The late, great Johnny Cash had a glittering career that was full of ups and downs. A prolific artist, Cash released 97 albums in just under fifty years – an incredible achievement especially when you consider the quality and consistency of his work.
Despite sadly passing away in 2003, Cash continues to inspire new musicians of today through his timeless songwriting, distinctive vocal style, and versatile guitar playing.
Johnny cash used several acoustic and electric guitars throughout his career as a recording artist and live performer. However, there is one guitar that he used the most, and others that he used consistently over the years.
What Guitar Did Johnny Cash Play?
Although Johnny Cash used a variety of guitars during his career, his signature instrument was the Martin D-35. He played this guitar almost exclusively for 20 years, and Martin eventually released a signature model based on Cash’s instrument, called the Johnny Cash Commemorative D-35.
What Was Johnny Cash’s Main Guitar?
Over the years, legendary country artist Johnny Cash used many different guitars. His style evolved and changed dramatically, and therefore he used specific instruments to achieve new sounds and venture into different genres.
Despite his experimentation, there is one guitar that Cash undeniably used the most – the iconic Martin D-35.
The Martin D-35 is closely associated with Johnny Cash, and it is well known that he regarded this six-string beauty as his favorite instrument.
For over twenty years, Johnny Cash played his beloved D-35 almost exclusively during his live shows. A prolific touring artist, Cash was known to play hundreds of shows in a calendar year.
To celebrate Cash’s love affair with the D-35, Martin released a tribute model which is pretty much identical to the guitar that the legendary artist played throughout his career. This guitar was named the D-35 Johnny Cash Commemorative.
This Johnny Cash guitar features the same all-black design that he had and is made from a fantastic tonewood concoction including a solid engelmann spruce top, East Indian rosewood back and sides, and an ebony fingerboard.
It also has a Style 45 rosette, along with a beautiful dovetail neck joint constructed with mahogany blocks. This guitar’s tone is perfect for country, folk, or any form of acoustic singer-songwriter style music.
Although the D-35 wasn’t designed with onboard electronics, it can be used with an external pickup system for amplification. Alternatively, its rich tone can be recorded using a microphone.
What Kind of Guitar Did Johnny Cash Play Early in His Career?
Despite relying on his trusty Martin D-35 for many years, Johnny Cash was known to use other guitars for some recordings and live performances.
Acoustic guitars all produce different sounds based on the tonewoods that are used to construct them, their body shapes and sizes, and other aspects like the strings or onboard electronics.
Johnny Cash mainly recorded and released country music, but he wasn’t afraid to try new things, and often incorporated new styles into his songs, particularly in his later life.
The first guitar that Johnny Cash is known to have played was the Gibson J-200. Cash had a name inlaid on the neck of this guitar, and he began using it around 1958, before becoming a famous artist.
Gibson has since remade the J-200 in a variety of formats, including the beautiful SJ-200 Original.
The Martin D-28 was Johnny Cash’s guitar of choice around 1961, and he used it during the infamous live recording at Folsom Prison, seven years later.
This live album demonstrates Cash’s excellent country guitar and storytelling abilities, and you can get a good idea of the tone that his D-28 produced by listening to the recording.
Despite essentially being a low-budget project, the At Folsom Prison album enjoyed considerable commercial success, reaching the top 15 on the US album charts. It has since sold over 3 million records in the USA alone, which is some achievement.
What Guitar Did Johnny Cash Use Later In His Career?
In the later years of Johnny Cash’s career, he became somewhat of a folk singer. His vocals transformed from a rhythmic, country style to a more laid-back, crooning style, and this period included some exceptional music.
Cash toured less as the years went by, but he continued to use several different guitars in his recordings and live performances.
Martin D-45 Custom
In 1982, Johnny Cash began using another Martin acoustic guitar – this time the D-45. His instrument was customized to suit his preferences, with the neck from a D-41 installed, and a three-piece back and side assembly which closely resembles the D-35. This guitar was signed by Cash, C.F Martin III, and C.F Martin IV.
Johnny Cash Signature D-35 (Solitary Man)
Cash used his signature D-35, specially made for him by Martin, on his emotional album, American III: Solitary Man. This album was produced by Rick Rubin and was released in 2000.
The D-35 can be heard throughout the album, with Cash using simplistic strumming patterns which accompany his melancholy vocals. It was met with mixed reviews initially but has gone on to be a fan favorite for over two decades since its original release.
Johnny Cash’s Other Equipment
Johnny Cash was very consistent in terms of the instrumentation he used when performing live. In his early days as a performer, his band consisted of a drummer, an electric guitarist, a bassist, and himself on the acoustic guitar.
Like all artists, Cash changed things up at certain points during his career. This included adding different musicians to his lineup, and using different instruments for certain songs.
What Strings Did Johnny Cash Use?
Johnny Cash was a big fan of Martin, as you can see by the number of guitars he used. He also likes to use their Lifespan 2.0 medium gauge guitar strings, which are known for their longevity and resistance to corrosion.
Did Johnny Cash Play Electric Guitar?
Johnny Cash was joined by Bob Wooton or Luther Perkins onstage, both of whom played electric guitar as part of his live band. However, Cash was known to use an electric guitar now and then.
Although Johnny Cash is best known as an acoustic guitar player, he also played electric guitar on many occasions. All of the electric guitars that he used were made by American manufacturers Fender.
Cash is known to have played a Fender Esquire, in addition to the Jazzmaster and Jaguar guitars. However, the Esquire is the most notable, as this guitar was largely responsible for the classic amplified country tone.
The Esquire only had one pickup installed on the bridge, and therefore it produced a pronounced attack with a warm, slightly muffled sound. This tone was perfect for country music.
When Johnny Cash used one of these Fender electric guitars, he played them through either a Fender Tweed or a Twin Reverb tube amp. Perkins, on the other hand, recorded guitar through a Fender Bassman, ‘65 Deluxe Reverb, or a Sears Silvertone 1300.
Johnny Cash had a great taste in guitars. His signature D-35 which was custom-made by Martin is one of the most iconic acoustic guitars ever produced and was used on many of his most popular recordings.