Martin Guitars

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff
Martin guitar

Martin acoustic guitars are legendary for their aesthetics, quality, and sound, and they enjoy one of the most stellar reputations in the music industry. These internationally renowned guitars are sought after by musicians from all genres, including folk, blues, acoustic rock and roll, country, and classical.

C. F. Martin & Co. History

Since 1833, Martin has been building guitars that are manufactured to the highest standards. The business has been family-owned for six generations. The current CEO of C. F. Martin & Company, Christian Frederick Martin IV, known as Chris, is a direct descendant of the company's founder.

Founder of the Company

Martin logo on 1941 C. F. Martin-D45

The history of the Martin guitar company began with Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. who was born in Germany in 1796 into a family of cabinet makers. At fifteen years old, he developed an interest in crafting guitars, and he moved to Vienna to study with master luthier Johann Stauffer. After completing his period of apprenticeship, he moved back to Markneukirchen, his hometown, and started a shop of his own.

Move to the United States

C. F. Martin and his shop got caught up in disagreements between the Violin Makers Guild and the Cabinet Makers Guild. Members of the Violin Makers Guild believed that only they had the right to build musical instruments and that members of the Cabinet Makers Guild should only build cabinets. C. F. Martin and his family were members of the Cabinet Makers Guild, so in 1833, Martin decided to move to the United States. He set up a shop in New York City.

Headquarters in Pennsylvania

A few years later, C. F. Martin relocated his shop in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where it remains to this day. By 1859, the company was doing so well it expanded its operations to a factory. In 1964, as part of post World War II prosperity and a growing interest in folk and country music, demand for the guitars skyrocketed, so the company had to build a still bigger plant. Martin guitars have remained handcrafted throughout the course of their history.

Guitar Developments Over the Decades

1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe
1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe

Martin built their first guitars in a small storefront shop. As the years went by and demand for these fine instruments increased, the company grew and developed. Along with that growth came multiple innovations with regard to guitar manufacturing and design.

X-Bracing System

In the 1850s, Martin came up with the X-bracing system for the top of a guitar, which serves as an instrument's framework and has implications for its tone. The X-bracing system is still used today on Martin steel string guitars that have handmade dovetail neck joints.

  • Background - The X-bracing system became necessary when more and more musicians started using steel strings instead of catgut strings. Since steel strings exert a lot more tension on an instrument, the X-bracing framework became a key way to make acoustic guitars sturdier. While strong, X-bracing is also spare and light, ensuring that a guitar will vibrate sufficiently to produce a superb tone.
  • A Representative Guitar - The 1850s Martin Ivory Fingerboard Stauffer Style Headstock Guitar was one of the first models to be constructed using a well-developed X-bracing system. This exquisitely constructed guitar combined a number of features, such as gold-plated frets, Brazilian rosewood and spruce tonewoods, and a soundhole lined by tiny pearl diamonds.

Other Bracing Systems

Martin developed a number of other bracing systems for various types of guitars. As the company grew, customers wanted a wider variety of options with regard to both durability and tone quality.

  • Background - Instruments that have Mortise Tenon neck joints are constructed with a hybrid X pattern that combines X-bracing with an A-frame, making the guitar more stable near its neck. Most braces are scalloped, which means they are extra-light. Some of Martin's guitars, though, are constructed with braces that are not scalloped, which increases their sturdiness while still letting their tops vibrate enough to make a high-quality sound.
  • A Representative Guitar - Martin's first model to employ a Mortise Tenon neck joint was the D-1 dreadnought guitar, a 1 series model made of spruce and mahogany tonewoods. Introduced in 1993, the guitar is built on a framework of X-bracing with an A frame that connects with the neck block. The D-1's construction allows for an extension that offers musicians support for the top of the fingerboard.

Fourteen Fret Neck

Due to the Great Depression that began in 1929, Martin needed to push the envelope with major innovations to keep their company in the black. The fourteen-fret neck was one of these innovations, and it revolutionized the guitar industry.

  • Background - Perry Bechtel, a popular bandleader, asked Martin to construct a steel string guitar with a longer neck. Martin Guitar's foreman invented the fourteen-fret neck, which expanded the range of notes that guitarists could reach and play. In 1930, Martin introduced the Orchestra Model, which had a fourteen-fret neck. In 1934, the company extended the design as an option for many of their popular lines, and the fourteen-fret neck became a standard for guitar manufacturers worldwide.
  • A Representative Guitar - The OM-28 was the first Orchestra Model introduced by Martin in 1930. A parlor-sized guitar, it featured the newly developed fourteen-fret neck. Since the 1930s, Martin has periodically produced reissues of their vintage Orchestra models, the most recent being the OM-28 Authentic 1931, a gorgeous high-end guitar introduced in 2015.

Dreadnought Guitar

1934 Martin D-18 courtesy of VintageGuitar.com
1934 Martin D-18

The introduction of the dreadnought guitar was another of Martin's groundbreaking moves in the wake of the Great Depression. Over the years, these guitars have become iconic, especially in country and western music.

  • Background - Martin manufactured their first dreadnoughts in conjunction with a music store called Ditson Company, but in 1916, they only got lukewarm reception. The time was right, though, when Martin reintroduced dreadnoughts in their catalog in 1931. These guitars, with X-bracing systems, became hugely popular because of their resonant bass end and louder volume. Martin named the dreadnought guitars after a gigantic class of British battleships. They are Martin's most popular lines, accounting for eighty percent of total guitars produced.
  • A Representative Guitar - The D-18 was one of the first dreadnought guitars with X-bracing systems developed by Martin in 1931. The first D-18s had twelve-fret necks, but in 1934, they were all switched over to the fourteen-fret neck design. Guitar World writes that the D-18 is one of the most copied guitar designs in the world and names it one of the best steel string acoustic guitars of all time.

Archtop Guitars

Martin is mostly known for their flat-top guitars. Since archhtop guitars were popular in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, though, Martin tried to get in on the trend, and as a result, they crafted a number of beautiful, great-sounding instruments.

  • Background - Martin produced handcrafted acoustic archtops that differed from Gibson and Epiphone archtops in several important ways. Their sides and backs were created by pressing flat rosewood plates into the desired shape, and the fingerboard was glued to the guitar's top rather than extending from the neck. Martin crafted both round hole archtops and F-hole archtops in the 1930s and early 1940s, but they did not sell well, so they were discontinued. These guitars did, however, serve as inspiration for the currently available David Bromberg model, based on a conversion of a traditional archtop to a flat-top.
  • A Representative Guitar - Introduced in 1935, the F-9 guitar had an F-hole archtop design. Martin developed it because guitarists wanted larger-bodied archtops. With backs and sides made of rosewood, these guitars featured a distinctive tone that made them stand out from Gibson's archtops, which were made of maple.

Electric Guitars

Since Martin is famous for its outstanding acoustic guitars, many people don't know that they have had several forays into producing electric guitars, as well.

  • Background - In the late 1950s, Martin began adding pickups to some of their acoustic guitars. In 1962, the company started producing their first genuinely electric guitars: thinline archtops with wide cutaways and adjustable, movable bridges. In the late 1970s, Martin began manufacturing solid-body electric guitars that were similar to Stratocasters, and from 1985 to 1996, the company produced Stinger electric guitars, which were made in Korea. While the company's electric guitars didn't sell well, they were high-quality instruments that continue to be popular with collectors.
  • Representative Guitars - Martin's Stinger lines of solid-body electric guitars were launched in 1985, inspired by the Fender Stratocaster. These guitars were manufactured in Korea and distributed by Martin. Stinger guitars included features like whammy bars, dual humbucker pickups, and volume and tone control knobs.

Computer Aided Manufacturing

Chris Martin became CEO of the company in 1986. One of his many achievements has been the incorporation of computer-aided manufacturing processes to design high-end models such as the 000-17, as well as more affordable models such as the X Series guitars.

  • The X Series guitars are constructed from a combination of solid wood and high-pressure laminates (HPLs) such as Richlite and Stratabond. HPLs are compressed fibers of wood which make a guitar both highly durable and more affordable. Introduced in 1988, X Series guitars are based on traditional models and they aren't nearly as expensive. The X Series guitars are also environmentally friendly in the choice of woods used in their construction.
  • The 000-17 model guitars incorporate computer-aided manufacturing in the design of their fretboards. Each guitar that is crafted is fine-tuned using computer technology to ensure that its fretboard sounds great and feels good in a guitarist's hand. The 000-17 is constructed of Sitka and mahogany tonewoods and delivers a crisp yet rich and resonant tone.

Code Used to Designate Various Models

1941 C.F. Martin D-45
1941 C.F. Martin D-45

In your exploration of Martins, it will help you to be able to decipher the code by which the company designates their models. While it might look complex, it's actually quite simple. Generally, the model number for a standard line of guitars contains two parts separated by a hyphen, such as D-35 or 5-18. The first part refers to the size of the guitar, which is represented by either a letter or a number. The smaller the number, the larger the guitar. The latter part of the code refers to the tonewoods from which the line of guitars is constructed. Sometimes the first part of the code is a letter, such as D, which means "dreadnought."

Current Martin Models

Martin continues to craft numerous lines of guitars, all of which are exquisite in their tone, playability, and appearance. For generations, discerning musicians from many musical genres have coveted Martin acoustic guitars, and there are plenty of outstanding models from which to choose.

D-28

The D-28 is a phenomenally popular dreadnought guitar that was named by American Musical Supply as one of the best acoustic guitars for singer-songwriters. The D-28 was the guitar of choice for Joni Mitchell on her early tours and recordings and for Paul McCartney to record Blackbird for The White Album. The D-28 is built on an X-bracing framework and features East Indian rosewood for its sides and mahogany for its neck. The top of the guitar is made of Sitka spruce and the fingerboard is made of ebony. These woods ensure a sturdy guitar with a glossy finish that packs a punch with its clear and powerful sound.

000C Nylon

Classical guitarists and musicians who prefer guitars that use nylon strings will want to check out the Martin 000C Nylon. The 000C is a single cutaway guitar equipped with an onboard analog pickup. The instrument is built on a hybrid X-bracing framework, and its top is made of solid Sitka spruce. The fingerboard, back, and sides are constructed from the HPLs Richlite and Sapele, both of which are environmentally friendly choices. Though the 000C is a nylon string guitar, its lower tension produces a unique sound and feel that will remind many guitarists of steel string models, so folk musicians will love this guitar, as well.

M-36

If you're in the market for a high-end acoustic guitar with a slimmer, lighter body that will be more comfortable to play, you'll want to look into the M-36. Martin also refers to the M class guitars as the Grand Auditorium style. These guitars are gorgeous instruments with their stunning bindings and inlays. Though it's a medium-sized guitar, the tone of the M-36 has outstanding projection, a ringing high end, and a resonant bass end. Musicians who play the M-36 praise the playability of the guitar, saying that it almost seems to become a part of their bodies. It features a top made of Sitka spruce and a back and sides made of East Indian rosewood.

GPCPA5

Musicians who play with a fingerpicking style will enjoy the Martin GPCPA5, an acoustic-electric guitar that was selected by Song Simian as one of the four best guitars for fingerpickers. The GPCPA5, part of Martin's Performing Artist Series, is also a more affordable instrument. This single-cutaway guitar has a narrow waist and a deep body built on a hybrid X-bracing framework. Its top is made of solid Sitka spruce, and its back and sides are made of environmentally friendly rosewood HPL (high-pressure laminate). With its onboard preamp that has tone and volume controls, the GPCPA5 delivers a highly articulate and balanced tone.

OM-28E Retro

If you're looking for a new Martin guitar with the appeal of vintage models, look no further than the OM-28E Retro. This high-end guitar is a modern-day recreation of the classic Orchestra Model that was introduced in 1930. Guitar World praises the OM-28E Retro, saying that out of all Martin's present-day versions of classic models, this guitar is the one that hearkens the most back to that luscious vintage sound that is so prized by serious musicians and collectors. The OM-28E Retro is a non-cutaway style instrument with a top made of solid Sitka spruce and back and sides made of East Indian rosewood. The guitar is also equipped with a Fishman F1 Aura Plus pickup system.

An Enduring Reputation

From the beginning, the guitars crafted by C. F. Martin & Co. have been built with care, from the heart, and with top quality always in mind. Over the six generations that have passed since its inception, the company has earned an unmatched reputation for building superb guitars that endure for generations, deliver outstanding and captivating tones, and win the hearts of the lucky guitarists who own them.

Martin Guitars