The Guitars of Johnny Cash


While some guitarists play a variety of different guitars from different manufacturers, others stick with what works.  Johnny Cash fell squarely in the latter category.  If Johnny Cash was playing a guitar, you could be pretty confident it was a Martin dreadnought.  The Martin guitars that Cash played included 1969 Martin D-28, a 1976 Martin D-76 limited edition made to commemorate the bicentennial, a 1982 custom Martin D-45 signed by C. F. Martin III and C. F. Martin IV, a 1989 custom D-35 and #1 of the 1997 signature Martin D-42JC (Johnny Cash Signature).

The story behind the custom D-35 is the most interesting.  According to the Martin Guitar website, the all-black D-35 custom was built when C. F. Martin III was head of the company and had to be built in secret because C. F. thought an all-black guitar was too “radical.”  According to the story, C. F. remained unaware of the instrument until he saw Johnny Cash playing it on Columbo.  Once he saw it on t.v., he liked it.  In 2006, Martin released the D-35 Johnny Cash Commemorative Edition modeled on that first all-black Martin.

The American Recordings that Johnny Cash recorded during the end of his career are personal favorites for us at Fretbase.  On the first album simply entitled “American Recordings,” Cash played the 1997 Martin D-42JC.  That guitar was the first all-black limited edition guitar ever offered by Martin.  It was a 14-fret dreadnought with forward-shifted scalloped X-bracing and a three-piece back made of East Indian Rosewood.

Martin D-35 Johnny Cash Commemorative Edition on Musician’s Friend

Martin D-42JC

Martin D-76 on Elderly Instruments

Click on for some favorite Cash tunes.

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  1. Johi

    That’s a good article, but there is one exception: In the late 60s and early 70s Johnny played a black Fender acoustic guitar that was customly made for legendary guitarist Luther Perkins and given to him. This guitar saw much use and today is owned by W.S. Holland (drummer) I think!

  2. Chief

    There a lot of pictures of Johnny Cash in the 50s with a Gibson that was like an orange color sunburst with a double sided pick guard and “Johnny Cash” written on the neck.

  3. Jerry Mullins

    I find it intersting that this article says the first Black Martin Guitar was built in 1989…I have a Black Martin Custom manufactured, according to my “Original Owners Card”, on 10/18/1988!

  4. Dave

    Those Fretbase editors are fools!

  5. buck carson

    yes well,its very, very,interesting. re guitars. they all vary so much in so many respects,day to day sound, room tempature , room acoustics , players ability,touch, feel, looks, action, different string types, flatpick, thumbpick, fingerstyle,neck scale, string spacings at nut,length of scale. neck joined at 12 or 14th fret, body size o,oo,ooo,om,dreadnought,saddle or nut material,whether you rest the guitar body on a table top,or against your body or away from your body…gee i could go on for hours. a guitar collector of martin and gibson acoustics,26 of each… boy i have played every model and type of these fine guitars….but at the end of the day, i have to admit some of the best guitars ive ever played on were ..NO NAME,jap, korean or made by some obsqure makers.Regards buck, at … GIBSONGUITARSALES.COM (lots of pics of pre war gibsons at this site )or if you wish to reply to me

  6. buck carson

    dont be too harsh of these guys at fret base,DAVE.its a big job trying to document someone like johnny cash and his guitars and be totally exact and precise. its the same with makers who give stars guitars . a few years ago when neil diamond was apprearing in concert here in australia maton guitar manufactures gave him maton guitar. now i have a copy of the letter of appreciation written in flight from this day , ive never seen or heard of the episode .also its a bit the same with song writers, hello mary lou was not by the person concerned, but by john d loudermilk. also a point of intrest is buddy knoxs hula luv ,its an old song that was recorded and released on a 78 rpm record in 1911. see utube. there is a great comparison of the two our pub with no beer .. which was written by the americian service mem who were stationed in australia in 1944.this then surfaced in 1950 and was put to the tune of stephen fosters, beautiful dreamer and claimed by by an australian to be his original tune and lyrics..makes the mind boggle,doesnt it, regards buck carson

  7. F4R3W311

    @Jerry Mullins

    This article doesn`t say that the first one was built in 1989. The first custom “black finish” was built for Cash back in the early to mid 1970′s. It was custom built for Johnny and was kept secret from C.F. Martin III because he wouldn`t allow the building of a guitar with a black finish. The custom black finish guitar was eventually built and delivered to Cash without C.F. knowing. When Johnny used the guitar on an episode of the TV series Columbo, C.F. happened to be watching and liked it; later allowing it`s production.

  8. Brad

    My friend has a Johnny Cash guitar that was made,I believe, in an old guitar/music shop in the Grand Ole Opry building or nearby. His grandfather used to play at the GOO on occasion in the 50s and 60s and he believes Johnny gave him the guitar then. His grandfather died in the early 80s when my friend was very young. It has Johnny Cash embedded along the neck of the guitar.
    Wondering if anyone would have information about the music store?