For nearly 190 years, C.F. Martin & Company has been continuously producing acoustic instruments that for many are considered to be the finest in the world. Maintaining such a high standard over such a long period of time is no easy feat, so what's their secret? Guitar Interactive Magazine travels to Nazareth, Pennsylvania to take a look behind the curtain of America's oldest guitar brand with our in-depth factory & museum tour.
Founded in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin, the Martin Guitar Company has, through the years, managed to survive with each succeeding generation from C. F. Martin, Sr.'s Stauffer influenced creations of the 1830s, all the way to recent developments introduced by C. F. Martin IV. Continuous operation under family management is an achievement bordering on the remarkable, reflecting six generations of dedication to the guitarmaker's craft. In or out of the music industry, C. F. Martin certainly has few rivals when it comes to staying power.
Although very much the American brand, Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. was actually born in Germany. His family made furniture cabinets for a living, and that was likely to have been his future. However, at the age of 15, he left Germany and travelled to Vienna, Austria to apprentice with Johann Stauffer, a renowned guitar maker. He mastered his trade quickly and returned to Germany to set up shop.
Upon his return, Martin was met with some considerable resistance. Not from his family, but from the Violin Makers Guild. Martin was not the only cabinet maker who was showing an aptitude for making stringed instruments, and violin makers feared it would hurt their business. Eventually, Martin left for the United States, setting up shop at 196 Hudson Street on the Lower West Side of New York City. Over the years that followed, the Martin Guitar Company evolved from a one-man operation into a thriving entity that employed over a dozen craftsmen. In 1859, a plant was constructed on the corner of Main and North Street in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Having undergone numerous expansions, that original North Street building is still used today as a warehouse and shipping location for strings and accessories, as well as the site of a retail supply house for instrument making and repair known as Guitarmaker's Connection.
Christian Frederick Martin IV was born on July 8, 1955. He then attended UCLA, majoring in Economics. In his free time, he helped in the guitar repair shop of Westwood Music in West Los Angeles, and this also gave him a valuable insight into the retail end of the music business.
When Chris was small, he helped box strings, 6 to a box. In 1972 and 1973 he became more active in the business, helping in the office and attending the NAMM Trade Show in Chicago. He also worked in the machine room, cutting out guitar neck blanks on the bandsaw.
During the summer of 1973, Chris spent his time learning every operation and assisting with the construction of a D-28S guitar. This and his apprenticeship in the shop was an invaluable experience when he took his place in the family business.
Chris joined the Martin Guitar Company full time after his graduation from Boston University in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the School of Management. Chris worked in many departments, learning how the business functioned from the bottom up. In 1985 he was appointed Vice President of Marketing, and he took an active role in the day-to-day challenge of running a traditional business in a modern world. After the death of his grandfather, C. F. Martin III, on June 15, 1986, C. F. Martin IV was appointed Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, indicating his responsibility for leading Martin into the next century.
Under Chris' management, the Sycamore Street facility was expanded, the successful Backpacker travel guitar was introduced, and the limited edition guitar program was expanded to include signature models of significant artists like Gene Autry, Eric Clapton, and Marty Stuart as well as unique collaborations like the 1996 "MTV Unplugged" MTV-1 guitar.
Perhaps the boldest new direction that Chris has taken to date was the development and introduction of the patented "X Series" guitars, which thoroughly re-examined the way guitars are designed and constructed. Through the use of innovative processes combined with computer-aided manufacturing, the "X Series" models offer an affordable acoustic guitar without compromise of tone or craftsmanship.
As the Martin Guitar Company pushes towards its bicentenary, it's clear that it's still thriving, and without compromise. Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. would be proud.