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The Collectics Antiques Information & Education pages are designed to further knowledge of antiques, collectibles, collecting styles, periods, artists, designers, and manufacturers of fine and decorative arts. To learn more, our Antique Collector Bookstore lists only the best collector books and price guides, complied by surveys of top antique dealers and auction houses. For a different shopping experience, you can also browse our featured selections in a fun new way with the Antique Price Guides Slideshow or see current bestsellers by using Collector Books Topic Search.

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For well over a century and a half, The Martin Guitar Company has been continuously producing acoustic instruments that are acknowledged to be some of the finest in the world. The Martin Guitar Company has survived through the years with each succeeding generation, from C. F. Martin, Sr.’s Stauffer influenced creations of the 1830s to recent developments introduced by C. F. Martin IV. Continuous operation under family management is a feat bordering on the remarkable, reflecting six generations of dedication to the guitarmaker’s craft. Throughout its history, the company has adapted to changes in product design, distribution systems, and manufacturing methods. In spite of the changes, C. F. Martin has never veered away from its initial commitment to quality. The concern for producing the finest instruments possible in 1833 is especially evident today at Martin’s facility in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

The story behind Martin guitars began on January 31, 1796, in Markneukirchen, Germany with the birth of Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. Born into a long line of cabinet makers, Christian Frederick took up the family craft at the early age of 15, when he left his hometown and traveled to Vienna to apprentice with Johann Stauffer, a renowned guitar maker. The young Martin was a gifted apprentice, as he was named foreman of Stauffer’s shop shortly after his arrival. After marrying and bearing a son, he returned to his homeland to set up his own shop. Shortly after launching his business in Markneukirchen, Martin found himself caught in an acrimonious dispute between the Cabinet and Violin Makers Guilds. Martin and his family had long been members of the Cabinet Makers Guild as had numerous other guitar makers in the area. Looking to limit competition, the Violin Makers Guild sought to prohibit the cabinet makers from producing musical instruments. The violin makers tried to get an injunction against the cabinet makers with an aggressive campaign disparaging their skills. Fighting back, the cabinet makers submitted testimony from a noted wholesaler, who declared, "Christian Frederick Martin, who has studied with the noted violin and guitar maker Stauffer, has produced guitars which in point of quality and appearance leave nothing to be desired and which mark him as a distinguished craftsman." While the cabinet makers successfully defended their right to manufacture guitars, the drawn battle took its toll on C. F. Martin. Concluding that the guild system severely limited opportunities in Germany, he emigrated to the United States, and in September,1833 he left his homeland for New York City. Arriving in New York, he set up shop at 196 Hudson Street on the Lower West Side housing a limited guitar production set-up in the back room and a retail store selling everything from cornets to sheet music. Given the limited output of guitars and the immaturity of the music market in 1833, distribution of Martin guitars was a haphazard affair in the early years. To augment sales of his retail store, C. F. Martin entered into distribution agreements with a variety of teachers, importers, and wholesalers. Consequently, a number of Martin guitars manufactured prior to 1840 are labeled with wholesaler names such as "Martin & Schatz" and "Martin & Coupa." Correspondence between Martin and his close friend and business associate, Henry Schatz, revealed that he never felt truly at home in New York and longed to move. In 1836, Schatz moved to the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, purchasing a 55 acre tract near Nazareth, PA. When C. F. Martin’s wife paid a visit to Schatz and his family, she developed an instant affinity for the tranquil Pennsylvania countryside. Upon returning to New York, she encouraged her husband to make move to Nazareth, and in 1838 Martin sold his retail store to music dealer Ludecus & Wolter and purchased an 8 acre tract on the outskirts of Nazareth.

Early Martin guitars were totally handcrafted products made on a one-by-one basis, and there was little standardization. However, there were a few features that were incorporated in most of C. F. Martin’s instruments. Until the mid-1840s, Martin guitars were characterized by a headstock that had all the tuning keys on one side, a design acquired from his teacher in Vienna, Johann Stauffer. The headstock design with all the tuning keys on one side was discontinued by Martin and was unused until Leo Fender resurrected the design in 1948 with his Telecaster guitar. Another feature of the early Martin guitars was an adjustable neck; a screw mounted in the back of the heel of the neck was extended into the neck block. At the top of the dovetail (where the neck joins the body) there was a wooden fulcrum about which the neck could pivot up and down. With the strings attached, the neck could be adjusted via a clock key inserted into the heel. While the adjustable neck allowed the player to adjust the playing actions of the guitar, the device was complicated and prone to slipping under full string tension. As such, Martin phased out this unique neck adjustment. The 1850's also witnessed one of C. F. Martin’s major design innovations, 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, Sr., died on February 16, 1873, and his 48 year old son Christian Frederick, Jr. succeeded him. In 1859, a plant was constructed on the corner of Main and North Streets in Nazareth, still used today as a warehouse and shipping location as well as the site of Guitarmaker’s Connection, a retail supply house for instrument making and repair. During the years following C. F. Martin, Sr.’s death, the fortunes of the Martin Company rose and fell with the business cycle. In 1888, C. F. Martin, Jr., died unexpectedly, leaving the business in the hands of his 22 year-old son Frank Henry. Young Frank Martin’s abilities as a businessman were put to the test early on in his career as he took over a company faced with a severe distribution problem. He decided to terminate Martin's exclusive distribution agreement with Zoebisch & Sons, made even more difficult due to a long-standing bond of friendship that had existed between the Martin and Zoebisch families. Upon assuming distribution of its own products, Martin enjoyed a tremendous boom in the sale of mandolins which had become popular with Italian immigration to America. Sales of Martin guitars and mandolins were handled by various direct mail advertisements in local newspapers and through the efforts of Frank Martin.

The 1920s were boom growth years for the Martin Company, as the ukulele captured the fancy of the American public. The first Martin ukuleles were not well received, made much like a guitar and with too much bracing in the spruce body. The excessive bracing and the spruce top gave the instruments a lackluster tone that failed to appeal to the buying public. Recognizing the shortcomings of its initial ukulele design, Martin worked to produce an acceptable uke. By reducing the amount of bracing and substituting mahogany for spruce, Martin quickly garnered a large share of the ukulele market. The demand for the products was such that Martin was forced to double the capacity of the North Street plant with an additional wing and increase in the work force. During the decade of the ’20s, sales of C. F. Martin instruments increased every year, and by 1928 annual guitar production was over 5000 units, over 4 times the output of 1920. With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, national economic hardship forced the Martin family to discard aspirations for increased sales and concentrate on survival as selling guitars proved increasingly challenging. During this period, the company added new designs to the product line, altered existing products, and explored numerous features in hopes of finding a product that would bolster lagging sales. While many of the products conceived during this period had a short life span, two major developments emerged that had a lasting effect on the company: the creation of the now famous "Dreadnought" guitar and the invention of the 14 fret neck. In short order, the 14 fret neck became the standard design for the American guitar industry. The Dreadnought guitar, named after a large class of World War I British battleships, became a trademark of the Martin Company as its large body and booming bass was ideal for accompanying vocals. The first Dreadnoughts, introduced in 1916, were sold under the brand name of "Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, New York." At first the instruments were not very well received simply because there were not many singers using guitars, and solo players felt that the bass on the Dreadnought was overbearing. However, as folk singing became increasingly popular, sales of the Dreadnought picked up. The Ditson Company went out of business in the late 1920s, and in 1931 Martin incorporated the Dreadnought into its line of guitars. Today, the model is a dominant factor in the Martin line, and virtually every maker of acoustic guitars domestic and foreign has introduced a version of this original Martin design. Frank Henry Martin died at the age of 81 in 1948, and C. F. Martin III assumed the presidency of the company which continued to enjoy worldwide recognition for its guitars of uncompromising quality.

The post war years 1948-1970 were an unprecedented era of growth for C. F. Martin, and by the early ’1960s the company had a 3 year backlog. The company built a new larger plant on Sycamore Street, and the building’s efficient one story layout allowed Martin to improve the flow of materials and workflow, increasing output without sacrificing quality. In 1970, Martin purchased the renowned Vega Banjo Works of Boston and later acquired the Fibes Drum Company, makers of a unique fiberglass drum and the Darco String Company. Later in the ’1970s Martin acquired the A. B. Herman Carlson Levin Company of Sweden which made a variety of classic and steel string guitars. In subsequent years, Vega, Levin and Fibes were spun off, but the manufacture of Martin and Darco strings remains an integral part of the company. Christian Frederick Martin IV was born on July 8, 1955, and as he grew up he spent much of his time learning every operation of the company and assisting with the construction of a D-28S guitar. Chris joined the Martin Guitar Company full time after his graduation from Boston University in 1978, and in 1985 he was appointed Vice President of Marketing. After the death of his grandfather, C. F. Martin III in June of 1986, C. F. Martin IV was appointed Chairman of the Board and CEO, giving him the responsibility for leading Martin into the next century. Under Chris’ management, the Sycamore Street facility was expanded, the successful Backpacker travel guitar was introduced, and the limited edition guitar program was expanded to include signature models of significant artists like Gene Autry, Eric Clapton, and Marty Stuart plus unique collaborations like the 1996 MTV Unplugged MTV-1 guitar. Perhaps the boldest new direction that Chris took was the development and introduction of the patented "1 Series" guitars which thoroughly re-examined the way guitars are designed and constructed. Through the use of innovative processes combined with computer aided manufacturing, the 1 Series models offer an affordable acoustic guitar without compromise of tone or craftsmanship. The Martin Guitar Company is still thriving and adhering to the design and quality principles that have long made them one of the top names in fine guitars and musical string instruments.

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