The musical instrument business is replete with examples of companies venturing into alternate and extraneous territory, and sometimes, such efforts bomb. One of the most notable (or notorious!) examples in guitar lore was that of C.F. Martin’s electric guitars.
The first electric efforts by the venerable company came about in the late 1950s, when Martin simply installed DeArmond pickups on flat-tops like the 00-18, D-18, and D-28. These guitars had an E added to their model name to designate their status, and were discontinued by the mid 1960s.
However, during the “guitar boom” of the ’60s, Martin undertook production of archtop electrics, as well; the F series, introduced in 1962, consisted of the one-pickup/single-cutaway F-50, the two-pickup/single-cutaway F-55, and the two-pickup/double-cut F-65. They had laminated bodies that were slightly less than two inches deep, two f-holes, and DeArmond pickups.
Later in the decade, the F models were supplanted by the fancier GT series, which consisted of the single-cutaway GT-70 and the double-cutaway GT-75. At least three 12-string examples of the GT-75 were made, but the GT series marked the end of Martin’s first electric instruments – the effort was abandoned in ’68.
The company didn’t install tranducers on its acoustics in the mid 1970s, but it’s interesting to note that even in the ’60s it didn’t pursue solidbody instruments… or electric basses.
In 1979, Martin re-entered the electric guitar market with the solidbody E series, which consisted of the E-18 and EM-18 guitars and the EB-18 bass. As the company’s first venture into the electric bass market, however, the EB-18 didn’t exactly set the world ablaze – or even ignite much interest. It was well-made, but much like its E and EM brethren, didn’t offer anything innovative.
The EB-18 had what Martin called a “modified Viennese” headstock shape with a rosewood veneer overlay. And while its silhouette may have been designed to evoke a European/Stauffer reference, many observers thought it just plain homely. Tuners were originally Grover Titans, later supplanted by Schallers.
In a sonic nod to the times, the EB-18 had a brass nut.
The set mahogany neck had an adjustable truss rod with a shape that was beefy-but-not-uncomfortable. The rosewood fretboard had 22 frets and a 33.825″ scale. Note that the pearl dot position markers feature two dots on the seventh fret, as often seen on many Martin acoustic models. And one might wonder how enthusiastic the company was about promoting the series, as only “CFM” appears on their headstocks, though the standard “C.F. Martin & Co.” was woodburned into the neck joint on the back of all but the earliest examples.
The satin-finished maple body had laminated strips of rosewood or walnut. The silhouette was a basic double-cutaway – not visually striking except for the laminations, but also not offensive or radical. It also featured standard locking strap buttons to secure the bass strap.
The instrument’s passive electronics consisted of a DiMarzio Model One pickup on the earlier examples of the EB-18, and a DiMarzio “G” pickup on later ones. Controls included a two-position dual-sound switch, and master volume and tone controls, which were capped by chrome P-Bass-type knobs. The chrome-plated bridge was a Leo Quan Badass, and the rear control cavity cover plate was brass-plated steel on early examples, supplanted by a black plastic variant on later basses. The EB-18 weighed 9.25 pounds and offered a dependable, utilitarian sound.
The E series remained in production until 1983, when Martin even tried a fancier E-28 consisting of one guitar and one two-pickup bass with different body styles, neck-through construction, and active circuitry. Curiously, the scale on the EB-28 bass was a slightly shorter 33.16″. That latter series is rarer, but none of the solidbody Martins was a smash hit.
Factory records indicate that at least 874 EB-18s were made from 1979-’83. Two examples of an apparently-fancier EMB-18 were also listed, but 98 solidbody instruments are listed as “unidentified” (and for what it’s worth, 217 EB-28 basses were made).
Again, the EB-18 may not have had a radical silhouette, but it’s fair to say that the entire solidbody series was probably considered too radical for a staid, traditional company like Martin. After all, it had been making guitars since 1833, and solidbody guitars and basses had only been around for less than 30 years when these models were introduced. What’s more, the fact that a lot of the hardware and electronics on Martin solidbodies came from outside suppliers may have fomented a subliminal “parts guitars” stereotype.
They’re fairly rare birds built by a legendary American manufacturer, but Martin EB-18s aren’t particularly collectible, due in no small part to Martin’s reputation as a builder of acoustic instruments. Much like Fender is seldom cited for its acoustic guitars…
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.