Joni Mitchell’s Favorite Guitar Was Once in the Middle of a War Zone

Considering all the sweet melodies Joni Mitchell created on it in the earliest days of her musical career, it’s hard to imagine that her favorite guitar was once in the middle of a war zone. But such was the case for her Martin D-28, the iconic dreadnought she played throughout the late 1960s.

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Mitchell fondly calls the guitar, which she lost in the early 1970s after a rough flight damaged the guitar and, shortly after, someone stole it off the luggage carousel, her “dear one.” The guitar was able to withstand Mitchell’s eccentric tunings while maintaining ideal intonation, a mystical element that the singer-songwriter has bemused might have been from its experiences in the Vietnam jungle.

The Surprising Origin Story Of Joni Mitchell’s Favorite Guitar

Although Joni Mitchell’s ascent to fame coincided with the rise of counterculture, the singer-songwriter never overtly protested the military like many of her contemporaries and fans. “I was not a part of the anti-war movement,” she later said in a CBC interview. “I played in Fort Bragg…I went the Bob Hope route because I had uncles who died in the war, and I thought it was a shame to blame the boys who were drafted.”

In addition to having familial ties to the military, Fort Bragg also held a special place in Mitchell’s heart for another reason: it’s where she obtained her beloved Martin D-28. According to Mitchell, a Marine captain gifted Mitchell the guitar after he brought it with him to Vietnam. Sometime after arriving, stray shrapnel hit the captain’s tent and destroyed most of his belongings.

“There were two instruments and all this captain’s stuff in there,” Mitchell recalled to Acoustic Guitar magazine in 1996. “When they cleared the wreckage, all that survived was this guitar. I don’t know whether the explosion did something to the modules in the wood, but that guitar was a trooper, man.”

Mitchell’s Only Had Her Martin D-28 For A Short Time

Despite its fantastical origin story of surviving a shrapnel attack in the Vietnamese jungle, the D-28 met its demise on a flight to Hawaii. The turbulent flight damaged the instrument in storage, and someone later stole the guitar from the luggage carousel. Mitchell never found her long-lost instrument.

Aside from the sentimental connection guitarists typically have to their first ax, Mitchell was particularly fond of her Martin for functional reasons. After childhood polio affected Mitchell’s ability to form chord shapes in standard tuning, the singer-songwriter had to adapt with eccentric tunings that allowed her to create rich harmonic structure with limited mobility.

Whether open, an octave below, or otherwise, Mitchell’s unique tunings placed atypical stress on the guitar neck. Moreover, to ensure the dissonance within her tunings was purposeful and not merely off-pitch, Mitchell needed a guitar with pristine intonation—something she frequently lauded the D-28 for having.

“I need really good intonation,” she explained to Acoustic Guitar. “One of the signs of really good intonation is how flashy the harmonics are with a light touch. You should be able to get them to bloom like jewels.” While Mitchell has found other guitars that come close in that department, as she put it in her 1996 magazine interview, “I’ve never found an acoustic that could compare with it.”

Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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