Flatpicking superhuman Bryan Sutton will be featured in the Fretboard Journal #40 (subscribe here to pre-order it) talking about, among other things, this 1936 Martin D-28. Sutton is no slouch when it comes to owning great Martins, but—as this video shows—this one may take the cake in the tone department. (Sutton’s blistering take on Norman Blake’s “Coming Down From Rising Fawn” is no small feat, either.)
“This is a recent acquisition, a 1936 Martin D-28,” Sutton says of the guitar. “I don’t know much about the history. I wish I did. Part of the neck here is really worn in—it has several divots on the underside where someone has just had their way with it. It’s neat to find something that has been used so much.
“It’s not like a lot of D-28s that I’ve played,” he adds. “Less low-end in general but a lot more of that dry ‘30s kind of mid-range response. It really takes off, in a good way. Ultimately, it’s nice to have a guitar with a big low-end but what really works for soloing is more mid-range and cut, and kind of a pop to the notes that makes me feel like I don’t have to play it so hard. That sort of response is in spades with this instrument.”
Some collectors would never entertain the idea of investing in a vintage Martin with modifications. This one has two cardinal sins: a replaced bridge and a replaced bridge plate. “There’s nothing really collector about it,” Sutton says. “It’s a player’s instrument.” When Sutton picked up the guitar, it had just received a neck reset. “It’s starting to open up a little more and that’s kind of exciting, to know it’s changing around my playing,” he says.
Sutton isn’t the first bluegrasser we’ve heard who appreciates a D-28 with the characteristics of a D-18 (and plenty of D-18 players seek instruments that sound a bit like a 28). “Being Brazilian rosewood, it still has that very warm, appealing sound for bluegrass, which helps connect what the bass is doing with the mandolin and the banjo and occupies this really present low-mid,” Sutton explains. “But this thing just has this extra gear of upper range, pop and power and quickness to the note that a lot of times you might hear out of D-18s.”
“I love it so much, I was thinking of doing some sort of reversible pickup setup in it,” Sutton says. “I haven’t fully pulled the trigger on that it, but I do like the idea of being able to take this wherever I do and sometimes that means plugging in. In the condition it’s in, I’m not going to do anything that hurts it.”
This video was filmed backstage at Wintergrass 2017. Still photos by Monica Frisell.
Special thanks to The Music Zoo for sponsoring this and other Fretboard Journal videos. And look for Sutton in the Fretboard Journal #40.