Martin guitars — their rise and impact on modern guitar bodies
Martin Guitars have provided us with many advances in Guitar design since their inception and this potted history gives a brief insight into the company that brought us the Dreadnought Guitar and the 14 Fret neck.
Martin & Co
The Martin Company celebrated 175 years in business in 2008. To stay in business for that length of time you must be doing something right to please your customers. Am I right, you betcha.
The factory producing all the output is based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. But for the full story you have to go back a few years and to Europe. C.F. Martin was born in Germany in 1796. At 15 he was employed in the family's cabinet making business. He left to study under Johann Stauffer a famous guitar maker in Vienna. He was quickly promoted to foreman and after marrying and fathering a son he returned to his own country and set up his own shop in some place I can't pronounce, Markneukirchen. After involving himself in a dispute with the Violin Makers Guild he finally waved goodbye to Germany in 1833 and set sail for America.
His first shop in America was humble indeed. Selling sheet music, cornets and of course guitars. His workshop was the back office of the store. Martin moved out of New York to Pennsylvania in 1936 followed closely by a much shorter move within the same state to Nazareth in 1838.
Business was good for the fledgling guitar maker and records showed he shipped his goods at this time to Boston, Albany, Philadelphia, Richmond, Petersburg, Nashville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and New Orleans. In 1850 the Martin factory was expanded to account for the increase in demand across the country for his guitars.
Martin Guitar Design Innovations
The early Martin Guitars were all handmade and had the tuning keys on one side of the headstock. This was a design he had picked up in Vienna. In the mid 1840s he stopped this one sided design and it was not picked up again until Leo Fender implemented it on his Fender Telecaster in 1948.
The 1850s witnessed one of Martin's major design improvements. The "X" bracing system for the guitar top. Still in use today on all steel-string Martin guitars, the bracing system is largely responsible for the distinctive Martin tone, characterized by brilliant treble and powerful bass response.
C.F. Martin died Feb 16th 1873. He left a legacy of fine guitar making which the rest of his clan were to build on. His son Christian took over the business. Which, from a one man operation when in New York, now employed over a dozen craftsmen. In 1859 the factory was relocated again to bigger premises to the corner of Main and North Streets in Nazareth. The Martin Guitar factory on the corner of Main and North Streets is still in use at present as a warehouse for strings and accessories. In 1888 C.F. Martin Jr died leaving a very young 22 year to run the business.
Frank Henry Martin was C.F.s son. And one of the first things he did was break the connection between the Martin factory and their sole distributors, C. A. Zoebisch & Sons. He did this as their distributor's main business was in orchestral instruments. Frank Henry was uncertain of their commitment to the guitar as a serious instrument. He was also disappointed by their reluctance to test the market with new instruments. At that time he wanted to start producing Mandolins.
The Mandolin was gaining popularity with a massive influx of immigrants from Italy and Frank Henry wanted Martin to supply the demand for it. As soon as they started to distribute their own products the sales of Mandolins took off.