Skip to comments.175 Years Seeking Quality in USA: Martin Guitar Celebrates
Posted on 02/19/2008 5:45:13 AM PST by Dr. Scarpetta
In the past 175 years, C.F. Martin & Co. defined the shape, construction and sound of the acoustic guitar.
And the company still eyes each detail. Employees sweat the big things, like dwindling supplies of rare tone woods. They sweat the small stuff, like the exact orientation of each pick guard.
The company is taking the year to celebrate C.F. Martin Sr.'s arrival in New York City in 1833 where he set up his first shop on Hudson Street at what is now the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.
CEO Christian F. Martin IV said the anniversary is remarkable and has been possible because of C.F. Martin Sr.'s vision of building the best guitar possible. Martin said that spirit is one reason the company remains at the pinnacle of the industry his ancestor helped forge.
"I have so much respect for (C.F. Martin Sr.'s) goal to make the perfect guitar," Martin said. "He set the standard."
The company has planned a symphony of events, special models, books, albums and even horticulture and confections.
"We're going to plant a stand of Sitka spruce trees in Alaska," director of artist relations Dick Boak said.
Boak's plans for dreadnought-shaped Peeps made by Just Born didn't work out.
"Apparently it's not that easy to make a guitar-shaped Peep," he said.
Boak said the company spent a year developing the anniversary celebration. It wasn't easy.
"A lot of companies are better at marketing than they are at making instruments," Boak said. "We're better at making instruments, so it's a little difficult for us to figure out how to do this efficiently."
The celebration kicked off with an acoustic performance by Martin artist John Mayer at the National Association of Music Merchants annual trade show in January and winds down around October when the company plans to auction a collection of rare guitars at Christie's in New York to benefit the Martin Foundation.
Martin said the gem of the anniversary celebration would be if one of the presidential candidates accepted an invitation to visit the factory.
He said he hopes Sens. John McCain, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama can stop by and see how one of the country's oldest manufacturing operations has managed to remain in America in the same family.
"That's pretty amazing that the company has always been in the family," said Acoustic Guitar magazine senior editor Teja Gerken, who owns a custom OM Martin guitar. "They've really kept the tradition and history alive by doing that."
Martin said keeping the company in the family is something he's thought a lot about. His 3-year-old daughter, Claire Frances Martin, could be the next generation to lead the firm.
"Where will we be in life at our 200th (anniversary)? Will I be coming back from Florida? We're not immortal," Martin said.
"Hopefully she'll say, 'This company is a very precious thing,'" Martin said.
Martin said the company has aged well, and one thing is certain, the product his ancestor perfected is in demand.
"I was here for the 150th anniversary," Martin said. "Business is much better today."
Gerken said there has never been a time when Martin wasn't considered among the best. He added that build quality, high-end materials and attention to detail are the hallmarks of a Martin.
C.F. Martin Sr. had a motto: Non Multa Sed Multum. Not many but great. And it holds true 17 decades later, even on items as forgettable as the plastic pick guard.
"That one's close but not quite right," Boak said as he circled the company's museum.
Then he found it, a dark brown, unadorned, 4-string tenor guitar built in 1931. He opened the glass case and grabbed the instrument. Boak walked to the factory, tuning the little guitar along the way and sampling the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley."
Boak presented the guitar to the factory's quality team, pointing to the exact, upright orientation of its pick guard. He said the pick guards, hand placed, have been a little off center for some time. The team, led by director of quality Vince Gentilcore, fashioned a jig that they hope fool-proofs future assembly.
"They've always been able to take a step back and always look to improve what they have," Gerken said. "That's the kind of effort that will result in great guitars."
Reporter JD Malone can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
True. He sure isn't a Bruce Springsteen. Bruce can play many chords now, but it wasn't easy.
Took grandson to factory ‘05.
I have had the 910 for over ten years and the price has gone down whereas a Martin of the same vintage is twice the value.
Willie’s a great guitar player. His improvisations are incredibly melodic, and he plays with unmatched feel.
I’d love to find an original Martin N-20 (Willie’s “Trigger”), but they’re very rare. Martin made an exact copy of “Trigger” (with Brazilian rosewood back and sides and all) about 10 years ago for a short run, but it was a bit too pricey — around $7000, IIRC.
For dreadnoughts (especially playing bluegrass) I far prefer Martins to any other acoustic. For rock and roll and blues I prefer Gibsons. ...like the J-45 or Hummingbird. For smaller bodied accoustics and fingerpicking sytle I prefer Taylors or Santa Cruz guitars.
My son got my old one, and he's enjoying that one as well.
You ain't a kidding! I have a Martin DSR (solid spruce/solid rosewood) that is modeled from the Martin D-28 that Hank Williams Sr used. Best frikin' guitar I ever made love to! Thumping base and just beautiful!
CONGRATULARIONS MARTIN ON YOUR 175th! You done good!
Please tell me that you play the instruments in your collection, not just a collection for a collection’s sake.
Collectors (too often not players) put them in cases for the world to see (calling captain irony - they exist for the world to hear).
I know, I know, it’s a free country, but how ‘bout leaving us players some of the good stuff.
My goal is to have one when I retire in a few years. Hey wifey, hint, hint.
The guitar in the picture with Elvis looks like a Gibson J-200.
I’m actually trying to sell a left-handed 001 12-string. It’s beautiful. Plays like you can’t believe. But I need the money for a new Rick.
“The best guitarists in the world...”
How about Tony Rice? He’s the best I have ever heard.
I play every Sunday morning from 11:00 to 12:00. There are intermediate, profesional, premium grade and presentation types of guitars. I play a G&L Strat and Fender Tele on Sundays but there are some presentation guitars you just wouldn't take the risk of putting a ding in them to take them out of the house. Somebody said something about playing in a padded room i.e. 2004 Martin D-100 Delux (first 50 after hitting the one millionth guitar-$50k to $55k).
I’m with you - I’d never pick it up. Certainly never flatpick it, or use a thumb or finger picks. But to be honest, give me a vintage instrument that has been well played, with the finish checking to boot - to me that is every bit as pretty.
I had the chance to hold David Grisman’s mando a couple of months back at a benefit he did for a local musician. Scared the hell out of me.
You play ‘em, you are not the subject of my rant. The non player collectors are.
Cute. I think Martin uses that and other classic Martin-inspired lyrics snippets in some of their advertising.
I took the factory tour a few years back - it is utterly amazing the discipline and pride (in the best sense of that word) they put into each guitar. Good stuff.
I had the chance to hold David Grismans mando a couple of months back at a benefit he did for a local musician. Scared the hell out of me.
I shook hands with Eric Clapton a couple of years ago at the Crossroads Concert in Dallas.I didn't wash my hand for a week.:)
Compared to...? Sorry, but we'll never agree on this one...I like acoustic guitar music too much to consider Nelson a "great" picker. Every time he embarks on his signature break on "Whiskey River" I run howling from the room.
Yup, I noticed that omission also.
Tony is one of my favorite guitarists as well.
Tony Rice with his Martin guitar.
I had a roommate in college who had a Yamaha 12 string. Sometime later in the year he bought a Martin 12 string. The difference in sound was incredible. When he strummed a single chord, the sustain went on and on and on.
Oohhhhhh sweeet. My dream guitar.
His second break in 'Crossroads' is unbelievable. Feeding off the band's energy at that moment has never been duplicated, imo.
I bumped into Alison Krauss while she was headed into the backstage warm-up area (I was coming out, she was coming in) during a show that Elk Grove put on at their park.
My friend said, "You know who that is?", I said "no". He told me it was Alison (who I hadn't really heard about) and she was playing fiddle with Tony Rice that day. Curly brown hair and kind of a bubble-butt, as I recall.
While Tony and Wyatt were warming up backstage, my guitar player and I (bass) stood quietly and grinned alot. When we had a chance to talk to Tony, I asked if he sang a certain song, and he said no, that it was too high. Little did I know that he was having throat problems at the time.
I have a '71 D-35 and it plays really well, especially when you 'step' into it. Not many guitars respond well to aggressive bluegrass style picking the way a Martin does. However, I played a Taylor 910 that could, and had great action too. A Santa Cruz will, as will a Collings. But each offer different characteristics.
The 'guitar-that-got-away' from me was a little Santa Cruz in a D-18 styling. Played it once in a music store, fell in love, couldn't afford it at the time, and we went our seperate ways. Mahogany back and sides, she rang like a little bell and had the curves to go with it. My only hope is that whoever has her now is treating her right- like tuning, keeping her dry, polishing once in a while, and keeping a good set of strings on her at all times.
I blame the IRS for that picture. If not for them, he could have afforded a new one!
And they aint that expensive.
The beat up guitar is part of his schtick. Nothin’ wrong with it. Entertaining is a lot more than singing a pretty tune.
You’re right — some of Willie Nelson’s stuff is surprisingly sophisticated. I even like his lead playing, which someone once described as “earnest” and which I think is the perfect word. Earnest and unpretentious, but he’ll throw in a few harmonically adventurous jazz notes from time to time that let you know he’s not just some rube. I really like Willie’s version of “City of New Orleans”. Such a beautiful song. Listening to it is like watching a movie.
Exactly! Lately, I've been working on licks that have a certain 'Rice' feel. It hasn't been easy as I've got to get my baby finger out of the picture (my early influence was Doc Watson- not bluesy).
Lots of down-sliding and pull-offs that can be slippery at times. It just sounds so great. To use an analogy, listenting to Tony is almost like watching someone slip and slide on a frozen sidewalk without falling down. Very amusing to the ear.
Compared to others who play a classical style guitar (in Willie's case, a '69 Martin N-20) for country style music. Iow, he doesn't have much competition ;) It's a very unusual tone for the type of music he plays, for sure.
My favorite acoustic players include Chet Atkins, Tony Rice, Lenny Breau....among others. Willie doesn't come close to making the list, but I still love his style.
Myself, I was a keyboard man and it hurt me bad when I had to sell my Hammond B3 because the fingers just don't work anymore.
If my memory serves me right Chet played with a thumb pick and picked the rest with his other fingers. I saw him play with Mark Knopfler once and Mark kept up with Chet but Knopfler plays only with his fingers (no pick).
Have you ever heard Chet Atkins play ‘Dixie Land’ and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ at the same time?
I heard a few months ago they were moving to Mexico.
I always wished I had musical talent, but I truly do not.
Each person has their own taste. A true story. My wife's grandmother was a professional piano and voice teacher in Knoxville in the 30's - likely 50's. She taught at a local music store. One woman came in regularly whom she said would sit and bang on the piano in the store and it drove her nuts. The woman? Mabel Carter. LOL.
My wifes grandmother did not like mountain music even though it was her heritage as her family were pioneers in the area. She was strictly classical and for voice Opera.
We need a guitar players ping list. I never tire of hearing guitar players tell their tales.
think Martin uses that and other classic Martin-inspired lyrics snippets in some of their advertising.
Yup, they sure do. Check the back cover of Acoustic Guitar magazine every month.
True...very similar to the gun threads. Check out one the next time you see one posted...reminds me a lot of this thread.
The Red Headed Stranger album was my favorite for a long time and I still like the songs on it when they are played on XM 13. I like a lot of Nelson’s music and I think Mickey Raffael, his harmonica player, is one of the best. I saw Nelson in a concert at Harrah’s in Reno in the early ‘80s and it was then I began to question his real talent...lots of noise but not much quality. He’s ok in a nostalgic kind of way and like you, I like his old stuff.
Interesting story about mother Mabel playing the piano in your mother’s store. I also like Bluegrass and there is where you really find the good guitarists...like Tony Rice and about a million others. Another great guitarist is John Jorgenson who plays with Chris Hillman and also did a tribute album to Django Reinhardt...absolutely great!!
> some of Willie Nelsons stuff is surprisingly sophisticated. I even like his lead playing, which someone once described as earnest and which I think is the perfect word. Earnest and unpretentious, but hell throw in a few harmonically adventurous jazz notes from time to time that let you know hes not just some rube. <
Agreed. In fact, I’ve heard him say he’s big fan of Django Reinhart. He also says that when he’s crossing the country in his tour bus, he listens to a lot of jazz.