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Geared Up: Sam Robbins Discusses His Weapon of Choice, the Martin 0000-18 Acoustic Guitar

We recently reconnected with Sam Robbins for a Geared Up interview, in which we discussed his favourite piece of gear, his Martin 0000-18 acoustic guitar.



As we mentioned last year in our premiere of his “Finally Feeling Young” single, there’s an “old soul” charisma about Sam Robbins. The singer-songwriter is back and recently released his new album, Bigger Than in Between, the follow-up to his 2021 debut record, Finally Feeling Young. This album expands on that old soul identity he began to etch out on his debut, a sound reminiscent of James Taylor, John Denver, and Jackson Browne. Although it is spiritually speaking very much similar to Finally Feeling Young, Bigger Than in Between is a more mature, fully realized sound from an artist who feels more comfortable with his musical skills and abilities.

While Finally Feeling Young was recorded primarily in his own living room, Robbins decided to strive for a more complete sound this time, teaming up with producer Neilson Hubbard to record a more traditional studio record. Rather than play most of the instruments himself, Robbins sought the expertise of some of Nashville’s best session musicians to elevate the sound of the record. Many of the songs were first written during the worst of the pandemic lockdown, which certainly influenced the sound of the songs and their subject matter.

We recently reconnected with Robbins for our latest Geared Up interview, in which we discussed his favourite piece of gear, his Martin 0000-18 acoustic guitar. He tells us his favourite things about the guitar, the story behind how he got it, what his backup for it is, and of course, his best “gear goes wrong” story.

What one piece of gear do you use to obtain your signature sound?

Sam Robbins: “Definitely, the one piece of gear that’s the most essential to what I do is my guitar. I used to use a lot of pedals and accessories, but now all I use is a tuner pedal and guitar. (Well, two guitars, actually, but for now, I’ll just focus on the main one!) It’s a Custom Shop Martin 0000-18S with sinker mahogany.”

How did you come to possess this guitar? Vintage shop, regular shop, borrowed money, gifted. Give us the details…

“It’s a funny story actually! I had a chance to buy a really beat-up, old Gibson J-45 in New Hampshire (his hometown) for a great deal. They weren’t sure of the age but thought it was between 1957 and 1963. I’m not much of a Gibson/large-bodied guitar player, so I played it for a few months and decided I wanted to see what I could get for it. I had recently moved to Nashville when I brought it to every big store in town, and no one could give me a date on it until I brought it to Carter Vintage Guitars.

“While they were checking it out in the back, I was strumming random guitars and stumbled upon the one I play now. It was one of those ‘WOW’ moments where I just couldn’t put it down… but of course, I was a newly graduated college student who had just moved to a new city. I couldn’t afford a custom shop Martin! I was playing it when they brought the old Gibson back to me, told me it was a 1960, and they’d give me way more than I paid for it. So I was able to get the Martin! That was a great day.”

What about this particular guitar makes it so important to you?

“I really believe in the sort of mystical side of guitars… I tour solo acoustic, and that’s a lot of time with just me and the guitar! It really feels like a companion to me. All the scars on it are mine, and I feel like, through the years, we’ve both been through a lot together! I also got it in the first month of me living in Nashville, so it sort of heralded a new chapter in my life.”

Did you use this Martin guitar during the recording of your Bigger Than in Between?

“Yes! It’s all over the new album. It’s a really versatile guitar that can handle fingerpicking and strumming well, so it was by far the most used instrument on the record. In most songs, I’m using it. I also used a 1950s Gibson J-45 ironically and my RainSong carbon fiber jumbo guitar.”

We know you love this Martin guitar but are there any major cons? (Ok, now you can also list the pros.)

“I’d say a con, but also a pro is the fact that it’s a 12-fret guitar, as in, the body of the guitar meets the neck at the 12th fret rather than the 14th, like on most modern guitars. That makes it harder to reach the upper frets if I need to. But, I’ve learned that this also helps the tone; it moves the bridge back on the guitar, which allows for more sound to resonate. I’ll take it!”

If you could or wanted to (maybe you don’t at all, and that’s cool), what would you tweak or mod on this guitar?

“This is really picky… if I could, I’d maybe add just a little more sparkle on the guitar. Just a little! Maybe on the bridge or the rosette around the soundhole? It’s a pretty basic-looking guitar, with nice little inlays going up the neck. But maybe one more piece of sparkles would be nice….”

How does this guitar hold up with regular touring and gigging?

“It’s held up pretty well! I love guitars that are beat up and road worn, so I’m not afraid to really use this guitar and scuff it up a little bit. It’s still an acoustic guitar, so as I travel, I still need to have it adjusted every once in a while because of different climate conditions. But overall, it’s been great!”

Artwork for the album ‘Bigger Than in Between’’ by Sam Robbins

Do you have a backup for this guitar? If so, what?

“I have a RainSong Jumbo guitar that I also tour with, which I keep in alternate tunings. It’s all carbon fiber, so there are no weather or humidity issues at all; it’s pretty amazing! It has a great time, and I’ve used it a few times if something has gone wrong or if I’m playing in extreme weather and don’t even want to take my main guitar out of the case. Acoustic guitars are finicky!”

Time for some fun. Give us your best “gear goes wrong” story.

“I was playing a great show in Colorado this time last year at an amazing listening room. It was a benefit show with about 100 people, and it was me, solo acoustic with a guitar. About halfway through, the pickup in this guitar decided to stop working. But it died a painful death on stage; it didn’t just stop; it slowly started to make noise throughout the second half of the show. It started as a low rumble, and by the end, I was trying my hardest to get through as it sounded like crashing, banging, and clanging in the guitar. In a quiet room of 100 people… but we got through it!”

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