-28. Going onto market this innovative, yet cost-effective design, at a premium to the two-piece backed D-28! To be fair, the D-35 comes with more elegant binding to the neck and body. So, it's probably worth it. Not as loud as a D-28, and with less ringing sustain, the design gives it a wonderful sweet tone, balanced across all six strings. Strumming, picking, moving jerkily across a stage or your front room, this is one lovely dreadnought.
One final part to the story - and so far a mystery. When it arrived, the case compartment contained some pigeon feathers (mysterious enough) and a couple of cassettes by a band called Talisman. According to the sleeve notes, Talisman were Rebecca Over (vocals, guitars, and Appalachian dulcimer) and Mike Baker (lead guitar, vocals). They performed traditional, country and folk songs in the Surrey/Hampshire area. The tape was recorded in 1996 by Doug Bailey at Wild Goose Studios in Wherwell, Hampshire. I've tried to find out more, but keep drawing blanks. So, if anyone knows anything about Talisman - even whether it was Rebecca or Mike that owned this D-35 - drop me a line. Always good to put the history together for such lovely and loved guitars!
See & Hear It In Action
Stop Making Sense, 1984: If you have 90 minutes to spare, and want to immerse yourself in one of the greatest concert films ever, then you won't be wasting your time with this. And click forward to about 1 hour 16 minutes in if you just can't wait to see that big suit in action!
Guitar Gallery With A 1989 D-35: .Lovely playing and explanation of the effects of the bracing on the tone of this near contemporaneous D-35 from Guitar Gallery, on the other side of the world.
Number of Frets
Sitka Spruce & Indian Rosewood
Grover 102-18 Rotomatics
Belly-Down Bridge, Ebony
Martin launched the D-35 in 1965. In terms of body dimensions, it's pretty much the same size as a D-28. But it's distinguished by the three-piece back, lighter top bracing, and more generous binding described above.
The "P" model, this one, ran from 1986 to 1990. A short run, but not because it lacked popularity. The "P" stands for "Low-Profile Neck" which, come the early-90s, Martin decided was good enough to roll out across pretty much all of their acoustics, and all D-35s from then had the lower profile neck by default. The "P" tag became irrelevant. It's really a question of personal taste. It certainly makes the transition easier for players that are more used to electric guitars. It really is the type of low playing profile you'd find on an electric. Equally there's something solidly comfortable about the deeper profile necks of earlier Martins, like the 1974 Martin D-28 also in the collection. Worth trying them both to see what feels best.
The cost-effective wood choice gave Martin the opportunity to increase the appointments. The lovely bound neck, the layered binding to the body back and front and, on this one, the nicely transparent tortoiseshell pickguard. The gold Grover Rotomatics are a later replacement by a previous owner, but only go to enhance the more luxurious look of the guitar.
And it sounds as good as it looks. It may not have the sustain or volume of the more heavily braced D-28, but it's got a sweetness of tone, nicely balanced across all six strings. And, with that low profile neck, it's as up to to the challenge of fast noodling and picking as it is for full-hearted strumming. A purebred dreadnought to love!
Sources & Links
The Martin Dreadnought Story: Courtesy of Martin Guitars, a wealth of information from the earliest days to today about this iconic flat-top, in all its varous incarnations and evolutions.
D-35 History & Spec: A nice potted version of the story and spec from the very wonderful Greg Gagliano at GG Jaguar.
Wild Goose Studios: Where the elusive Talisman recorded their album . . . if you know any more, let me know!