The Ballad of the Dreadnought
Posted June 21, 2016
If you have visited the Imagination Gallery at the Autry Museum of the American West then you have seen Gene Autry's famous Martin D-45 Guitar on display. It has been called the "Grandfather of the American Acoustic Guitar" and you can learn more about this guitar's place in musical history in the new Martin Guitar documentary "The Ballad of the Dreadnought." This 40-minute film documents the evolution of the Martin Dreadnought Guitar and its role in American music of the past century.
Martin Guitar Documentary:
"The Ballad of the Dreadnought"
Thursday, June 2, 2016
By Carter Walker of The Morning Call
Elvis Presley, Steve Miller, David Crosby, Hank Williams, Gene Autry were all musical icons in their own time, all playing the same instrument.
2016 marks the 100th year of production for what some have called the most influential instrument of all time: the Martin Dreadnought.
"Popular music today owes much to the Dreadnought," says Amani Duncan, vice president of brand marketing for C.F. Martin & Co. "Dating all the way back to our first TV star, Gene Autry, Dreadnoughts were paramount in shaping American music today."
To commemorate the occasion, C.F. Martin of Nazareth, in conjunction with its advertising agency Lehigh Mining and Navigation, created "The Ballad of the Dreadnought," a 40-minute film documenting the evolution of the instrument and its role in American music of the past century.
Originally intended to be a five- to seven-minute-long product video, the project evolved when Duncan and the team from Lehigh Mining and Navigation found they had too much quality material they weren't willing to cut. Knowing that the 100th anniversary was only a year away, they decided to expand the video into a short documentary.
"A lot of guitarists know the Dreadnought as a body shape because it has become the most iconic body shape in the guitar world," says Joe Iacovella, director of account services at Lehigh Mining and Navigation. "This was our opportunity to document that story and tell the world who really owns and developed the Dreadnought, and how significant it was to the landscape of music and to musicians."
The documentary features interviews with legendary musicians such as David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Steve Miller, as well as newer players like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.
"One thing you're never going to have to pry out of a musician is talking about their gear," says Scott Byers, managing partner at Lehigh Mining and Navigation.
"We needed to have someone very prominent narrate the piece for us, so we called our friend, actor and musician Jeff Daniels, who so graciously offered his services to narrate," Duncan says.
C.F. Martin has been in operation for 183 years, and is the country's oldest guitar manufacturer, Duncan says. Between its two factories — in Nazareth and Navojoa, Mexico, Martin produces about 150,000 guitars each year.
The Dreadnought was designed in 1915, and first sold by the Oliver Ditson Co. in 1916 as the Ditson 111. For the first two decades of the 111's life, it sold only about a dozen models per year. But when the Oliver Ditson Co. shut down during the Great Depression, the 111 returned to Martin and reasummed the name Dreadnought.
What makes the Dreadnought unique is its large body and wide waist. This shape allows for more volume and a deeper bass sound.
Because it was the largest guitar of the time, it was named after the British battleship, which was built 10 years prior and was also the largest of its kind.
"We looked at the early days of radio recording, and this is before electric guitars when they needed a bigger, louder guitar that could project in the studio setting into the microphone," says Denis Aumiller, managing partner at Lehigh Mining and Navigation. "The thing about the Dreadnought is it's a much larger guitar then the previous parlor-style guitars."
As the guitar began to take center stage, the Dreadnought became the go-to instrument for many American musicians.
Hank Williams played a Dreadnought, which eventually would become Bob Dylan's instrument, and in turn Neil Young's. A Dreadnought is featured on Elvis Presley's first album. When Crosby, Stills and Nash performed at Woodstock for the second time ever as a group, they used a Dreadnought.
"The Dreadnought was really part of all these musical milestones," Byers says. "We really wanted it [the film] to be about how the Dreadnought shaped American music."
Since its release May 5, the documentary has had 25,000 views on Martin's Vimeo page. It has been accepted to six film festivals, including the Bethlehem SouthSide Film Festival. The film also screened at ArtsQuest Center on May 25.
"As far as looking forward, it even says something that MTV is bringing back their iconic 'Unplugged' series, so acoustic music is here to stay," Duncan says. "There's some amazing players today and in history that have played the Martin Dreadnought. I don't see that stopping any time soon."
A portion of Gene's performance of the song "Guns and Guitars" on his Martin D-45 guitar is used in the documentary "The Ballad of the Dreadnought." Watch the full version of the song from the Gene Autry Official YouTube Channel below.
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