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.
Click on for some favorite Cash tunes.