The 14-Fret Bet
The true story of Perry Bechtel and the Orchestra Model guitarby Richard Johnston and Peter Kohman
Additional research by John Woodland
Below is the story now appearing in Issue 6 of The Fretboard Journal (June, 2007). The Fretboard Journal is a beautifully designed and printed magazine for people who buy, build, play and love stringed instruments. If you have not seen this magazine yet, you must take it upon yourself to find a copy of it. Better yet, go to their website and subscribe, you won't regret it! For more information about the Magazine and how to subscribe, check out their website FretboardJournal.com
|Almost everyone familiar with the history of C. F. Martin & Co. knows the story of how in 1929 a banjo player and guitarist named Perry Bechtel convinced the conservative firm to build a new guitar model with a longer, narrower neck. The new guitar had a 000-size body that was shortened so that the neck would have 14 frets clear of the body; a 25.4" scale length; a solid (not slotted) headstock; and a pickguard glued to the top. Dubbed the Orchestra Model, or OM, it was not only Martiné─˘s first modern guitar; it was the prototype for the style that would define the American steel-string flattop guitar for decades to come.
The OMé─˘s immediate popularity caused Martin to redesign most of their 12-fret guitars and give them 14-fret Orchestra Model makeovers. Within a few years of the OMé─˘s introduction, models that had remained unchanged in appearance since before the Civil War had morphed into modern-day instruments. The traditional slotted headstock, wide 12-fret neck and long bodies of Martiné─˘s original designs became old-fashioned seemingly overnight.
Soon, virtually all Martin guitars were redesigned with 14-fret necks, and the OM was no longer a distinct model. In the companyé─˘s catalogs, é─˙Orchestra Modelé─¨ became a generic term for flattops in the new 14-fret style, and the original OM was renamed the 000. The older style, 12 frets with slotted headstock, was still represented by a tiny handful of models and was designated in the catalog as the Standard series. (To this day, the S suffix in current models like the D-28S stands for Standard and not Slotted, as some people believe.)
In 1934, Martin introduced the 14-fret dreadnought, and the new guitaré─˘s powerful bass response and impressive volume made it the most sought-after guitar in the catalog. The dreadnoughté─˘s enduring popularity helped erase the memory of the OM as the original 14-fret guitar. However, the OM was ediscovered in the late 1960s by players like Eric Schoenberg and John Miller, who felt the guitaré─˘s balanced bass-to-treble response was better-suited to the complex finger-style technique they were pioneering than the booming bass-heavy sound of dreadnoughts. The rise in popularity of various fingerpicking styles since the 1960s has boosted the OM from an almost-forgotten model to its current place as the second-most-copied acoustic steel-string guitar design (first place still belongs to the dreadnought). C. F. Martin today sells thousands of OM models annually, and many other guitar companies, both foreign and domestic, use the same shape and OM moniker as well.
|According to legend, before collaborating with Martin in the creation of the OM, Perry Bechtel played a Gibson L-5, which, when introduced in late 1922, was the worldé─˘s first carved-top, f-hole guitar. For decades, the speculation has been that Martiné─˘s first modern flattop was heavily influenced by the first modern archtop guitar, tying the most dynamic period in American The true story of Perry Bechtel and the Orchestra Model guitarThe 14-Fret Bet guitar design into a neat, easily explained bundle. Under the microscope, however, it seems that history doesné─˘t offer such tidy conclusions. In 2006, John Woodland was combing through Martiné─˘s files in the attic of the old North Street factory, researching another topic, when he discovered a months-long chain of original correspondence between Perry Bechtel and C. F. Martin III in a folder marked é─˙Cable Piano Co.é─¨ These letters make it clear that Martiné─˘s first 14-fret guitar was quite different than the standard OM models that soon followed it, and that Bechtelé─˘s demands resulted in a unique instrument unlike any Martin guitar made before or since.
Furthermore, although a Gibson guitar was an important part of the equation, it wasné─˘t an L-5 after all. Woodland also discovered letters from other dealers around the same time that show that Bechtel wasné─˘t the only banjo player demanding new ideas from C. F. Martin & Co. é─ţ and also that the OMé─˘S creation tale was tied to the introduction of Martiné─˘s tenor guitars. By 1929, the conservative C. F. Martin & Co. was ripe for change. Although the Pennsylvania firm had gradually changed its line from gut strings to steel strings during the 1920s, it had been slow to catch on to changes in how guitars were being played. Heeding requests from its leading retail accounts more than a decade earlier, Frank Henry Martin had been able to catch the Hawaiian music wave well before his competitors, and ukuleles and Hawaiian guitars had proved a boon for Martin. Selling as many ukes as they could build, Martin had expanded several times during the 1920s to keep up with demand.
Still, by the time the OM saga began at the end of the decade, the ukulele market had seriously slowed down. Martin had considerable success with Hawaiian guitars, selling to those who played it with a steel bar on the lap as well as the é─˙Spanish-styleé─¨ strummers who accompanied them. However, with the invention of the National Tricone resonator guitar in 1928, which offered greater volume and sustain than any conventional instrument, Martin was losing its share of that market also. To make matters worse, a powerful new competitor was in sight. Since its inception, Gibson had been denigrating conventional flattop guitars as é─˙unworthyé─¨ and had been marketing expensive carved mandolins and guitars. But in 1926, the company from Kalamazoo, Michigan, reversed themselves and introduced their own flattop line.
Martin was aware that these combined changes meant the overall economic health of the company was once again in jeopardy. As Frank Henry Martin, then the head of the company, logged dealer requests into the orders ledger, he would make weekly notes in the margin as to the average wholesale dollar amount booked per day. Several months before the October 29 stock market crash of 1929, Martiné─˘s cash flow was already in serious decline. The once-swelling ranks of employees in Martiné─˘s recently expanded North Street factory were being trimmed, always a painful process in a small town like Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
|In 1923, Martin did make a half-hearted effort to cash in on the banjo craze, but their Style 1 tenor banjo was poorly received, and after making only 96 of them, they ceased production in 1926. It was just as well: Popular music was about to undergo a major shift that would leave that instrument behind. Smoother sounds were all the rage, and orchestra banjoists came under pressure to é─˙doubleé─¨ on guitar. As recording technology improved, the guitar became more practical as a studio instrument and began to appear on many popular records. Pioneering guitarists like Eddie Lang and Nick Lucas caught the publicé─˘s (and other musiciansé─˘) fancy, and as dance-band styles evolved, many leaders began to insist that their banjo players were able to provide guitar services as well. banjoists needing a shortcut to guitar playing (and its completely different tuning and fingering) inspired the invention in the mid-1920s of tenor and plectrum guitars, which simply consisted of a banjo-style neck on a guitar body.
Martin responded in 1927 by introducing small guitars with narrow four-string necks. Trying to keep the instrument in proportion to the short 23" scale, Martiné─˘s first choice or a tenor-guitar body was their smallest, the Size 5, designed almost a century earlier as a short-scale terz guitar. These diminutive Size 5 tenors had a delicate, pretty sound but didné─˘t offer much volume and were practically useless in a danceband context. Martiné─˘s next attempt at a tenor guitar, using a larger Size 2 body, was added to the line in 1928. Tenor players soon complained about limited access to the upper frets, prompting Martin to build some rather awkward Size 2 tenors with 14 frets clear of the body, but as a result, the bridges were nearly in line with the guitaré─˘s waist.
In early March, 1929, Al Esposito, instrument department manager of the major New York jobber and retailer Carl Fischer, sent Martin a crude drawing suggesting how a larger 12-fret guitar body could be altered to produce a model with 14 frets clear, despite the shorter tenor scale. Esposito, who described himself as é─˙a player of plectrum instruments amongst the professional orchestras,é─¨ was writing on behalf of two well-known players é─ţ Frank Victor and Frank Petrucci é─ţ seeking a large, loud, high-quality tenor guitar. In case Martin needed another reason to design its first new guitar shape in decades, Esposito mentioned that he was trying to convince his clients not to buy a Gibson: é─˙. . . I am holding them back from purchasing one of these, until I hear from you.é─¨ Carl Fischeré─˘s 1929 catalog offered tenor guitars from Martin, National, Regal and the Harmony Roy Smeck Vita line, but no Gibsons. Like many salesmen before and since, Esposito was desperately trying not to lose a sale.
Martin first sent a standard long-neck Size 2 tenor, which was quickly rejected. The company then attempted to follow Espositoé─˘s drawing, shortening a Size 0 body as he indicated. The é─˙artisté─¨ was less than pleased with the result, complaining that the upper bout was é─˙entirely out of proportion.é─¨ This historically important guitar é─ţ the first Martin with a shortened upper bout é─ţ has never been found. Martin may well have destroyed it after its eventual return, since Fischer complained repeatedly that it was é─˙unsellable.é─¨
Martin was finally able to satisfy Espositoé─˘s customers with a newly designed 0-21 tenor guitar, with a shorter but wider upper bout. Esposito was pleased, ordering five at a time after specifying a lower price point, which Martin met by switching to a mahogany body. He was able to quickly sell several, including one for Rudy Valleeé─˘s Orchestra, and soon reported, é─˙It is the talk amongst the professional tenor banjo players . . . and is going to be a big hit in New York.é─¨
This é─˙Carl Fischer Model,é─¨ as Martin called it for several months, was soon renamed the 0-18T. It went on to become Martiné─˘s best-selling tenor guitar and remained in continuous production for more than 50 years. (It was made famous by, among others, Rabon Delmore of the Delmore Brothers and, later, Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio.) After early signs of success with this reshaped tenor model, C. F. Martin III was suddenly receptive to new ideas from banjo players, as well as requests for altering the body shape. Al Espositoé─˘s glowing report arrived at Martiné─˘s office while C. F. Martin III and his father Frank Henry were entertaining another hot young banjo player with big ideas, but this one was looking for a six-string guitar, not a tenor.
The instrumentalist who made this timely visit to the Martin factory was Perry Bechtel, who had been discovered a few weeks earlier by Martiné─˘s new salesman on the road, James Markley. Markleyé─˘s job was not only to drum up enough orders to cover his commissions, but also to be Martiné─˘s é─˙ear to the groundé─¨ in the rapidly changing market. Markley met the 27-year-old Bechtel at Atlantaé─˘s Cable Piano Co. while making a sales call. Cable was one of the largest and most prestigious music stores in the South. Having moved beyond pianos, Cable boasted a comprehensive string-instrument department. Bechtel was the firmé─˘s main fretted-instrument salesman by day; during off hours, however, he was constantly playing on radio and in clubs and ballrooms throughout the Atlanta area. Like Al Esposito, he was a professional orchestra player with lots of clout with his fellow musicians. Bechtel had recently returned to Atlanta after a high-profile stint with the Phil Spitalny Orchestra and was considered the local virtuoso of the frets. He was also a Pennsylvania native, and Markley discovered that Bechtel had plans to bring his Southern wife on a vacation to his home state.
Despite humble origins, Perry Bechtel had already flirted with stardom. A decade earlier, heé─˘d lied about his age to join the Navy and, while at sea during the final days of WWI, had been introduced to the mandolin by the shipé─˘s barber. Back in port, a fellow seaman shipping out had tossed Bechtel a pawn ticket, which as luck would have it yielded a tenor banjo. Unable to afford lessons, he contrived an arrangement that allowed him to listen under the window while a betteroff friend received instruction. Soon after leaving the Navy, he was already a professional working in dance bands. Within a few years heé─˘d made a name for himself as a hot instrumentalist on both tenor and plectrum banjo: é─˙The Boy with a Thousand Fingers,é─¨ they called him, and later, é─˙The Man with 10,000 Fingers.é─¨
|Hokey sobriquets aside, Perry Bechtel was recognized by any who heard him as having extraordinary musical sense as well as staggering technique. Unlike many banjoists, Bechtel had little interest in tenor or plectrum guitars, being already equally adept at playing both four-string banjo and six-string guitar. Once he was employed by Cable Piano, Bechtelé─˘s public appearances became de facto advertisements for the storeé─˘s fretted-instrument department, with one glaring problem: Perry Bechtel was playing shows with a Gibson, and Cable was not a Gibson dealer.
After receiving the tip from Markley, C. F. III invited Bechtel to drop by the factory when he was in the area. é─˙As we understand it,é─¨ C. F. wrote in a letter, sent care of Cable, é─˙you are planning to motor, leaving Atlanta June 15th.é─¨ Directions from Philadelphia were given, é─˙the best route . . . lies through Doylestown and Easton . . . and the road is very good.é─¨ Bechtel was asked if he would remain in Nazareth at least through June 22, when Markley would return from a sales trip. Although they likely spent time at the factory discussing Bechtelé─˘s guitar needs, there was time for fun as well. Bechtel, Frank Henry Martin and C. F. III went fishing at a nearby lake and enjoyed a picnic together with their wives.
The bond between C. F. III and Bechtel was no doubt aided by the fact that they were both Pennsylvania boys who had married ladies from Atlanta. Bechtel took photos of the Martins with his new camera, and Markley also took some photos before Bechtel and his wife left town. For the next few weeks, correspondence between the Martin Guitar Company and Cable Piano was as much about photography as about guitars. On July 10, Bechtel wrote to C. F. expressing his and Mrs. Bechtelé─˘s é─˙appreciation of your genial and general hospitality. . . . That picnic will linger long in one é─˛potato chefé─˘sé─˘ memory. Enclosed are the pictures of yourself and Mr. Martin Sr. which, as you will probably remember, were snapped against odds of a dark afternoon, but came out fine I thought.é─¨ The letters, along with a carbon copy of C. F.é─˘s replies, were kept in Martiné─˘s files, but sadly, the photos were not among them.
|The Martins were not only genuinely interested in Bechtelé─˘s ideas, they were anxious to please both him and Cable Piano. C. F. III had delivered a custom 12fret 000-45 to é─˙Blue Yodeleré─¨ Jimmie Rodgers the year before, but the influence that genial strummer would have on other musicians was not yet known. Before that, Martin had well-known guitarists and teachers like William Foden and Vahdah Olcott Bickford endorsing its instruments, but they were hardly media stars. By 1928, Gibson had debuted a special deluxe-model flattop endorsed by Nick Lucas, whose recordings were showcases for flashy é─˙plectrumé─¨ (flatpick) guitar playing. Bechtelé─˘s flatpicking was equally flashy but even more sophisticated. The fact that Bechtel had been playing a Gibson made the challenge of winning him to the Martin side all the more enticing
The new guitar that Perry Bechtel and the Martins agreed upon would be based on the é─˙big Martin,é─¨ a 000-28 loaned to Bechtel by his employer. The 000 was the largest size Martin had in production under their name é─ţ the dreadnought shape was still an exclusive item for Ditson. By shortening the long upper bout of the 000 and moving both the bridge and the soundhole up closer to the neck block, the team had drawn up a pleasing guitar shape, one that allowed for a neck with 14 frets clear of the body. Factory foreman John Deichman was almost certainly the primary draftsman of both this and the similar tenor shape redrawn a few months earlier.
One of Bechtelé─˘s priorities was a pickguard to avoid scratching the top with his pick. (Heé─˘d already damaged the finish on the guitar borrowed from Cable.) Bechtel also wasné─˘t happy with the neck on the borrowed Martin and wanted his custom guitar to have a neck as close to that of his Gibson as possible, along with extra fingerboard and headstock binding. Since he didné─˘t have the Gibson with him on the trip, he agreed to make careful measurements of the neck width and fretboard radius when he returned to Atlanta. As soon as the Bechtels left Nazareth, C. F. III wrote to William Schrader, Bechtelé─˘s manager at the Cable Piano Co., to confirm the order, as it was clear that Cable was footing the bill.
Ité─˘s clear from Schraderé─˘s reply to Martin that Bechtelé─˘s Gibson was not an L-5, but a Style O é─˙Artisté─˘s Model,é─¨ probably the 1922 or 1923 example he is pictured holding in the 1928 Gibson catalog. This guitar qualifies as é─˙freak-shapedé─¨ even by modern standards! Although the Style O was an obsolete model (it disappeared from Gibsoné─˘s price lists by 1924), the odd cutaway upper bout did allow its player easy access to the 15th fret on the treble side, a distinct advantage for a plectrum banjo player used to full access to 22 frets. Schrader seemed somewhat dismissive of Bechtelé─˘s special demands; no doubt he had plenty of experience dealing with the quirks of his é─˙prima donnaé─¨ salesman, but he was still determined to have Cableé─˘s é─˙golden boyé─¨ play a Martin in public.
Martin wasted no time in getting the project started, and by July 15, C. F. reported to Bechtel: é─˙Your guitar has made good progress and is now awaiting the template for the neck and fingerboard. We need to know the exact width of the fingerboard at the nut and at the twelfth fret, also the exact shape you desire on the surface of the fingerboard at these two points.é─¨ Bechtel replied on July 20, saying he would gladly send his Gibson to Martin so the neck could be duplicated é─ţ if not for the fact that he was forced to use it: é─˙The big Martin is en route to you for bridge gluing and refinishing.é─¨ He also hinted for the first time that the extra binding heé─˘d requested wouldné─˘t be the only decoration added to Martiné─˘s rather plain Style 28: é─˙Am more than anxious to try this new Martin and if it works out Ié─˘m going to have you dress up the peg head a bit.é─¨
A few days later, he sent Martin the needed templates, apologizing for his rather crude draftsmanship. C. F. III replied, é─˙There is no need to apologize. . . . [U]sing them as guides we are going right ahead with your Guitar and will undertake to promise delivery about August first.é─¨ He was also pleasantly surprised to learn both the width and fingerboard radius of Bechtelé─˘s Gibson neck: é─˙The width you specify is less by 1?16" at the nut . . . than our standard fingerboard, which, undoubtedly, is an important factor to you in handling the instrument. The rounding is somewhat greater but not as much as we expected.é─¨ As this letter was dated July 22, ité─˘s clear that Martin was capable of rushing important orders through the factory very quickly.
On August 9, Bechtel wrote again, with good news: é─˙The guitar arrived é─ţ a beautiful job é─ţ surpassed my expectation in appearance and grace of lines.é─¨ But he complained the action was too low, é─˙so that the E string hasné─˘t the maximum of tone.é─¨ He remarked that he would not trust the local é─˙violin luthiersé─¨ (possibly Cableé─˘s own repair department) with guitar adjustments. This letter also contains the first complaints about the depth of the neck. Perhaps he should have sent Martin the Style O after all, as the deep é─˙Vé─¨ profile on those Gibson necks is unlike any Martin from the 1920s. At this point, however, Bechtel still saw great potential in the project, so he made suggestions for decorating the headstock while the guitar was back at the factory to have the action adjusted.
|C. F. IIIé─˘s reply encouraged Bechtel to return the guitar for action adjustment, é─˙and while it is here we will supply the special head veneer inlaid as you suggest. This will take a little extra time because we would send a Rosewood head veneer to the firm in New York City that does our special inlay work, but it will probably be possible to return the Guitar within two weeks time.é─¨ Bechtelé─˘s need to have the guitar returned as quickly as possible put an end to any further discussion of a custom inlay on the headstock. Instead, Martin agreed to add a stock Style 45 headplate with what is now called the é─˙torché─¨ inlay. Bechtel signed his letter, full of complaints about the neck depth, with é─˙Yours for the last word in é─˛fine guitars for finicky folksé─˘ like yours truly, Perry.é─¨ The man had a knack for understatement.
As promised, Martin turned Bechtelé─˘s guitar around in barely a weeké─˘s time, and that included adding the Style 45 headstock veneer and touching up the finish. Although fulfilling a young hotshoté─˘s many demands had been time-consuming, the resulting guitar was already reaping unexpected dividends. é─˙By good fortune,é─¨ wrote Martin, é─˙we were able to have your Guitar tried out by Mr. Roy Smeck who paid us an unexpected visit. He liked the Guitar very much and seemed to think you were farsighted in having it made up. He expressed a desire to have a similar Guitar for his own use at a later date.é─¨
On September 13, Perry replied, finally seeming content with his new instrument: é─˙The guitar is now fine, am using it plenty on the air nowadays, and have had several compliments on it. Am glad Roy tried out this model, and am reasonably sure, if you will introduce it to the star plectrum guitarists, that it will meet with approval. My only suggestion é─ţ make the neck a little deeper.é─¨
Despite the trials of building its second custom guitar shape in less than six months, Martin seemed encouraged by the potential of this new model. On October 5, a prototype é─˙000-28 Specialé─¨ was begun, with additional notation calling it the é─˙Perry Bechtel Model.é─¨ Since there were no dealer requests for the new model yet, this was probably the guitar James Markley took with him on the road to drum up orders. On October 12, the Cincinnati branch of the Wurlitzer music-store chain put in the first order, prompting another é─˙Perry Bechtel Modelé─¨ 000-28 to be started three days later. This guitar, serial number 39904, has survived; it has a slotted headstock like Bechtelé─˘s original, but without the extra binding and inlay on the neck (it also has John Deichmané─˘s initials on the underside of the top).
By late November, eight more 000-28 Specials were started (a batch of three, a left-handed version and another batch of four), and Bechtelé─˘s name appeared next to the model designation on most of them, sometimes with é─˙Professional Modelé─¨ added. (These notations are only in Martiné─˘s records, not on the instruments themselves, as Martin was still two years away from stamping model designations inside its instruments.) As far as we can tell from surviving examples, these guitars were all given the solid headstock, with banjo tuners, as seen on the OM-28 that appeared in Martiné─˘s 1930 catalog a few months later.
|From other letters to Martin from its dealers around this time, ité─˘s clear the company was already feeling pressure from the growing popularity of archtop guitars. Barely a decade after Martin had first embraced the use of steel strings, guitar players began defecting from traditional flattops to the archtop style. Minneapolis dealer B. A. Rose wrote to Martin in early November of 1929, summarizing the dilemma: é─˙We are getting inquiries now for regular guitar for orchestra playing. We find that your regular six-string instrument is not proving entirely satisfactory. We believe that it will be necessary for you to build, just as you do the tenor-guitar, a special guitar for pick playing. . . .é─¨ Rose was careful to enumerate the changes needed, including having strings é─˙just as close together as they are on the banjo,é─¨ geared pegs (as on Martin tenor guitars), better access to the upper frets and a pickguard. Other suggestions included a é─˙tilted neck,é─¨ an adjustable bridge and a tailpiece, as found on archtop guitars. Martin had been hearing more complaints from banjo players about wide necks, and so even at this early date, the neck was reduced to just 13?4" wide at the nut, a feature repeated on all later 14-fret six-string models.
C. F. III wasted no time in replying: Martin had already realized é─˙that there is a demand from Banjo players for a Guitar which they can handle easily and which will be responsive and full in tone.é─¨ He went on to describe the newly modified 000-28 made first é─˙for Mr. Perry Bechtel, a well known professional player, who pronounced it the best Guitar he ever used. . . . Since several of this new model are now coming through the factory we wish you would permit us to send you one. . . .é─¨ On November 20, Rose was sent one of the new é─˙Professional Modelsé─¨ for a 10-day trial, but he returned it, saying they didné─˘t feel it was different enough from the standard 000-28. He repeated their request for a Martin guitar made like an archtop.
Even the man who had set Martin on this track of building a long-necked flattop guitar for orchestra wasné─˘t happy with his new instrument for very long. By December 5, Bechtel wrote to Martin again, this time complaining of the action being too high, and also of a é─˙lack of musical toneé─¨ when the G string was fretted. é─˙All this may be due to the extra thinness of the neck (in depth) . . . ,é─¨ he stated. C. F. III offered to work on Bechtelé─˘s guitar once again, but ité─˘s clear that his patience was wearing thin. é─˙The neck of this instrument is every bit as thick as our regular Guitar necks and should give you no trouble,é─¨ Martin replied.
James Markley, ever the diligent salesman, continued to pitch the new model when calling on Martin dealers, but beginning in December it was called a é─˙00028 Orchestra Model,é─¨ later shortened to é─˙000-28 OMé─¨ é─ţ but with no mention of Perry Bechtel. Bechtel went on to an illustrious career as a bandleader and musician, and the instrument he had first requested and helped design inspired a revolution in Martiné─˘s entire line of steel-string guitars. Yet, they did not travel those roads to fame together.
Period photos in Perry Bechtelé─˘s personal scrapbook clearly show that, like nearly all 1930s band and orchestra guitarists, he used modern f-hole archtop guitars. Ité─˘s also apparent that Perry was never content with any one guitar for very long. He is pictured with several different Gibson L-5s, which are all the Advanced 17-inch models that were first introduced in late 1934, an early Gibson Super 400 and a Dé─˘Angelico Excel, among others. In 1935, when the Martin Company introduced the F-9, a model with an arched top and flat back, C. F. III tempted fate by sending one to Bechtel for a free trial. Bechtel politely returned it with a note that it lacked é─˙velveté─¨ in the tone. By then he was accustomed to more sophisticated, fully carved archtops like the L-5, which quickly relegated Martiné─˘s F-9 to obscurity.
Martiné─˘s OM model had a far happier fate, despite failing to win over the orchestra players it was designed to please. Once the new model was shipped to dealers on the West Coast, orders began to stream in. Martin added a mahogany OM-18 to its line, which quickly began to outsell the more expensive OM-28. Most high-profile players who bought OM models didné─˘t wear tuxedos, however, but instead were more likely to perform wearing colorful Western outfits.
é─˙Hillbillyé─¨ music, particularly on the radio, was big business by the early 1930s. Jimmie Rodgers had proved to be one of the most influential artists of the era after all. Roy Rogers, who was still using his real name, Leonard Slye, played an OM in the Sons of the Pioneers, as did Hugh Farr, the groupé─˘s hot-picking guitarist. é─˙Haywire Macé─¨ McClintock (who wrote é─˙Big Rock Candy Mountainé─¨) and his Haywire Orchestra had two OMs in the group. Despite their humble railfence and hay-bale backdrops, many of these West Coast cowboy bands were financially very successful, and even a pearl-trimmed OM-45 was not out of reach. Roy Rogers, of course, bought an OM-45 Deluxe, the most ornate and expensive flattop Martin ever cataloged during the 1930s.
The OM was also popular with a wide range of ordinary pickers who enjoyed the longer, slimmer neck. Once the new OM models were pictured in the 1930 Martin catalog, dealers across the country were soon ordering them, almost to the exclusion of the old Standard Model (12-fret) Martins. Some dealers even wrote to Martin asking if they could exchange unsold 12-fret models for the new, hot-selling OMs their customers now demanded. The result, as mentioned earlier, was that virtually all Martin models were quickly given OM-like features. The ironic footnote to the story is that, by the 1970s, the early OM was widely considered the greatest fi ngerstyle guitar of all é─ţ when, of course, they had been specifically designed for é─˙plectrumé─¨ playing.
Despite his constant search for the perfect guitar, Perry Bechtel never made a lasting impression with that instrument. His plectrum banjo work, however, is legendary. Although he was never a household name like his old pal Eddie Peabody, Bechtelé─˘s fame warranted a full-page photo in Life magazine in 1955, where he was credited with renewing Americaé─˘s interest in the four-string banjo.
In 1958, RCAé─˘s Chet Atkins called Bechtel, saying é─˙I cané─˘t find anyone who plays as much banjo as you do,é─¨ and asking him to record an LP with a trio of guitar, bass and drums. The results, an album called The Greatest of Them All, was a best-seller that is still considered by many experts to be a high point of the four-string banjo style, with sophisticated arrangements rich in chord melody and moving harmony. Playing a Bacon & Day plectrum banjo equipped with a knee mute é─ţ and with some additional aid from Atkinsé─˘ engineering skills é─ţ Bechtel avoids the usual clanging banjo tones entirely. Around this time, Bechtel ceased playing much guitar, but he remained one of the bestknown, and most gracious, ambassadors of the plectrum banjo for the rest of his life. Even today, banjo players consider it an achievement to master one of his arrangements.
Like many musical geniuses, Perry Bechtel was rarely satisfied when it came to tone and was constantly modifying his instruments in vain attempts to get the sound he wanted. His family remembers him as constantly tinkering, trying out new ideas, unfailingly modest but never content to rest on his laurels. Even as late as 1980, Bechtel was still talking about his quest for the tones he heard in his head but could never find in an actual instrument. é─˙But when I hear the sound that I want,é─¨ he said in an interview, é─˙Ié─˘d go from here to California to get that sound, if I heard the one I wanted. . . . Ié─˘m still looking for that sound . . . that purple sound . . . velvet sound. I could go on and on about that. I hear it in my sleep.é─¨ Perry Bechtel died on February 21, 1982, and, hopefully, he found an abundance of the purple, velvet sound heé─˘d long been seeking.
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