C. F. Martin & Company

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C. F. Martin & Company
Industry Guitar Manufacturing
Founded 1833, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Founders Christian Frederick Martin
Headquarters Nazareth, Pennsylvania, United States
Products Steel-string acoustic guitars, Acoustic-electric guitars, Ukuleles
Website martinguitar.com

C.F. Martin & Company is a U.S. guitar manufacturer established in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin. Martin is highly regarded for its steel-string guitars and is a leading mass-manufacturer of flattop acoustics. Martin instruments can cost thousands of dollars and vintage instruments often cost six figures. The company has also made several models of electric guitars and electric basses.

The company's headquarters and primary factory are in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, located in the Lehigh Valley region of the state. Martin also manufactures instruments in Mexico. Martin produced 182 instruments during 1900, increasing to 24,085 in 2000.

Front detail of a CF Martin 000-28EC, showing the solid Sitka spruce soundboard, inlaid herringbone rosette and characteristic "comma-shaped" pick guard.

Company history[edit]

The company has been run by the Martin family throughout its history. The current chairman and CEO, C.F. 'Chris' Martin IV, is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder. The firm was the first to introduce many of the characteristic features of the modern flattop, steel-strung acoustic guitar. Influential innovations include the Dreadnought body style and scalloped bracing. Some time in the 1970s, Martin bought Levin guitars[1] and around 200 D-18s were apparently built in Sweden; they are stamped LD-18[citation needed].


C. F. Martin was born in 1796 in Markneukirchen, Germany and came from a long line of cabinet makers and woodworkers. His father, Johann Georg Martin, also built guitars. By the age of 15, C. F. Martin was supposedly apprenticed to Johann Georg Stauffer, a well-known guitar maker in Vienna, Austria, although this claim has never been corroborated by Viennese primary sources. The identity of Stauffer's five apprentices in 1811 is documented, Martin was not among them. Martin returned to his hometown after completing training and opened his own guitar-making shop. However, he soon became embroiled in a controversy between two guilds.

At that time European craftsmen operated under the guild system. The guitar (in its modern form) was a relatively new instrument, and most guitar makers were members of the Cabinet Makers' Guild. The Violin Makers' Guild claimed exclusive rights to manufacture musical instruments. The Violin Makers' Guild filed appeals on three occasions - the first in 1806 - to prevent cabinet makers from producing guitars. Johann Martin is mentioned in a surviving submission dated 1832.

Although the cabinet makers successfully defended their right to build guitars, C. F. Martin decided that the guild system was too restrictive. He moved to New York City In 1833 and by 1838 he moved his business to Nazareth, PA.


The Martin company is generally credited with developing the X-bracing system during the 1850s, although C. F. Martin did not apply for a patent on the new bracing system. During the 1850s, X-bracing was used by several makers, all German immigrants who knew each other, and according to historian Philip Gura there is no evidence that C. F. Martin invented the system.[2] The Martin company was the first to use X-bracing on a large scale, however.

From the 1860s on, fan bracing became standard in Europe. Martin and other American builders including Washburn and others since forgotten (Schmidt & Maul, Stumcke, Tilton) used X-bracing instead.[3] The sound of X-bracing may be considered less delicate with gut strings, but it prepared the American guitar for steel strings, which emerged in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Growing popularity of the guitar in the early 1900s, fueled by the growing popularity of folk music and country and western music, led to a demand for louder and more percussive guitars. In response, many companies began to use metal strings instead of catgut. These became known as steel-string guitars. By 1921, Martin had focused production towards this type of guitar.

The company's reputation and output continued to grow. Forays into mandolin making in the late 1890s and ukulele making in the 1920s greatly contributed to their expansion, and by 1928 they were making over 5000 instruments per year. The ukulele was responsible for keeping the company profitable in the 1920s.[4] The company remained family-owned and employed a relatively small number of highly trained craftsmen making instruments primarily by hand. By the early 1960s Martin guitars were back-ordered by as much as three years due to limited production capacity. In 1964, Martin opened a new plant that is still the primary Martin production facility.

One of the consistent policies of the company was to not engage in endorsement deals. At the same time, they offered a 20% discount as a courtesy to professional musicians. They would also offer to customize instruments with inlays of names for the performers.[4]

The Great Depression[edit]

The Great Depression in 1929 affected Martin's sales drastically. The company came up with two innovations to help regain business.

One of these was the 14-fret neck, which allowed easier access to higher notes. Martin intended it to appeal to plectrum banjo players interested in switching to guitar for increased work opportunities[citation needed]. Martin altered the shape of its 0-size guitar body to allow a 14-frets-clear tenor neck. This was in response to specific requests from tenor players including Al Esposito, the manager of the Carl Fischer store in New York City. The "Carl Fischer Model" tenors were soon renamed 0-18T[citation needed]. This was the first time Martin altered one of their original body shapes to accommodate a longer neck with more frets clear of the body.

It was also during this time that Perry Bechtel, a well-known banjo player and guitar teacher from Cable Piano in Atlanta, requested that Martin build a guitar with a 15-fret neck-to-body join[citation needed]. Most guitars of the day, with the exception of Gibson's L-5 archtop jazz guitars, had necks joined at the 12th fret, half the scale length of the string. In keeping with Bechtel's request, Martin modified the shape of their 12-fret 000-size instrument, lowering the waist and giving the upper bout more acute curves to cause the neck joint to fall at the 14th fret rather than the 12th. Fourteen-fret guitars were designed to be played with a pick and replace banjos in jazz orchestras. Thus, Martin named its first 14-fret, 000-shape guitar the Orchestra Model (OM). Martin applied this term to all 14-fret instruments in its catalogs by the mid- to late-1930s.

Original Martin OMs from approximately 1929 to 1931 are extremely rare and sell for high prices. Many guitarists believe that the OM—a combination of Martin's modified 14-fret 000 body shape, long scale (25.4") neck, solid headstock, 1-3/4" nut width, 4-1/8" maximum depth at the endwedge, and 2-3/8" string spread at the bridge—offers the most versatile combination of features available in a steel-string acoustic guitar. Today, many guitar makers (including many small shops and hand-builders) create instruments modeled on the OM pattern.[5]

The change in body shape and longer neck became so popular that Martin made the 14-fret neck standard on all of its guitars and the rest of the guitar industry soon followed[citation needed]. Classical guitars, which were evolving on their own track largely among European builders, retained the 12-fret neck design.

Martin's second major innovation, and arguably the more important, of the period 1915-1930 was the dreadnought guitar. Originally devised in 1916 as a collaboration between Martin and a prominent retailer, the Oliver Ditson Co., the dreadnought body style was larger and deeper than most guitars. In 1906, the Royal Navy launched a battleship that was considerably larger than any before it. From the idea that a ship that big had nothing to fear (nought to dread), it was christened HMS Dreadnought. Martin borrowed this name for their new, large guitar. The greater volume and louder bass produced by this expansion in size was intended to make the guitar more useful as an accompaniment instrument for singers working with the limited sound equipment of the day. Initial models produced for Ditson were fan-braced, and the instruments were poorly received[citation needed].

In 1931, Martin reintroduced the dreadnought with X-bracing and two years later gave it a modified body shape to accommodate a 14-fret neck, and it quickly became their best-selling guitar. The rest of the industry soon followed[citation needed], and today the "dreadnought" size and shape is considered one of the "standard" acoustic guitar shapes, iconic for its use in a wide variety of musical genres.

Martin also developed a line of archtop instruments during the 1930s. Their design differed from Gibson and other archtops in a variety of respects–the fingerboard was glued to the top, rather than a floating extension of the neck, and the backs and sides were flat rosewood plates pressed into an arch rather than the more common carved figured maple. Martin archtops were not commercially successful[citation needed] and were withdrawn after several years. In spite of this, during the 1960s, David Bromberg had a Martin archtop converted to a flat-top guitar with exceptionally successful results, and as a result, Martin has recently begun issuing a David Bromberg model based on this conversion.

During this time, Martin also continued to make ukuleles, tiples, and other stringed instruments.

The 1960s[edit]

During the late 1960s, Martin manufactured hollow-body electric guitars similar to those manufactured by Gretsch. Martin's electric guitars were not popular and the company has since continued to concentrate on the manufacture of a wide range of high quality acoustics. They also reinstated the famous D-45 in 1968.

During the 1960s, many musicians[who?] preferred Martin guitars built before World War II to more recent guitars of the same model. The pre-War guitars were believed[citation needed] to have internal bracing carved more skillfully than later instruments, producing better resonance, and tops made from Adirondack red spruce rather than Sitka spruce. Additionally, 1970s Martin dreadnoughts suffered from poor intonation in the higher registers[citation needed]. Some luthiers and repairmen[who?] attribute this to a gradual trend of misplacing the bridge on these guitars: the same jigs for bridge placement were used throughout the history of each model's production. As the amount of production increased from the Martin factory, the jigs eroded, resulting in inaccurate bridge placement[citation needed]. This was eventually identified and corrected.

Recent events[edit]

Martin opened its "Custom Shop" division in 1979. Martin built its 500,000th guitar in 1990, and in 2004 they built their millionth guitar. This guitar is entirely hand-crafted and features more than 40 inlaid rubies and diamonds. It is worth an estimated $1,000,000. As of 2007, Martin employs 600 people. Thirteen workers are devoted to quality assurance[citation needed]. In October, 2009, a Martin D-28 that was played by Elvis Presley in his last concert was purchased at auction for $106,200.[6]


  1. ^ The Steve Howe Guitar Collection (Balfon Books UK) - (ISBN 871547-64-4) - (First British Edition 1994) - p65. Image of Levin LTS5 12-string c.1967. Quote: "These were widely available in Europe, especially in the UK, during the 1960s into the 1970s when Levin was owned by Martin until closed in 1978"
  2. ^ Gura, Philip, F. - C. F. Martin and His Guitars, The University of North Carolina Press, Page 106
  3. ^ Gura, Philip, F. - C. F. Martin and His Guitars
  4. ^ a b Walsh, Tom (2013). The Martin Ukulele: The Little Instrument That Helped Create a Guitar Giant. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-1-4768-6879-0. 
  5. ^ Eric Schoenberg and Robert Green. "The Classic Martin OM Fingerstylists' Choice". guitar ventures Schoenberg. Schoenberg. Retrieved 30 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Fretbase, Martin Guitar Played by Elvis Sold at Auction


  • Denyer, Ralph; Guillory, Isaac; Crawford, Alastair M. (1982). The guitar handbook. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House. pp. 36–45. ISBN 0-394-71257-9. 
  • Denyer, Ralph (1992). "Acoustic guitars: Steel-string acoustic guitars ('Martin guitars' pp. 44–45 and 'Martin ‘Dreadnoughts’' p. 44–45)". The guitar handbook. Special contributors Isaac Guillory and Alastair M. Crawford, Foreword by Robert Fripp (Fully revised and updated ed.). London and Sydney: Pan Books. pp. 44–45. ISBN 0-330-32750-X. 
  • Gura, Philip F. (2003). C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1973. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2801-7. 
  • Washburn, Jim; Johnston, Richard; Stills, Stephen (2002). Martin Guitars: An Illustrated Celebration of America's Premier Guitarmaker. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest. ISBN 0-7621-0427-9. 
  • Wilson, Carey. "Profiles in Quality with Vince Gentilcore". Quality Digest. November 2007. pp. 56–8.

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