There is so much to read about this company. In the research that I have done, I don’t really even feel like I’ve scratched the surface. But in the reviews, testimonials, and guitar forums, this phrase keeps coming up: That Martin sound… That’s what everyone seems to be looking for.

They say this fellow had everyone in town dancing the hornpipe.

After a dispute with the Cabinet Makers Guild, Christian Frederick Martin moved to America from Germany in 1833.  Already an accomplished guitar maker, he started C. F. Martin & Co. in New York City.  Five years later, he moved the company to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where it remains owned and operated by the Martin family to this day.

Martin is often attributed to developing the X-bracing in the 1840s for use on his steel string guitars.  This is the re-enforcement within the guitar designed to counter the pressure that is being put on it by the strings.  Some historians argue that this system was common among German immigrant guitar makers, but Martin was the first to use it on a wide scale.

The business continued to grow until 1929, when the Great Depression threw a wet blanket on guitar sales. In order to shake things up, Martin introduced two significant innovations. First, they developed a 14-fret neck. This enabled easier access to high notes. Second, they presented their Dreadnought line. This was a larger and deeper guitar, designed for accompanying singers. The dreadnought design proved to be so popular that it was soon copied by other manufactures and remains the industry standard for acoustic guitars.

Over the years, many famous guitarists have named Martin as their guitar of choice. In 1928, Martin made a custom guitar known as the “Blue Yodel” 000-45 for America’s favorite entertainer, Jimmie Rodgers (the Singing Brakeman).  That was only the beginning. Other notable Martin enthusiasts include Hank Williams, Gene Autry, Elvis Presley, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and… well, the list goes on and on. It’s almost embarrassing.

Trigger has seen some better days...

Perhaps the most famous Martin is known as Trigger. In 1969, Willie Nelson acquired an N-20 nylon string acoustic and named it Trigger after Will Rogers’ horse. Years of playing without a pick-guard have worn a hole on the soundboard. As time went on, Willie invited friends and associates to sign his famous guitar, adding to both the sentimental and fiscal value of the piece. In 1991, in the midst of Willie’s trouble with the IRS, he so feared that it would be taken from him, that he sent his beloved guitar into hiding for two years until he could get his finances worked out. “When Trigger goes, I’ll quit” he had said.

A pre-war Martin 0-17 (and Tom Waits).

Recently, Martin Guitars was honored by both Reader’s Digest and the New York Times for their efforts in green manufacturing. By promoting better logging practices and using sustainable woods, Martin (as well as Taylor, Fender, and Gibson) are taking a leadership position in doing what they can to change the market. Naturally, more expensive guitars with traditional woods will still be available, but artists such as Sting and Dave Matthews are lending their names to this line of “green” guitars. Of course, the most green thing that a guitarist can do is buy an good old guitar, but for an old Martin, you’ll probably pay a high premium.

The company is currently run by Christian Fredrick Martin IV, the great great great great grandson of the man who started it all. Some of the X-Series guitars, as well as the travel guitars, are made in Mexico. At one point, Martin owned a subdivision known as Sigma. These guitars were made in Korea and Japan, but they were discontinued in 2007. By all accounts, all Martin guitars, regardless of where they are manufactured, are a great value. If you want to be sure that yours was made in Nazareth, just check inside the sound hole*.

Martin Guitars

* I know it seems like I made that term up because it’s late and I am tired, but that’s what it’s called. I looked it up.