When Levon Helm of The Band sang "I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead" in "The Weight," he wasn’t alluding to a weary pilgrim’s desire for salvation. Rather, he was singing about a mythological trip to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of C. F. Martin & Co., makers of Martin flat top acoustic guitars.
Founded in 1833 by a German immigrant named Christian Friedrich Martin, whose father was also an instrument maker, Martin was originally based in New York City before moving in 1839 to Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.
Guitars from these earliest years had hourglass-shaped bodies, suggesting Martin’s German roots. By the 1840s, though, Martin was producing distinctly American-looking instruments, with smooth, flat tops and a big, bright sound. Shortly thereafter, in 1852, the company’s long-standing convention of naming its guitars after their size and style designations was established.
Martin’s 19th century guitars were smaller than they are today and were made for gut strings — guitars strong enough to handle steel strings would not appear until 1928. The original sizes (biggest to smallest) were 1, 2, 2 1/2, and 3. Sizes 000, 00, 0, 4, and 5 were added between 1854 and 1902, and in 1929 this numbering system was scrapped for the one we know today.
The OM, or Orchestra Model, was introduced that year; it is the same size as a 000. The D or Dreadnought (named for the large battleships of the day) appeared in 1916. It was bigger than a 000 and was originally produced exclusively for the Ditson company. But by 1931, Martin was selling its own D-size guitars. It became one of the company’s most popular guitars.
Other sizes in the line include the M (an 0000), the 7 (approximately 7/8ths of the size of a D), and the J (for Jumbo; it’s the same size as a M but as deep as a D), but all of these guitars were introduced on or after 1977, which makes them of little interest to serious collectors.
Style designations have remained consistent since the 1850s, although new designations added in the mid-1980s have made the designation system more arbitrary than it used to be. ...
Some of the most collectible Martin flat tops include the pre-war Dreadnoughts from the 1930s, which many of the world’s best musicians consider the Stradivariuses of guitars. That said, just about any of the 12- or 14-fret steel-string models from the mid-1920s until the mid-1940s will bring a good price.
Also worth keeping an eye out for are guitars made from the post-war years through the end of the 1960s, when Brazilian rosewood was replaced by Indian rosewood. Indian rosewood is handsome enough, but it lacks the visual richness of Brazilian. More importantly to musicians, guitars made from Indian rosewood don’t seem to sound as good as those crafted from Brazilian stock.
If your ear or eye is not as discerning as a professional musician’s, Martin has made it simple for you to tell which is which: Vintage Martin guitars from 1898 on are easy to date because each instrument is stamped with an individual serial number.
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Guitar maker's work strikes the right chord with playersHerald & Review, July 22nd
STEWARDSON – With a practiced eye and single-minded determination, Tom Foreman works long hours in his shop to produce top quality guitars some of which now rest in music studios in Nashvillle. Foreman 51, started repairing electric guitars while still...Read more
Four bands will have a smashing good time at BandSmashReporterHerald.com, July 22nd
When they all manage to be in Fort Collins at the same time, The 14ers are made up of Ryan Kirkpatrick, guitar/piano/vocals, Stu Cruden, bass/vocals, Barry Bates, drums/vocals and Paul Martin, Guitar. Wooleye will cover the Allman Brothers Band...Read more
Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Paul McCartney all strum Martin guitars made ...The Patriot-News, July 16th
At your request, a bellman will deliver a D-40 Martin guitar to the suite for you to use during your stay. You can strum to your hearts content amidst photographs of other Martin guitar players like Clapton, Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson...Read more
Watch Martin's Summer 2014 New Product Videos!Guitar World Magazine, July 13th
that will play tribute to Martin's factory locations on Sycamore Street in Nazareth, PA and Navojoa, Mexico; an exclusive Nashville show special; two stunning new editions to the acclaimed X model series; and two new Martin Guitar Custom Shop models...Read more
Martin Guitar turns up volume to save elephantsPhilly.com, June 29th
Then in the late 1960s, the Martin family recognized their role in contributing to the mass slaughter of elephants and began phasing out the use of ivory in its acclaimed guitars, using instead a synthetic substitute. Now, almost 50 years later, the...Read more
Nature Conservancy, Martin & Co. team up to save African elephantsLos Angeles Times, June 26th
One of five specially designed Martin & Co. acoustic guitars featuring "elephant tracks" inlay and other accents. One of five specially designed Martin & Co. acoustic guitars featuring "elephant tracks" inlay and other accents. (Martin & Co.) By Louis...Read more
Martin Guitars: A History by Johnston and BoakBoing Boing, June 25th
This book has hundreds of pictures of beautiful, rare guitars. While the pictures are enough for me, the story of the Martin guitar company is well worth reading. Written by journalist Richard Johnston & Martin's Dick Boak, you'll find guitar minutia...Read more
Democrat Tom Wolf tours CF Martin Guitar in Upper Nazareth Township in ...The Express-Times, June 24th
Wolf said he traveled to Martin Guitar because it's a sixth-generation manufacturing company and his kitchen, bath and home products business also spans six generations. Wolf said he believes American workers, working in plants in the U.S., can produce ...Read more