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'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin

15 Oct 13 - 06:00 PM (#3567205)
Subject: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Desert Dancer

Roll Over, Stradivarius
'Inventing the American Guitar' Explores 1840s Innovations

by Larry Rohter
The New York Times
October 14, 2013

NAZARETH, Pa. — For guitar aficionados, a visit to the C. F. Martin & Company factory is akin to a religious experience. They talk in reverential tones about the handcrafted instruments that have been coming off the production floor here for more than 150 years, even referring to certain models in online discussion forums as "the Holy Grail" of the acoustic guitar.

A new book due out on Tuesday, to be followed by a yearlong exhibition of Martin guitars at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will surely add to that aura. The book, "Inventing the American Guitar," argues that Christian Friedrich Martin, who founded the company in 1833, was not only a sublime craftsman and canny entrepreneur, but also a design and technology innovator of the first order, responsible for many features accepted today as standard on stringed instruments.

"At every step of the way, as others dropped by the wayside, C. F. Martin was an astute businessman responding to market demands and opportunities," said Peter Szego, a co-editor of the book. "He was always modifying things, pushing the limits," he said, and, "by the late 1840s, was making a guitar that, except for its size, had all the main attributes of today's Martin guitar." In Mr. Szego's view, the instrument "deserves to be adjacent to a Stradivarius violin."

Up to now, collectors and researchers have tended to regard the period between World Wars I and II as the company's golden era of innovation, not its first decades. Chris Martin, a great-great-great-grandson of the founder and the company's chairman and chief executive, said in an interview here that the new book "has forced me to rethink our own history, and made me want to know more about those earliest years."

Although Martin guitars have been made in eastern Pennsylvania since the 1840s, New York City was C. F. Martin's first stop after arriving in the United States as an immigrant from Germany. According to company records on file here and cited in the book, he set up his first shop at 196 Hudson Street, at what is now the mouth of the Holland Tunnel; soon opened a second location at 212 Fulton Street; and also operated from 385 Broadway.

Those first years in Manhattan seem to have been a culture shock for Martin, who grew up in a small village in Saxony. He not only had to incorporate new materials and features into his construction and design, but he also had to deal with a new, more demanding type of client: since the guitar was then considered a parlor instrument, many among the nouveau riche were buying guitars for their wives or daughters.

"He arrived here using his German shop training, that Old World model of apprenticeship and a guild system, and ran right into American capitalism," said Jayson Kerr Dobney, a curator in the department of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum. "So his work began to change almost immediately. Because of the melting pot nature of New York, he was exposed to influences he would not have experienced had he remained in Germany."

The most important of those new influences, "Inventing the American Guitar" demonstrates, was Spanish. Most notably, Martin abandoned the Austro-German system of lateral bracing to reinforce and support the guitar soundboard in favor of Spanish-style fan bracing, which he then adapted into the X-bracing style that is the hallmark of Martin and other modern guitars.

"The most fundamental features, things that we take for granted in Martins, he wasn't doing before he discovered Spanish guitars," said Mr. Szego, an architect and collector. Adopting those techniques made Martin's guitars "bigger, louder and more resonant than before that time," in keeping with what an emerging American market wanted.

The text of the book, which is in coffee table format, is supplemented by lush color photographs of the guitars themselves, many of them close-up shots that highlight design features or the sheen or grain of the wood that Martin used. The effect is similar to that of viewing a Georgia O'Keeffe painting that magnifies the stamen of a flower or part of a cow skull. "We weren't thinking about her, but we were thinking about parts of the guitar that could be isolated in photographs that were both pleasing to look at and informative," said Robert Shaw, the book's other editor. "We wanted to make a point about C. F. Martin's high level of attention to detail. A lot of what he did was not necessary, but that was his aesthetic and his integrity as a master craftsman."

Beginning on Jan. 14, several of the guitars shown in the book will be featured, along with others, at the exhibition at the Met, titled "Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C. F. Martin." Taken together, the book, the show and a booming resale market, in which classic Martins can sell for well into six figures, reflect how these vintage instruments — including the banjos, ukuleles and mandolins that the company has also manufactured at various times in its history — are being elevated to the status of works of art.

"We're seeing the appreciation of these things as objects, not just as tools, which is why you're seeing them in an art museum," said Arian Sheets, curator of stringed instruments at the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota and the author of one of the essays in the new book. "It's a bit like why people have designer clothing or luxury cars or collect American furniture — the craftsmanship is stunning, and the detail is quite pleasing to people attuned to that sort of thing."

Tastes in music and instrument design continue to evolve, and Martin is still trying to accommodate them, as is evident on the floor of the factory here. Recent years, for example, have brought a boomlet in production of the ukulele, driven by the popularity of the Hawaiian virtuosos Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and easy access to online lessons via YouTube.

But guitars remain the company's mainstay. As in C. F. Martin's day, women are again playing guitar in larger numbers, which has led to greater demand for smaller, more portable models with a brighter sound, in contrast to the bass-heavy Dreadnought favored by the biggest names of the rock era.

In the early 1980s, at the tail end of the disco boom and its reliance on electronic beats, the Martin company was nearly forced out of business: annual output fell from more than 22,000 instruments a decade earlier to barely 3,000. Production only took off again toward the end of that decade, when MTV's "Unplugged" series encouraged a migration back to acoustic instruments, a trend that has strengthened with the rise of the Americana movement over the last decade. The plant here now produces 48,000 guitars a year, with the price of standard-line instruments ranging from $1,500 to $11,000.

"Because of our history, customers don't want wild and crazy from us," Chris Martin said. "Any change tends to be incremental.

"People think we can move the market. We can't. All we can do is respond."


Visit the NYT site at the top link for more links in the article.

~ Becky in Long Beach

16 Oct 13 - 03:29 AM (#3567312)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Andrez

Drool, wish I could get over there :-(



16 Oct 13 - 03:47 AM (#3567314)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Will Fly

"Because of our history, customers don't want wild and crazy from us," Chris Martin said. "Any change tends to be incremental".

That's an interesting statement. Here's part of the spec for my Martin XC1T electro-acoustic, bought new in 2006:

Model:                                XC1T Ellipse
Construction:                        Mortise/Tenon Neck Joint
Body Size:                        000-14 Fret Cutaway
Top:                                Solid Sitka Spruce
Rosette:                        East Indian Rosewood, Maple & Koa Pattern
Top Bracing Pattern:                A-Frame ''X''
Top Braces:                        Solid Spruce 5/16''
Back Material:                        Tawny Satinwood HPL Textured Finish
Back Purfling:                        none
Side Material:                        Tawny Satinwood HPL Textured Finish
Endpiece:                        none
Endpiece Inlay:                none
Binding:                        none
Top Inlay Style:                none
Side Inlay:                        none
Back Inlay:                        none
Neck Material:                        Natural Stratabond (birch veneers)
Neck Shape:                        Modified Low Oval
Nut Material:                        Black Corian
Headstock:                        Solid/Square Taper
Headplate:                        Tawny Satinwood Pattern HPL
Heelcap:                        none
Fingerboard Material:                Richlite
Scale Length:                        25.4''
Number of Frets Clear:        14
Number of Frets Total:        20
Fingerboard Width at Nut:        1-11/16''
Fingerboard Width at 12th Fret:2-1/8''
Fingerboard Position Inlays:        none
Fingerboard Binding:                none
Finish Back & Sides:                none
Finish Top:                        Hand Rubbed Finish
Finish Neck:                        none
Bridge Material:                Richlite
Bridge Style:                        Belly
Bridge String Spacing:        2-1/8''
Saddle:                                16'' Radius/Compensated/Black Tusq
Tuning Machines:                Black enclosed
Recommended Strings:        Martin SP Lifespan Phosphor Bronze Light Gauge (MSP7100)
Bridge & End Pins:                Black w/ Abalone Pearl Dots
Pickguard:                        none
Case:                                330
Interior Label:                        Paper Label Designed By Cyndi Fritz With WAM Group Approval
Electronics:                        Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend

16 Oct 13 - 03:52 AM (#3567317)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Will Fly

Damn - the "send" button got pressed before I could edit the long list in the previous post!

The point I was going to make is that Martin XC1T is very different from the Martin "tradition" - I thought Chris Martin was being a little ingenuous with his quote - and that my guitar uses non-traditional and "artificial" materials to a large extent.

The guitar, by the way, sounds beautiful and is perfect for recording acoustically. But it's not your conventional Martin by a long way. And it was cheap - around £800 when I bought it - but sounded better than other guitars in the store costing twice and three times as much at the time.

That's my subjective opinion, of course.

16 Oct 13 - 06:36 AM (#3567356)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Pete Jennings

Interesting guitar, Will, and it's arguable that it is a response to the market (on board electrics, competetively priced) as Chris says.

Thanks to DD for sharing the news of the exhibition at the Met. Not sure I'll be able to fit in a trip to NYC, more's the pity.

16 Oct 13 - 07:58 AM (#3567386)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: GUEST,kendall

Martin has built some top quality guitars, no question, but let's face it. All guitars are made from the same materials. Their bracing can and is often copied. Once you get past the name, you will find that other makes such as Santa Cruz, Collins, Taylor and Apollo can more than hold their own. I'm talking about their top of the line models, not those over size ukeleles.

16 Oct 13 - 10:21 AM (#3567441)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Bee-dubya-ell

While it's true that Martin has shown no aversion to experimenting with guitar building materials, where they've not deviated from tradition is in their design. A Venetian cutaway on some models is as far as Martin gets from their time-tested designs. No ports or soundholes in weird places like Tacoma. No extreme cutaways like Breedlove. Even those crappy sounding brushed-aluminum-coated things look like Martins once you got past their silver skins.

16 Oct 13 - 05:29 PM (#3567566)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Desert Dancer

My mother lives in NJ about an hour away from Nazareth, PA, but I have yet to get over there (because I visit from out West and time is always constrained). She's been there twice though, so at least I've got the T-shirt... :-)

~ Becky in Long Beach

17 Oct 13 - 04:02 AM (#3567695)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Will Fly

I pulled into Nazereth, I was feelin' about half past dead;
I just need some place where I can lay my head
"Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
He just grinned and shook my hand, and "No!", was all he said/

17 Oct 13 - 07:30 AM (#3567731)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: GUEST,kendall

I've never been to the Martin factory, I hear that to a guitarist, it's almost like Mecca to a Muslim.
I have, however visited the Apollo shop and watched the artist work. Very interesting.

17 Oct 13 - 12:38 PM (#3567807)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Pete Jennings

Chris Martin visited a music shop in Brum (that's Birmingham, UK) a few years ago and spoke about the work at the factory, etc. Said hello to him. Seems like a nice chap and of course I have two of his guitars. Had a knock-out Santa Cruz 000 in the late nineties but got properly fed up with changing strings due to the slotted head so px'd it for an OM-35. Just beautiful.

PS. And, thread creep I know, another famous Nazereth product is the great Mario Andretti.

17 Oct 13 - 12:40 PM (#3567810)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Pete Jennings

Oops, NazAreth.

18 Oct 13 - 12:10 AM (#3567943)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Sandy Mc Lean

I have done the Martin tour! It was fascinating and informative, but I confess that I own no Martin guitar. I was a bit surprised about the amount of automation, but the end product has a high degree of "hands on" testing and quality control. However, the price tag is too high for my taste, because by ignoring branding, and using my ears I enjoy finding lower priced quality guitars for much less!

18 Oct 13 - 03:54 AM (#3567963)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Will Fly

by ignoring branding, and using my ears


18 Oct 13 - 07:45 AM (#3568004)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: GUEST,kendall

When I did my tour of folk clubs in Scotland back in 1990, Gordon Menzies of Gaberlunzie loaned me his Yamaha dreadnaught, and it was a perfectly good instrument. I've seen/played many excellent guitars and they held their own against Martin.
Now, that being said, non of them could outshine a pre war D-45 Martin Dreadnaught.

18 Oct 13 - 08:26 AM (#3568015)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Phil Cooper

Martin certainly set the bar high for acoustic guitars. I agree with Sandy McLean's post about playing various makes of guitars until you find one that speaks to you. I've played several Martin's, owned by friends, that have inspired guitar lust. But, I haven't bought one of my own. My aunt had a late 1920's 000-28 that was great. I took care of selling it for her when she thought it was time to let it go.

18 Oct 13 - 01:37 PM (#3568074)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin

Mario Andretti AND fabulous Martin guitars. Nazareth has indeed produced some stars. Now what was that other thing the name Nazareth reminds me of?

18 Oct 13 - 02:10 PM (#3568081)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Will Fly

Now what was that other thing the name Nazareth reminds me of?

"The Weight" by The Band. :-)

18 Oct 13 - 02:22 PM (#3568088)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: cooperman

Of course! That was me Will, cookieless and now waiting to watch Transatlantic Sessions!!!

18 Oct 13 - 03:46 PM (#3568105)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Don Firth

I've owned three Martins.

A steel-string 00-18 was my first really nice guitar. I paid $95.00 plus $15.00 for a fiberboard case. But this was back in 1953. I was trading up from my very first guitar, a $9.95 "Regal" plywood guitar that was on pitch, had a decent action, and played okay (I got lucky), but had the tonal qualities of an apple crate.

About six months after I got the 00-18, I started taking classical guitar lessons. My teacher said that the 00-18 wouldn't do, so I traded it in on a Martin 00-28-G, really nice American-made classic. The teacher owned a music store and he took the 00-18 in trade for what I had paid for it. The list price of the classic at the time was $175.00 (plus $45.00 for a hard-shell case).

After a couple of years, I got a bit apprehensive about the OO-28-G maybe getting stolen or being at a song fest and having some drunk trip and spill his beer through the soundhole, so I got a Martin 00-18-G. Same size as the "28," but with back and sides made of mahogany rather than Brazilian rosewood, and listing for $95.00. Good tone, good workhorse classic.

Then the Seattle Classic Guitar Society got organized, and I had a chance to see and try some of the European-made classics, and WOW! A top of the line Martin was like driving a Chrysler or Cadillac, but playing a Spanish-made Fernandez or Ramirez, or a French-made Boucher, was like driving a BMW or Rolls-Royce! Or a Fernadez flamenco guitar. Like taking the wheel of a Ferrari or Jaguar XK!


That's when I defected from Martins.

I now own an Arcangel Fernandez flamenco guitar, a classic made by one of Fernadez' apprentices as a "beater," and my best classic, a Japanese-made classic imported under his label by José Oribé of San Diege.
The "Oribe" looks and sounds so much like a José Ramirez (Segovia's guitar of choice) that some of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society members who own Ramirez guitars assume automatically that it IS one! Not bad for $350.00!!

The Japanese make some very nice guitars, especially if they come from a Spanish-trained Japanese luthier like Masaru Kohno.

I also have a couple of Go-guitars (travel guitars), one nylon-string and one steel-string, made by Sam Radding of San Diego.

C. F. Martin and Company make some very nice guitars. But as far as their classics are concerned, there are much better ones out there, and if you shop carefully they're not all that expensive.

By the way, my favorite steel-string guitars for song accompaniment are the smaller bodied "parlor" guitars. Not as big, "boomy," and bass-heavy as a Martin D-28, but much better balanced volume and a lot more mellow.

Your mileage may vary. Discussing the merits of various guitars is sort of like arguing religion.

Don Firth

18 Oct 13 - 04:17 PM (#3568109)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin

Having a 000-28 (small body) and the D-28, I must admit the smaller form is so much nicer to play IMHO.

I love the dreadnought for it's loudness when required. But for contemplative finger-picking, the 000-28 blows the competition away in my personal experience. For me, it was definitely worth the money and is the best guitar I've ever played, let alone owned.

18 Oct 13 - 04:23 PM (#3568110)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Brian May

Guest above was me . . . why the cookie gets lost so often I don't know . . . perhaps it's the chocolate chips

19 Oct 13 - 08:17 AM (#3568249)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: GUEST,kendall

The player controls the volume more than the guitar.

19 Oct 13 - 09:19 AM (#3568269)
Subject: RE: 'Inventing the American Guitar' - Martin
From: Brian May

Good heavens . . . really? Wow I got it wrong for the last 50 years.