C.F. Martin & Company

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(Redirected from Martin Guitars)

C.F. Martin & Company is a guitar manufacturer established in 1833 by Christian Frederick Martin. It is primarily known for its high-quality acoustic guitars. The company has been run by the Martin family for all of its history; its current chairman and CEO, C.F. 'Chris' Martin IV, is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder. Many characteristic features of the modern acoustic guitar were first introduced by the firm. The most influential creations of the company are the "Dreadnought" body style and scalloped X bracing.

The company's headquarters are in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.



Born in 1796 in Markneukirchen, Germany, C.F. Martin came from a long line of cabinet makers and woodworkers. By the age of 15 he was an apprentice to Johan Stauffer, a well-known guitar maker in Vienna, Austria. After completing his training, Martin returned to his hometown and opened his own guitar-making shop. Shortly after opening he became embroiled in a controversy between two guilds.

At the time European craftsmen operated under the guild system. The guitar (in its modern form) was a relatively recent instrument, and most guitar makers were members of the Cabinet Makers Guild. The Violin Makers Guild began to claim exclusive rights to manufacture musical instruments. Although the cabinet makers successfully defended their rights to build guitars, Martin decided that the guild system was too restrictive, and in 1833 he moved to New York City. Apparently uncomfortable with the pace and style of big-city life, by 1838 he had moved his operation to Nazareth.

In the 1850's Martin developed one of its major technological innovations for the guitar, the "X bracing" system. By gluing thin strips of wood to the underside of the top of the guitar in a modified "X" pattern, the structural stability of the guitar is greatly increased. (A steel-string guitar tuned to concert pitch can put as much as 180 pounds of tension on the top of the guitar.) The X brace helps to prevent the top of the guitar from warping under this pressure. The bracing strips are usually carved at various points (or "scalloped") in order to fine-tune the resonance of the guitar top. This is an important factor in determining the timbre or "tone" of the guitar.

The 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. This led to many companies beginning to string their guitars with metal instead of catgut. These became known as steel-string guitars, and Martin began concentrating on this type of guitar by 1921.

The company's reputation and production 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. However, the Great Depression quickly had a drastic effect on sales, and Martin came up with two further innovations in an attempt to regain business.

One of these was the 14-fret neck, which allowed a greater range of notes. Most guitars at the time had only 12 frets on the neck. This idea 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.

The second innovation was the Dreadnought guitar. Originally devised in 1916 as a collaboration between Martin and a prominent retailer, the Dreadnought body style was larger and deeper than most guitars. 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. Poorly received at the time of its introduction, when Martin reintroduced the style in 1931 it quickly became their best-selling guitar. Again, the rest of the industry soon followed, and today the "Dreadnought" size and shape is considered the "standard" acoustic guitar.

Remaining a family-owned business, the company employed a relatively small number of highly-trained craftsmen making instruments primarily by hand. This limited production capacity, and by the early 1960s Martin guitars were back-ordered by as long as three years. In 1964 they opened a new plant which is still the primary Martin production facility.

In 1979 Martin opens its "Custom Shop" division.

In 1990 Martin builds its 500,000th guitar, and in 2004 they build their millionth guitar.


One of the reasons for Martin's notable reputation is the quality of the woods that it uses in its guitars.


For many years Martin has used a model-labeling system that consists of an initial letter or series of zeros that specifies the body size and type followed by a number that designates the guitar's ornamentation and style, including the species of wood from which the guitar is constructed. Generally, the higher the number, the higher the level of ornamentation. Additional letters or numbers added to this basic system are used to designate special features (such as a built-in pickup or a cutaway).

Martin also periodically offers special models. Many of these have a limited production run, or begin as a limited-production guitar that sells well enough to become regularly produced. Many of these special models are designed with, endorsed by and named after well-known guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Merle Haggard and Stephen Stills.

As of 2005, Martin offers over 180 different guitars. Some of the more notable models are:

  • 000-1: Slightly smaller in all dimensions than a "Dreadnought" guitar (the "standard" acoustic guitar), solid Sitka spruce top, solid mahogany back, laminated mahogany sides, tortoiseshell binding, rosewood fingerboard.
  • 000-28ECB: The "Eric Clapton" model. Same size as the above guitar, constructed with higher-quality woods (especially the extremely rare Brazilian species of rosewood), a different shape to the neck, and greater ornamentation.
  • D-1: Dreadnought version of the "000-1".
  • D-28: Dreadnought guitar, solid Sitka spruce top, solid East Indian rosewood back and sides, ebony fingerboard, black and white binding and ornamentation.
  • D-45: Similar to the "D-28" with much greater and more complex ornamentation, including abalone shell inlays (also commonly known as "mother-of-pearl".)
  • J-40: a "Jumbo" sized guitar, slightly larger than a Dreadnought. Woods and ornamentation similar to the "D-28."
  • Backpacker: a very small guitar with a body shaped like an elongated triangle, designed to be very portable and inexpensive while still being constructed of quality woods.


  • Martin Guitars: An Illustrated Celebration of America's Premier Guitarmaker, Jim Washburn, Richard Johnston, and Stephen Stills, ISBN 0762104279
  • C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1973, Philip F. Gura, ISBN 0807828017
  • The Guitar Handbook, Ralph Denyer, pp. 36-45, ISBN 0394712579

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