Andy Griffith's acoustic guitar was unique in more than one way
The Andy Griffith Show star recycled the instrument from his early breakthrough film role.
Everyone knows that Andy liked to "strang along" with his good friends the Darlings when they rolled through town. How can you not be called to two-step when a classic like “There is a Time” or “Dooley” is playing on your television? What many viewers may have only glanced over is the instrument that Griffith picks up when he plays along.
Griffith, a longtime musician, favored a 1956 Martin D-18 on The Andy Griffith Show, a classic acoustic guitar from manufacturer Martin & Co. While there are certainly other pieces that he’ll use in the show from time to time, the one that seems to follow him home is his 20-fret, Dreadnought beauty.
The Andy Griffith Show wasn’t the first time the actor displayed his musical talents; they influenced his first major onscreen role in A Face in the Crowd (1957). Griffith, who played his own guitar for the part of Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, stunned audiences with his talent for the six strings.
Two guitars were needed for the movie to showcase Rhodes’ progression as a star. The first was a cheap and beat-up old instrument that Rhodes carried with him as he lived as a drifter. This is seen throughout the majority of the movie, lovingly referred to as "Momma Guitar" by Rhodes in conversation and in song. The second was what would become famous to Griffith fans who have a passion for music gear.
According to Dick Boak, an accredited historian and designer for Martin guitars, the props department took matters into their own hands with the second guitar. The idea was to create a flashy, dolled-up instrument fit for a country superstar. Without any consultation, the prop master of the film purchased the D-18, painted it black and covered the body in sequins and sparkles. This art spelled "Momma" and "Lonesome" — befitting of the vain and devilish character, and utterly disappointing to the craftsmanship of the guitar.
It wouldn’t be too long before Griffith, a hero through and through, rescued the guitar from its fate.
After the film concluded shooting, Griffith happened to come across the prop room and see the guitar laying abandoned. Acting on impulse, he picked up it and took it home for an intense makeover. Griffith worked on carefully removing the rhinestones and sanding down the paint by hand, careful not to dig too deep into the natural wood of the body. Nine days passed before the guitar was back to its bare bones, a spruce top with sides and back built from solid mahogany.
The only thing left to do was finish the guitar, and Griffith needed a helping hand getting the job done. He turned to a small, New York-bred guitar shop owned and operated by John D’Angelico, another famous manufacturer. Using Griffith’s specifications, D’Angelico refinished the guitar, maintaining its natural beauty with little additional stains or dyes to change the color of the wood.
Most noticeably, Griffith and D’Aneglico left off two major characteristics of this iconic instrument. They did not restore the Martin & Co. branding to the headstock, nor did they attach a new pickguard beneath the hole. This made the guitar truly one-of-a-kind, solidifying its place in music and TV history.
In 2004, Martin & Co. released an updated version of this model guitar to honor Andy Griffith. Only 311 guitars were built and distributed to the general public. Each one included a clear pickguard, a signed label inside the body, and Andy Griffith's signature on the 20th fret. (As pictured here.) One sold recently for about $2,500.
From abandoned to adored, this guitar will always have a spot on our front porches in the summertime.