Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gibson MK-35


I feel horrible telling this story. I've always felt like I did something wrong and wish I could fix it. Back in about 1983 I lived in the little town of Enid, OK, having just flunked out of Phillips University and not yet ready to move back to reality. They just opened a real live honest to goodness mall out on the edge of town and everyone was buzzing. I got a job at Hastings Records and thought I was pretty cool. I was the guy at the record store in the mall. Our regional manager was a pretty cool guy named Jerry from Dallas, TX and he would come check on our store quite often. We had an issue with an employee that was stealing out of the register (as it turns out) and they were trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I got along with Jerry really well...we both had a pretty sarcastic sense of humor and really loved music and knowing about music and all that geeky stuff that makes someone a good record store person.

I played guitar at the time, but was still in my very beginning stages. I had a pretty cheap Fender acoustic and didn't know much about quality instruments. One day Jerry walks into the store carrying a guitar case and says that he has this interesting Gibson that I could use if I wanted to. It was unlike any other guitar I'd played and, to be honest, didn't sound that good or play that well. What I now know is that it probably just needed some new strings and a set-up. I had the guitar for quite awhile and Jerry never really asked about it.

I guess I kind of figured it was pretty much mine, but in the back of my mind I knew it was still Jerry's guitar.

As it turns out, the guitar was a Gibson MK-35, or Mark 35, and was part of a new series that very much departed from traditional designs. The bridge was very different and modern looking and the soundhole had a sort of plastic ridge around it. From doing a little research I now also know that it had a completely different bracking system and, although pretty much a failure with the public, it gained quite a following with the Nashville picking community at the time for it's sound. They only made the Mark series from '75-78 from what I can tell. There were a few other Mark series models as well, featuring nicer woods and more elaborate features as you went up the scale.

So, fast forward a short period of time and I happen to walk into a little guitar store in Enid and fall in love with a 1984 Ovation Collector's Series guitar...what did I know? Although I'm not much of an Ovation fan now, I sure fell head over heals for it at the time. Blame it on Glen Campbell probably. You can read the story of this guitar here. So I start figuring out how I'm going to come up with the money for it and decide maybe I can trade in the Gibson. I guess I must have talked myself into believing Jerry wouldn't want it back. I just wanted that damn Ovation. Now fast forward again another short period of time and Jerry asks me about the Gibson. I didn't know what to say, but finally stammered something about it being gone and sold and I didn't know he wanted it back and whatever else came out of my mouth. Jerry looked bummed. Super bummed. I guess he also didn't know what to say and for whatever reason just let it go. Not much else we could do at that point.

So for all these years I have felt like I owe Jerry a Gibson MK-35. I came across the one shown in the pictures at my local guitar store, Buffalo Brothers, and it reminded me of the whole thing. I may have been subconsciously blocking it all these years. So Jerry, if you're out there, shoot me an email so I can properly apologize. I was young. I was dumb. I still feel bad.
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15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I have a Gibson Mk35 and for tone, playability and build I regard it as my favourite guitar. I was just looking around for another MK or an upgrade when I saw the one that got away..
It's the second time I've read your story. Not great to have something like that in the back of your mind for a long period but it's good you were able to write it down. Were you able to get in touch with the guy from all those years ago?
Hope you are not still thinking about it. Maybe it meant more to you than it did to him in any case.
Do you have a Gibson MK now?

Regards

Nik England

Anonymous said...

Hello,

I bought an MK35 about a year and half ago from Real Guitars in San Francisco. It was a factory second because of cracks in the finish. It was a good, dry sounding guitar with some good projection, but I ended up selling to finance another Gibson, a Working Man 45 (much like a bastardized J-45). That Working Man 45 was eventually traded in for my current Gibson- an Advanced Jumbo. I'm guessing that third time's a charm.

Anonymous said...

I bought my MK-35 in 1977, still have it, play it daily and it sounds better with each passing year. Had some issues with it way back when, bridge lifted and I sent it back to Gibson for repair. When it came back they had refinished it in Sunburst, it was originally natural. took a little getting used to but I came to like it after a while. It is a different looking beast for sure but mine plays well and sounds good. Came new with three different bridge saddles so that you could do your set up, just loosen the strings as slide one out and another in. I did put the pickguard on after much deliberation, sometimes wish that I hadn't but probably would have worn the finish off if it hadn't been installed. It's a good old guitar now, wouldn't trade it for the world!

Anonymous said...

I own a Gibson Mark 35 12 String. Only 12 were produced as prototypes. Three of those were destroyed during testing, the remaining eights whereabouts are unknown. Gibson employees I've spoken with believe they may have been dismantled for their hardware at the factory. If anyone reads this blog and knows of the existance of another I would appreciate being contacted. Dave Brenchley
hisheirs@bellsouth.net

James Davis said...

I have a Gibson Mk-35 that I would like to see put to good use. It is in excellant condition with hard case. My dad purchased it while working for Gibson back in the 70's. It has been played some but by no one in our family as we are not musically inclined. I would like to sell it to help support our dog rescue. If anyone is interested in purchasing it i would be glad to send pictures. If interested contact cdavispaws@comcast.net

Anonymous said...

a little unrelated but its a guitar that got away.

i play the guitar almost every day, but have never had an actual lesson in my life. instead my dad taught me. when he started teaching me i was about ten, we had very little in common other than that and swimming, and so it was a way to bond.

he started out teaching me on one of his two guitars, an extremely playable ovation that although it's sound wasn't great, was easy on the fingers. this was a compromise as i had already refused to play my mom's nylon string guitar. his other guitar was the most unbelievably pain in the ass guitar in the planet. it was near impossible to play, way too big for ten year old me (my dad's a pretty big guy)and constantly going out of tune. It was an old sigma he had found at a garage sale and its one redeeming factor was an unbelievable sound. So guess who insisted on learning on it.

a few years ago we evacuated from hurricane katrina, leaving the sigma, thinking it would be fine. Our house was destroyed but it's the guitar i miss. I now play a lovely Norman we found at cotton's in nashville but that sigma will always be the guitar that got away

SDB said...

I got my MK-35 when I worked at a 2nd hand store about 13 years ago. I saw it hanging up on my way out the door (I was a delivery guy) and when I git back it was gone. But the guy brought it back a day later because he didn't like the sound. So I snapped it up for $100.

It had a bit of a buzz on the 2nd string, 3rd fret, and when open, and didn't sound all that great; but at least I had a real Gibson! I let it sit in the case for the most part and I noticed that every time I played it it sounded a bit better. A bit less buzzing, stayed in tune longer. All I can think is that it just need some time to let itself get acclimated or something. It plays awesome now, though now and then it gets a bit fussy if there's a weather front coming in.

Trevor said...

Sorry to say it, but you still owe him a Gibson.

brutally honest,

TD

Anonymous said...

I HAVE WHAT I THINK IS A MK-35. THOUGH HEADSTOCK IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THAN PICS I HAVE SEEN , ALSO PICK GUARD IS WHAT YOU WOULD SEE ON LIKE A JUMBO. IT IS SUNBURST IT HAS A PICKUP BUILT IN IT. THE BRIDGE IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS I HAVE SEEN ON THE OTHERS. THOUGH I RECENTLY BOUGHT THIS GUITAR, IM LOVING IT THE MORE I PLAY IT. NOT BRAGGING BUT I OWN SEVERAL DIFFERENT ACOUSTICS FROM MARTIN TO GUILD TO OLD FENDERS. I MUST SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THIS GUITAR DRAWS ME TO IT. I HAVE ONLY USED IT ONCE WHILE PLAYING LIVE ,AND IT SOUNDED GREAT. I AM A FINGERPICKER AND AT TIMES I FIND IT MAYBE A LIL SMALLER AS FAR AS THE CLOSENESS OF THE STRINGS BUT SOMETHING ABOUT THIS UNIQUE GUITAR DRAWS ME TO IT. PEACE TO ALL N GUD PICKIN

Anonymous said...

First I'd like to say " thumbs up for you" I't took guts to post this. The cat " brutally honest" is right, but it sounds like you're trying to take care of the matter, And hey..... who hasn't made a mistake? good luck

Philip said...

I have owned a Gibson MK35 since 1990 which I bought on a visit to London and love it. Although I've owned a Martin D35 which is mellow and wonderful in its tone there is something very special with the MK35 its tone is bright and lively and it has a marvellous resonance. Couldn't part with either of them.

Anonymous said...

very interesting blog; I found a fabulous MK-81 back in 1980 which I still have today, it has a very Gibson-Norlin history. It was a sales rep demonstrator guitar built by Richard Schneider himself. The sound is fabulous, rich and musical. It was one of the guitars taken around the SouthEast US studios for artists to try it out. It records beautifully.

Anonymous said...

I bought my MK-35 used from the Music Mart in State College, Pennsylvania in 1980. I was just starting college at Penn State University and this was my first guitar. Bought it for $250 and I put $50 down and paid $50 every payday till it was paid off. The serial # is 06175002, so I assume it was made in 1975. It came with the hard shell case (purple interior) and the three bridge saddles. I put a transducer pickup under the saddle about 10 years ago and use this guitar as my stage and campfire guitar. It is well worn and is down to bare wood on some spots on the neck. Not a lot has been written about these guitars, I think they are looked down upon by Gibson affectionados as an inexpensive, production guitar. But as the first of my many guitars, it has a soft spot in my heart. Mine looks just like your pictures, funky headstock, tuning keys, bridge and pickguard with plastic soundhole surround. I finally took this guitar to a good technician and the action and playability of it is greatly improved. While it doesn't sound as good as my Martin, it gets a lot more action. I would gladly post pics (if I could figure out how to) or send them to you to post.

Chris Heaven
christopherjamesheaven@gmail.com

Gabriel said...

Hi James. I have a MK/35 and would love to share some information with you. Please send me an email. Thank you (micha7597@hotmail.com)

Roger said...

I am always interested in the experiences of other owners of Gibson MK series guitars.
I bought a Gibson Mk 72 new in 1978 and have played it nearly every day since then at home, in pubs, in folk clubs and on stage in my band. There have been problems such as a lifting bridge that I cured with superglue. The soundhole ring came loose and again I used superglue. The bridge plate wore so badly that I made a 1mm thick brass plate that fits under the bridge so that the strings pull against it.
I made a new Tusq bridge saddle to replace the plastic ones.
That guitar rings and sings with a rich depth that sounds wonderful and it is loud.
Now all these modifications do not show so the guitar still looks original and they have all stood the test of time.
I think mine must be a late model because the serial number is 06181621.
There are many forums where these guitars are slated and maybe earlier models were bad.
I know that if you have a good one then it can hold its own with Taylors, Martins and Other Gibsons. Mine still has the original case which has a few road scars but has protected it well.