John Mayer on his Martin signature models “Guitars should continue to echo the design elements of the world around them”
With Platinum Gray Burst tops and inlaid silver binding, Mayer’s 20th anniversary models are far from traditional – but that’s very much the point…
John Mayer performs on his Solo acoustic tour (Image: Martin)
Featured in this article
Produced in association with Martin Guitar
For John Mayer, Martin signature models are not just part of his journey with the world’s most famous acoustic guitar brand – they are the story. “My first Martin, believe it or not, was the Dave Matthews signature edition,” he explains. “I bought it with a $5,000 equipment budget that was in my first record contract. I had enough money for that guitar and a Fender Vibro-King amp. That’s the acoustic you hear on Room For Squares. It’s the only one I had. That guitar still means a lot to me.”
- READ MORE: Best Black Friday guitar deals
It’s fitting then, that John Mayer has been a Martin signature artist for a good long while now – 20 years in fact, which Martin and Mayer are celebrating with perhaps the most unique and polarising instruments the venerable Nazareth, PA company has produced in quite some time. After all, whoever heard of a silverburst – or as Martin are fittingly dubbing it, Platinum Gray Burst – acoustic?
In truth, doing something out of the ordinary with his signature guitars is something that Mayer has been doing for well… 20 years, so it makes sense for him to really push the boat out for that platinum anniversary.
Back in the early 2000s, you didn’t see acoustic guitars with aluminium pinstripes inlaid into the headstock – certainly not coming out of the Martin factory, but that’s exactly what Mayer did with his very first Martin signature guitar, the OM-28JM.
“It was just lovely. I use that word knowingly,” Mayer reflects on the design process behind that first Martin instrument. “Working with Dick Boak was lovely. We really put that guitar together as if we were two songwriters coming up with a tune together. He would say, ‘I really like the sound of Engelmann spruce as a top, it’s just got a great resonance’ and I’d go with that knowing he knew way better than I did.
“And I’d hit him with these ideas like, ‘Can we make the Martin logo silver coloured?’ and asking him if we could inlay aluminium around the bridge and headstock. I was interested in making it stand apart and he was interested in it being a brilliant sounding instrument.”
Despite the look of those first guitars being very different, he wants to stress that he wasn’t trying to get away from the quintessential Martin look – it was just about reflecting the world around him at the time a little better.
“It wasn’t about trying not to look like other Martins,” he affirms. “But more to bring Martin’s design language a little closer to the design of things around me. I’ve always been a believer that guitars should continue to echo the design elements of the world around them, and at the time, my laptop was titanium-coloured.
“Lines were straighter, especially in regard to technology. I wanted to represent a little of that, and I think it was a success, because there’s nothing about the guitar looking back that screams out as being from any particular era. I think it still holds up.”
404 Not An Error
Just 404 of the OM-28JM were produced, but Martin and Mayer knew they were on to something, and it was soon followed up by the OMJM – a guitar that took the spirit of the 28 and made it into a guitar that was a little less radical in terms of design. That guitar has remained a constant part of Martin’s line-up ever since – joining the Eric Clapton model as a rare signature Martin that became part of the Nazareth furniture.
The Clapton connection is an apt one in fact – if it wasn’t for the success of Clapton’s signature Martin guitars, John might not have found a home in the OM body style that has become his trademark.
“One of my first Martins was a 000-28EC Eric Clapton model, which probably sold me on the smaller body shape,” Mayer explains. “I remember buying it one night at McCabes in Santa Monica. I took it home and wrote a lot of songs on that one. I remember writing //Clarity// from //Heavier Things// within days of buying it. That’s when I really got into the fingerpicking aspect of playing acoustic.”
There’s no escaping the fact however, that despite his reverence for the iconic Martin guitar designs, the 20th anniversary guitars are quite the departure from the norm – particularly on the high-end OM-45 model. Where the original OM-28JM had aluminium pinstriping inlaid around the peghead, here it is upgraded to fine silver, and extended not just to the fingerboard, but also the pickguard. What’s more, in another nod to that first guitar, the soundhole inlay carries on onto the fretboard itself – something we also first saw on the OM-28JM.
It all speaks to the evolution of Mayer as modern guitar’s ultimate tastemaker – while these guitars certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, he has an enviable track record of being proved right when it comes to issues of style – the odds of these being looked upon as future classics seem pretty strong.
More importantly for him, however, the 20th Anniversary guitars give him the chance to celebrate his longest musical partnership to date – two decades of making music with the good folks in Nazareth, PA.
“I wanted to celebrate it because the guitar, and the partnership I’ve had with Martin has been such an important part of my career,” Mayer enthuses. “I’m not a giant fan of counting the years, but in cases like this, I think it’s meaningful to take a moment and reflect and have some gratitude and celebration for where my career has taken me, and how the OMJM and OM-28JM have played such a huge part in it.”
This desire for everyone to be able to get involved in the festivities is also part of the reason why we have two John Mayer 20th Anniversary guitars – the premium OM-45 and the more affordable OMJM.
“That came from wanting to give as many guitar players a chance to celebrate as possible,” he confirms. “So the idea is to make sure everyone who could buy an OMJM can also get in on the fun.”
Given the gobsmacked reaction to his 20th anniversary guitars, then, we can’t help but wonder if he’s already thinking about how Mayer and Martin can flip the script again in a decade for the 30th anniversary.
“I can’t plan that far ahead… Or look that far behind. I get vertigo pretty easily,” he jokes. “But we’ll find a way to top it. There will be new materials and manufacturing methods to have fun with over the next 10 years.”
Don’t bet against Martin and Mayer breaking the internet once again in 2033.
Find out more about the Martin John Mayer 20th Anniversary Guitars at martinguitar.com