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Photo by Jason Shadrick
A name synonymous with acoustic flattop guitars, C.F. Martin has been an industry leader since 1833 when Christian Frederick Martin bucked the controlling European guild system (violin builders had exclusive rights to build guitars over cabinet builders) and emigrated from Germany to New York City to start his own guitar-building company. Five years later, Martin moved the company to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where it’s remained for 175 years, producing more than 1.25 million guitars and several industry-shaping innovations. In the 1850s, Martin implemented internal X-bracing using wooden struts to stabilize the top and back, which helped the guitar project more volume without distorting. The first dreadnoughts were built around 1916 and named after the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought because it appeared so big, massive, and indestructible that it “nought to dread.” And during the late 1920s, Martin created their OM body shape with a 25.4"-scaled, 14-fret neck-joint.
While Martin has been a front-running mainstay in the acoustic world, they’ve attempted to enter the electric guitar rat race on several occasions to no success. First in 1959, the company equipped their D-18 and D-28 models with exposed pickups and knobs on the guitars’ tops. Then in 1961, Martin built its first true electric guitar with the F series archtops. By 1965 the F series archtops were replaced by the GT series, which was halted in 1968. After a decade, Martin chased their electric ambitions once again, this time with the launching of the E series—solidbody guitars and basses that were only built from 1979–1982.
Shown here is Billie Joe Armstrong’s Martin GT-70 that he acquired from eBay right before Green Day’s most recent U.S. tour. It features a semi-hollow plywood body with f-holes, bound 22-fret mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard, two DeArmond pickups, Bigsby-style tailpiece, and a larger, bound, non-traditional Martin headstock. After acquiring the eBay steal, Armstrong’s tech Hans Buscher had to heat press some neck relief—this is done because the truss rod is maxed out and needs to be reset to remove the unwanted curve. He also leveled the frets and adjusted the neck angle/pitch so the strings weren’t too close to the pickups. “Like a Fender, the pole pieces are the magnets, so having the strings too close to the magnets and the guitar will never tune or have any appreciable tone,” Buscher says. “The GT’s tone—with the DeArmond pickups—is a really bright and strident sound that needs to be matched with an appropriate amp. I don’t think that Martin really wanted this guitar to have the same characteristics as their acoustics—the GT-70’s bolt-on neck, flat fretboard, and plastic nut kind of let you know that Martin was trying something different for their electrics.”
Since acquiring the semi-hollow Martin, Billie Joe has made this GT-70 his unofficial hotel and backstage guitar.
A special thanks to Billie Joe Armstrong’s guitar tech Hans Buscher for the opportunity to feature this fine piece of gear and its story.
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