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Late music icon David Crosby was devoted to Martin guitars, company says

David Crosby with a Martin guitar.jpeg
Martin Guitars
David Crosby plays a Martin guitar.

NAZARETH, Pa. — As Michael Nelson tells it, music icon David Crosby, who died at age 81 on Wednesday, not only held a Martin guitar in his hands for more than a half-century, but also in his heart.

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby, 81, has died
  • Crosby played Nazareth-based C.F. Martin & Co. guitars since the 1960s
  • Martin designed several signature models for Crosby

"David didn't just play a Martin all his life, he was like one of the family," said Nelson, vice president of marketing for C.F. Martin & Co., of Nazareth. “We did three signature model guitars with him."
Nelson noted that Crosby even played a Martin at the iconic Woodstock festival in 1969.

“David would come to our factory to pick out the wood and different trimmings and finishes," Nelson said. "He tended to every detail. When it came to his guitar choice, he was loyal to Martin. We have lost a legend that will leave a void in music and with our company.”

Crosby was a founding member of two of the more popular and influential bands of the 1960s — the Byrds, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Dick Boak of Nazareth, in his years as Martin's director of artist relations and special projects, worked with Crosby in person designing guitars specifically for him.

“Whether my interactions with David were in person or over the phone, it was always a pleasure,” said Boak, who retired in 2018. “Over the course of 15 years with Martin, I had interactions with David in person many times — once at the Nazareth factory … and another time at the Allentown Fairgrounds where he was performing.

“There are stories about how difficult David could be, and there’s some truth to that. But to be involved with a project where our company was doing a signature model for him, he understood that was a huge honor.”

Crosby rocks the vote

Rock the vote guitar.jpg
Martin Guitar
The rock the vote guitar features David Crosby.

In 2019, Martin and artist Robert F. Goetzl, a cousin of Martin Chairman Chris Martin IV, collaborated with Crosby to produce a special-edition art guitar titled “Rock the Vote.” It was aimed at encouraging young people to actively participate in the nation’s election process, with a focus on the 2020 general election.

Martin was long inspired by Crosby’s advocacy and enthusiasm for encouraging people to vote in all levels of elections.

rock the vote painting.jpg
Martin Guitar
An artist paints a portrait of David Crosby for the Rock the Vote guitar.

The D-16E Rock the Vote Special Edition featured Goetzl’s artwork on the guitar face, including the Statue of Liberty, part of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, two paintings of Crosby, and logos for Rock the Vote and Every Vote Counts.

Two recoveries

Crosby’s devotion to Martin guitars resided in his musical soul.

Boak recalled Crosby sharing a story about being in an alcohol and drug addiction rehab facility in Hazleton, where Crosby’s vintage Martin D-18 model was stolen from his room, along with his suitcase of clothes.

The guitar was one he bought in Chicago for $300 when he was barely out of his teens and playing the folk coffeehouses of the early 1960s. It was the guitar Crosby converted into one of the most iconic 12-string models in rock, around the time he joined the Byrds in 1964, then took to the world stage five years later when Crosby, Stills & Nash added Neil Young and debuted at Woodstock.

“David was so upset about the guitar being stolen,” Boak said. “So, a couple years went by, and David got his act together in recovery, and was touring again with Crosby, Stills & Nash. They were at a show in California and David’s wife was looking out into the audience. In the front row was a guy wearing a specific Hawaiian shirt. She knew it was David’s, and it was in that suitcase.”

Police were alerted. An investigation found the man had been an orderly at the rehab center where the guitar and suitcase were stolen. Still, he denied stealing the items, saying he got the shirt at The Salvation Army.

Enter Graham Nash, Crosby’s bandmate, Boak said.

“Graham and two very large men went to the man’s house to confront him,” Boak said. “The man came to the door and Graham told him he had two choices: He could take a couple thousand dollars and hand over the guitar or he would end up a puddle of blood on his doorstep. The man turned over the guitar.”

At a subsequent concert, Graham took the Martin D-18 guitar with him and asked Joni Mitchell, as Boak recalled, to ask David to come onstage to play his song, “Guinnevere.”

When she did, Crosby said he couldn’t play the song without that special guitar. When she handed him the guitar, tears streamed down Crosby’s face. He had his Martin back.

“David told me Martin guitars were the cream of the crop,” said Boak, who also collaborated on Martin guitar models with Stephen Stills, Nash and Young. “He said they defined acoustic guitars, that you could buy a model and have expectations that it would be exactly what you thought it would be — which is a quintessential acoustic tone.

“Today is a sad day, about David. He’ll be missed.”